With Labor Day and the end of a too hot summer approaching the question everyone, or at least some people between New York and Delaware, are asking is, What does it take to be a real Jersey Girl? MTV's runaway hit show Jersey Shore, which has redefined reality TV (as even more scripted drunkenness and hook-ups) has given us this generation's Gidget in the form of 22-year-old Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi.
She, along with JWoww, The Situation and the show's other endearing Guidos and Guidettes recently got to ring the opening bell on Wall Street. That, the producers must have figured, is the only setting in which they come across as the more responsible, law-abiding citizens.
Still, the diminutive Snooki was recently arrested on the beach outside their MTV Crib in Seaside Heights, New Jersey for disorderly conduct and creating a public nuisance. It seemed to involve a beer bong and some slippery sand and she's since pledged to reduce her daytime drinking.
While I haven't personally met Snooki, I do know a real housewife of New Jersey, 43-year old Medford Lakes mother of two, Margo Pellegrino. Margo is spending most of the summer away from her husband Carl, 5-year old daughter Julia and 8-year old son Billy paddling a fast light outrigger canoe down the Pacific Coast from Seattle to San Diego (and should be here by Sept. 12). She's doing this to raise awareness of our oceans at risk and solutions to environmental threats that each of us can be a part of. Plus it gives her rad abs and rock-hard guns.
Full disclosure -- Margo's doing this extreme paddle as a project of the marine conservation group Blue Frontier Campaign of which I, fuhgeddaboutit, happen to be president.
Even if I have some political or generational bias (I'm old enough to remember when MTV broadcast music videos) I think I can still be as fair and balanced as any cable news channel named after a small carnivorous mammal. Still, what we need to determine the winner of this True Jersey Girl contest I think are a few bottles of tequila, some Bud Lites and some wachamacallit? Metrics -- dates and attributes that will allow the reader to compare and make their own judgment. So:
In 2007 Margo, partly inspired by my book 50 Ways to Save the Ocean, paddled an outrigger canoe from Miami Florida to Camden Maine to raise awareness of ocean issues and citizen groups fighting to make a difference.
In 2007 Snooki, a year out of high school, allegedly took some nude photos of herself on Valentines Day and now wishes she hadn't.
In 2009 Margo paddled from Miami to New Orleans to raise awareness of oil, chemical, agricultural and industrial pollution in the Gulf of Mexico. Among her supporters was the Gulf Restoration Network, now one of the frontline citizen groups responding to the BP blowout disaster.
In 2009 Snooki scored huge when she was chosen for the opening season cast of Shores having earlier made an appearance on "Is She Really Going Out with Him," the story of "sweet girls" and the "douchebags" they date.
Challenges faced and overcome:
Margo: Giant waves and wipeouts. Rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard while training off New Jersey last winter.
Snooki: Got punched in the face by a drunk guy in a New Jersey bar. Gedoudahere! You missed that episode?
Statement of Commitment
Margo: "This coastal paddling journey is my way to call attention to the need for healthy oceans."
Snooki: "You feel more sexy when you're tan."
How others see you
Snooki: "She's a great girl and anyone would be happy to date her. I'm the lucky one." - New boyfriend Jeff Miranda to Radaronline. (An aside: He seems way better than her ex Emilio Maella who, according to TMZ, says he regrets they didn't make a sex tape).
Margo: "She's a great example of someone with passion and drive and commitment, doing what she can do. She's a small piece of the fabric of what needs to be done to save the ocean. She's doing it for her children." -Husband Carl to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Commitment to New Jersey
Margo: "I love all the microbreweries here on the West Coast. All the beers, especially the IPAs, are so much better than what you get at home (in New Jersey)."
Snooki: Is actually from Marlboro New York.
So as summer simmers to an end and the tourists leave the shore, the Real Jersey Girl Award goes to... badda bing, badda boom -- The actual legal resident of New Jersey, Margo Pellegrino!
Still you have to wonder what it is about today's corporate media culture that Snooki is practically a household name while Margo is a hero to me and a few hundred of my friends. I guess the good news is that when President Obama appeared on the daytime TV show The View he admitted he had no idea who Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi was. The bad news, he also hasn't met Margo.