“The sexuality in this show creates men to become everything but a gentlemen.”

This is another condemnation of The Jersey Shore, from an essay assignment on “reality television.”

I knew what she meant. You know what she meant. Why was it so hard to say?

I’m glad there is no number disagreement between “men” and “a gentlemen”…except, of course, for the “a” part.

Moving on: Most of us understand that sexuality, or at least the mobilization of sexuality, has been known to “create men” in the long term—it begins by creating teeny little embryos, but eventually some of them do become men (others become women). But halfway through the sentence, where she had seemed to be merely announcing the obvious my student decides to use “creates” as interchangeable with “causes” and forges blithely ahead to reveal what the men will become.

“Everything but a gentlemen” leaves way too many possibilities open, if that’s what she really wants to say. After all, it’s unlikely that the producers of The Jersey Shore are thinking about gentlemen in any way, shape, or form. But assuming the term is somehow relevant here, the “everything but…gentlemen” might include thugs, animals, predators, rapists, louts, drooling idiots, and pigs, and I think that’s what she has in mind. But it also might include fathers, priests, scholars, dancers, football players, accountants, politicians, and poets, any of which choices might, in various ways, be influenced by sexuality. AND it might include cabbages, motels, planets, tornadoes, and stock markets—any of which MIGHT be thought of in relation to sexuality—including the cabbages, which would fall into the category of “sexuality comma, lack of interest in.” And where would these infinite possibilities get us?

She intends the “everything but” to do the job of “anything but,” which sounds a lot like it but which is commonly used to mean “far from it!”

One more thing: “sexuality”? The first definition is “the condition of having sex”—note, not “the activity of having sex.” By that definition, sexuality means “being of a sex,” as in male or female. The second definition is “sexual activity,” and that’s the one my student means. But since the word can carry two rather different ideas, she should have just said “the sexual activity on the show”—or, maybe closer to her actual thought, “the single-minded pursuit of sexual engagement on the show,” or “the obsession with screwing anything that moves.”

“The single-minded pursuit of sexual engagement on the show makes animals, or indeed anything but gentlemen, of the male characters.”

Clearer. But nowhere near as dizzyingly funny.

About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

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