Blogger Rick Juzwiak’s brain is a black hole of pop culture references. His pool of knowledge runs as long as Quentin Tarantino’s Netflix queue, as wide as the spread of autotune, and as deep as a four year-old pageant girl’s cosmetic bag. He describes his brain as “a YouTube K-Hole,” in which anything and everything can trigger the activation of a cultural tag or nostalgic playback. Like when he compares an unfortunately made-up contestant on “America’s Next Top Model” to Chester the puppet from 90s MTV show “Sifl and Olly.” Or contrasts “Up,” the loveable animated Pixar film with “Up!,” Russ Meyer’s decidedly less kid-friendly softcore romp. Or connects an utterance from Jersey Shore’s Mike “The Situation” to a line from the trailer for “Cool As Ice.” (That’s Vanilla Ice’s 1991 “musical romance.”)
“When you expose yourself to all this crap, it’s gonna hang around and manifest itself in bizarre ways,” he says.
For the last four years, this Williamsburg resident has spent a minimum of ten hours a day in front of television and computer, consuming and dissecting popular culture using the quick-wit of a Judge Judy worshipper (“I watch her every day”), the hard-boiled clarity of a music journalism major, and the originality of an acute, perverse, and achingly honest entertainment devotee. He is a distinct and refreshing voice in a sea of muddled cultural commentary.
As one of VH1’s full-time TV bloggers, Juzwiak has made a trade out of the reality show recap, a mixed media collage of screenshots, sound bytes, moving gifs, hilariously photoshopped still frames, and biting commentary that isolates all the most ridiculous moments of the network’s chaotic life-behind-glass experiments. He spends Monday through Friday reviewing clips, reading celebrity “news” (“I use that term loosely”) and interviewing the uninhibited stars of VH1 shows like “Rock of Love,” “Celebrity Rehab,” and the new “Frank the Entertainer … In a Basement Affair.” His strength lies in deftly summarizing the lunacy of the events that transpire from week to week, and in highlighting the indelible personalities of each series, be they lovable, flighty, or antagonistic. And of course, he imbues all of his coverage with the signature Juzwiakian cultural cross-pollination.
“The first episode of the first season of ‘Rock of Love’ is just ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls’ written in 2006,” he says. “Except they couldn’t show full nudity.”
When he’s not at VH1 headquarters in Times Square, “a place I’d never go if I didn’t have to go there every day,” Juzwiak is buckled down in his apartment off the Graham Avenue stop, with his oft-blogged about cat Winston, culling material for his personal pop culture blog, the fourfour (www.fourfour.typepad.com). The carefully cultivated mélange, named for the four-on-the-floor beats of disco and house music, was started by Juzwiak as a mode of expression for his entertainment encyclopedia of a brain, and has come to house one of the most eclectic, elevated collections of pop culture musings on the web.
Juzwiak’s obsessions are easily identifiable (pageants, house music, and horror flicks just to name a few), but anything wild, wacky or off-putting that crosses his path is game for exploration. Like the surprising pervasiveness of confederate flag-decorated merchandise on the Wildwood boardwalk. (“Wildwood is a body louse clinging to a sweaty shaft of hair in the Armpit of America that is New Jersey,” he writes in one post.) Or the nostalgia-ridden documentary “The Rocka-fire Explosion,” about a fanclub’s longtime obsession with an animatronic band. Or the dramatic declines and desperate pseudo-comebacks of R&B’s greatest divas, Whitney and Mariah.
Juzwiak also has a knack for collating and summarizing content for his audience via a variety of creative, web-friendly presentations, like his “I’m Not Here To Make Friends” montage (eventually adapted for a segment on “This American Life”), a video compilation of the endless times reality stars have verbally expressed what, since season one of “Survivor,” no one has really needed to say. He even created a video mash-up of the best moments from Celine Dion’s 2007 2-DVD set, not because he particularly likes Dion’s music, but because he simply finds her to be a compelling character. Juzwiak has admitted to being susceptible to the so-bad-it’s-good category of entertainment, seeking out honesty, and judging things on pure entertainment value versus critical expectations.
“It’s all about taste,” Juzwiak says. “I believe taste is not so much about what you like, but why you like it. And for critics, it’s about how you like it.”
Juzwiak is especially skilled in conveying this “how” via his fourfour reality show recaps, which allow him to tackle non-VH1 programs in the format he so loves. In the past, Juzwiak has covered shows from “Project Runway” to MTV’s brilliant if short-lived reality series, “The Paper,” and fans of the blog now petition him to cover new programs that may appeal to his varied sensibilities. Ultimately Juzwiak only has enough time to give a few shows the full treatment, like “America’s Next Top Model,” the recaps of which earned The fourfour its devoted audience, and Juzwiak his VH1 job; and which often take over ten hours to produce.
“Jersey Shore” is another series that was pretty much guaranteed coverage by Juzwiak, on account of the extreme personalities of the cast members (“they’re salacious and ridiculous and weird looking”), and Juzwiak’s own South Jersey origins.
“I think the most New Jersey thing you can do is choose to go to New Jersey,” Juzwiak says of the cast’s relative dearth of New Jersey natives. “To choose to align with that culture says a lot more than if you’re just born there. I think they fit in just fine.”
Rich explains that, like many of the VH1 reality shows he covers, “Jersey Shore” is a reflection of our culturally narcissistic societal tendencies.
“When I watch [reality television], it really is anthropological. It is looking at culture and understanding a way of life. This is just another group that hasn’t been examined.”
Juzwiak’s profession does have its pitfalls. What qualifies as escape for most people is always tied to work for a blogger. And with so much information and entertainment in circulation, the blogger is never off duty.
“I’m in this situation where I’m basically working day and night,” says Juzwiak. “But if something awesome happens, how the hell could I not share how it affected me? I would not turn my back on potential content. Ideas are hard to come by.”
It’s clear Juzwiak was built for this sort of thing.
“I’m extremely content in that I get to express myself to the fullest,” he says. “The only thing that holds me back is being tired. And it’s tough because it’s just a stupid blog. But it matters.”