Yes, Modern Celebrities are Sleazy, but Not Originals

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It is tempting to view “Jersey Shore” or any Kardashian sister as the knell of civilization’s end.

The second season of “Jersey Shore,” which takes place in Miami, is even more popular than the first, and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” is returning on Sunday for a fifth season, carrying in tow a spinoff about publicists, “The Spin Crowd.”

There is no need to panic.

Reality shows that exalt indolent, loud-mouthed exhibitionists may seem like almost biblical retribution for our materialistic, celebrity-obsessed age. But actually, these kinds of series are an extension of a time-honored form of entertainment, one that reaches back to the era of landed gentry, debutantes and social seasons in places like Newport, R.I., or the French Riviera.

More than a century ago, ordinary people avidly followed the follies of the idle rich in the society pages and passenger lists of liners like the Atlantic or the Mauretania. (The maiden voyage of the Titanic was a style story — until it hit the iceberg.)...

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