On MTV's reality television show "Jersey Shore," the Beachcomber Bar is a place where the clothes are skimpy and punches can fly.
But there's another reality in the resort town Seaside Heights, which is both a setting and a state of mind on the show about eight buff, tanned twenty-somethings and the havoc they create while living together for a month in a posh home.
As the show airs this month and next, the town of some 3,100 year-round residents is hushed. Most of the boardwalk businesses are closed. Only a few fishermen and some beach rehabilitation workers are out. The Ferris wheel and carnival games are shuttered.
And the people who are around this time of year say this just isn't the same place as the one on the show, which was filmed in the summer when the town's population grows tenfold with families at the beach by day and a sometimes wild club scene by night.
Just as one group of Italian-Americans has protested, claiming the show gives them a bad name, many locals think it smears the community.
"You're trying to create a family town, and you got a bunch of kids acting very rude, and it doesn't create a good image," said John LaStalla, a 44-year-old native and municipal worker.
The stars, mostly Italian-Americans and including only one from New Jersey, dance, pump iron and party — a lot. They work in a T-shirt shop — a little. And their specialty is drama, whether it involves each other, the people they meet, boyfriends from home or moms. Though unscripted, there are echoes of sitcoms.
Much like when Peter from the "Brady Bunch" juggles two dates at once, cast members Pauly Delvecchio and Mike "The Situation" Sorrento try to get two women out of the house to make room for two more. It's hardly a spoiler to reveal the plan doesn't work so well.
Even before the show debuted Dec. 3, the New Jersey-based Italian-American service organization UNICO National called on MTV to cancel it, deeming it offensive and reliant on crude stereotypes.
Since then, MTV, which has long put strong-willed strangers in homes together and filmed what follows, has stopped referring to the "Jersey Shore" cast as guidos in its promos — even though cast members frequently and proudly call themselves guidos on the show.
The network, in a catchall statement, said: "We understand that this show is not intended for every audience and depicts just one aspect of youth culture. Our intention was never to stereotype, discriminate or offend."
The cast members have gotten plenty of mileage out of their self-centered personas, appearing on the Video Game Awards and on Jay Leno's and Jimmy Kimmel's talk shows. Their show's popularity also has been picking up, going from under 1.4 million viewers for its premiere to 2.5 million for Episode 4 last week.
Members of the cast weren't available for comment by telephone Monday.
While the stars are making the publicity rounds, the Beachcomber Bar is as desolate as the boardwalk. Fewer than a half-dozen people are there at midday. All of them arrived bundled up, all have seen the show and all have opinions.
Jill Hickey, 25, lives in Wildwood, a Jersey shore town 80 miles to the south. She knows her part of the shore to be a calmer, quieter place, and she doesn't like that viewers may equate her home with the more raucous shore depicted on the show.
"They should call it 'North Jersey Shore,'" she said as she sipped a beer.
And Domenic Piro, 31, also from Wildwood, wants it known: "We're not all like that."
Bar manager Mike Carbone said pretty much everyone who comes into the sprawling tropic-themed tavern has an opinion, most not so hot.
The Beachcomber is as good a place as any to talk about the show. It's where cast member Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi was punched in a hype-generating incident, video of which circulated online but didn't air on MTV. Still, Carbone said a group of people came in recently and took photos re-enacting the punch.
And the viewing party for each new episode on Thursday nights pumps up a wintertime crowd.
Carbone said the critics — including his patrons — should just calm down.
"Some people are like, 'Oh, my God, look how dumb this makes New Jersey look,'" he said. "But it's not even a show about New Jersey. It's about people who come down to the Jersey shore."
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