Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Long Island reality TV show is anything but.

Joe Alicata 

Growing Up Gold Coast stars pose for their last sober picture of the year.
Reality television has become a dominant force in contemporary media. People, Americans in particular it seems, have decided that watching other people’s lives unfold in front of them in a melodramatic, scripted fish bowl environment is actually worth devoting increasingly larger amounts of time - perhaps in an attempt to get away from the trivial occurrences and serious issues that plague real, everyday life. The newest manifestation of this is toxic cultural phenomenon is the new Lifetime series “Growing Up Gold Coast” which is set to premier this November/December.  The show is centered on the North Shore of Long Island, and seeks to present it, in my opinion, in an unflattering light.

I had heard rumblings about this show over the past few months back home (I am from Long Island, actually; the part of the Island this middle-finger-to-society-TV-show focuses on) but I had not really taken it seriously, seeing as I am from the area and could not fathom how anyone would be so interested in where I am from as to make a television show about the people who live there.  Nevertheless, the people at Lifetime have decided to engage in a widespread misrepresentation of an area all in the name of profiteering. Cheers America.

Now, one could say that it is premature to judge the show before it airs; and while that argument may have some weight, one need look no further than the trailer on the show’s website to get a snapshot of this utterly ridiculous and completely horrific excuse for entertainment. So in the interest of calling bullshit when I see it: I call bullshit.

The nickname “Gold Coast” comes from the mansions and estates that colonize the shoreline in select areas, and were built by people whose wealth makes the people on this show look comparatively poor.
Close to my home is the Vanderbilt estate; which is now a museum and planetarium; not a private residence or “hot party spot.” In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, the estates of J.P. Morgan, F.W. Woolworth, Charles Pratt, the Vanderbilt’s, Roosevelt’s and the Whitney’s dotted the landscape of the North Shore as these families helped build and shape America. Now, to be fair, there is still money in this area, and a good amount of it, but for someone who is not familiar with the area who watches the trailer, the impression is made that this whole area is made up of super rich kids who spend their time working out, partying, comparing clothing and engaging in ego masturbation 24/7.

As a resident of the area, I take this as the highest form of insult. While those people do exist, they exist across the country and they are certainly not all that makes up the “gold coast”.

There has been a fundamental shift in the demography of my hometown, and there has been an influx of what we townies call “new money.” With this new money has come this sort of reputation that this show seeks to portray. While I do not dispute the existence of these sorts of people, as someone who does not come from such a background, yet has seen it develop, to be unceremoniously lumped in with this stereotype purely based on geographic location is not only upsetting, but it is a misrepresentation of what is in fact real. Just as Jersey Shore added to the Italian stereotype and set back people from Jersey another twenty years, this train wreck excuse for entertainment will undoubtedly further the already long list of “Lawn-Guy-Land” stereotypes.

“Growing Up Gold Coast” is just another addition to a long line of “reality” television shows which center on popularizing and analyzing to disgusting proportions very small segments of the population and presenting their activities as if “that’s what people do.” Oftentimes the situations and lifestyles portrayed in reality television shows are in fact the furthest deviations from reality, and that is largely tied to their success. The market for reality television has exploded in the past decade since its inception largely due to the apparent desire of people to live their life through someone else. I’ve had discussions with individuals who have directly correlated their own personal life experiences with those of a reality television “star.” When it comes to the point where people are so incredibly distracted from their own lives that they spend their time vicariously living in a fantasy world that represents a microscopic proportion of the actual population in the hopes that they can find comfort or a sense of meaning in the trivial, superficial and largely unrealistic occurrences of reality television, we have a problem.

Humans have always had routes of escape. For most of history, literature has served as a way for people to remove themselves from their daily life, get away for a bit and calm themselves. Escape and relaxation are necessary parts of a healthy life. Reality television is not that kind of escape. Reading “The Great Gatsby” does not expose you to ads for deodorant or rap albums which reinforce the importance of material things while the show they advertize during is largely engaged in marginalizing emotions and meaningful human interaction. Reality television presents a distorted reality combined with a mass consumerist culture that forms a dangerous combination of delusion and distraction.

When the life of someone else you have never met, nor will ever meet and share no real connection to becomes a spectacle worth watching; your life becomes a secondary concern. I am a resident of the “Gold Coast” and I did not “grow up gold coast” style.

Joe Alicata is a senior at the University at Albany where he is studying public policy, philosophy and political science. Currently he is the Editor in Chief of the Albany Student Press. Additionally, Joe is the director of news for WCDB 90.9 FM, and host of “The Lowdown”. His interests include politics, philosophy, cooking, cars, weight lifting, and the occasional sunlit walk on the beach.  


  1. Joe,

    Great article. Unfortunately, there is a lot of truth to these stereotypes. I myself went to SUNY Albany in the late 90s; not having been exposed to LI much before attending, I was mortified by the attitude and behavior of many from LI there. I am of Jewish and Italian descent, I was horrified to see how the Jews and Italians of LI lived up to the worst kinds of stereotypes. New money flashiness and rudeness. Awful.

    Granted, the majority of LI people I met at Albany were from the South Shore, so perhaps this show is not truly representative of the "Gold Coast."

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