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'Jersey Doesn't Stink' website defends state

It stinks like a refinery. It's covered in concrete. It's populated by guidos and mafia dons, obnoxious housewives and terrifying drivers. And its only landmarks are the exits on the turnpike.

On the Jersey Doesn’t Stink website, Anthony DeVito, 44 — from Brooklyn — dons a pine-tree air freshener costume to reach out and embody the Garden-State-smells-OK message. (
On the Jersey Doesn’t Stink website, Anthony DeVito, 44 — from Brooklyn — dons a pine-tree air freshener costume to reach out and embody the Garden-State-smells-OK message. ( more

It stinks like a refinery. It's covered in concrete. It's populated by guidos and mafia dons, obnoxious housewives and terrifying drivers. And its only landmarks are the exits on the turnpike.

At least, that's what the haters would have you believe.

Deserved or not, making fun of New Jersey is practically an American tradition. And a crop of recent TV shows that revel in Garden State stereotypes, such as MTV's Jersey Shore and Bravo's Real Housewives of New Jersey, hasn't helped matters.

But now, some in the so-called Armpit of America are fighting back with "Jersey Doesn't Stink" - that's the name of a month-old campaign that aims to dispel the "Dirty Jersey" stereotype. Its centerpiece is, a website that features videos of impassioned New Jerseyans standing up for their state; form letters protesting Jersey Shore, Real Housewives of New Jersey, and the Style Network's Jerseylicious; and a "digital fight kit" that includes T-shirt iron-ons, fliers, and picket signs that read, "We Smell Better Than You Think."

The site has drawn a growing legion of fans on Facebook and Twitter. Started by New Jersey-based auto insurance-company High Point, it boasts a slew of corporate sponsors, including DARE New Jersey and the Jersey Shore Partnership.

The campaign is touted on three billboards: one on the Atlantic City Expressway, another on Route 287, and a third on a notoriously dismal area of the New Jersey Turnpike near Newark International Airport.

Still, the campaign might be facing a bit of an uphill battle.

"But . . . it does stink," Mike DeCaro, 28, of South Philadelphia, said with a laugh upon hearing of the campaign. He's an EMT who says his ambulance is regularly cut off by drivers sporting Garden State plates.

But Gerry Wilson, High Point's chief executive officer, is undaunted.

He says his company just figured it was about time someone stood up to silence the haters.

A Michigan transplant who moved with his wife and kids to New Jersey 10 years ago, Wilson said he wasn't a fan of the state upon his arrival.

"My primary thought was that the whole state looks like the turnpike around Newark Airport," he said. "But you get three miles away from that area, and it's beautiful."

Wilson isn't out to promote his company - New Jersey, he said, is the "star of the show."

And people are taking notice.

On Facebook, Jersey Doesn't Stink already had 5,816 fans and counting at last look - 5,225 have affixed their names to a "Jersey doesn't stink" pledge on the website.

And the fans are no wallflowers. Insult Jersey on the campaign's Facebook wall, and you'll receive a flurry of responses questioning your sanity or suggesting anger-management classes.

"I am so sick and tired of people knocking Jersey," said Debbie Norz, 39, who owns a farm in Hillsborough, Somerset County. She said she became a fan of the campaign to get the word out about the greener side of the Garden State - and to remind the rest of the country that "not everyone in New Jersey sounds like they're from Bergen County."

Even Gov. Christie's press office has heard of the site.

"I found it very amusing, but I'm not sure if I'm happy that someone has a website defending New Jersey or sad that he thought it was necessary," said Michael Drewniak, Christie's press secretary.

Jersey might have more defenders than it thinks; a decidedly unscientific survey of visitors to the Reading Terminal Market last week turned up far more Jersey lovers than haters.

People spoke fondly of childhoods spent at the Shore, of the countryside in Somerset County, of the fact that they don't define themselves by their exit on the turnpike.

But even natives will grudgingly acknowledge that there is some truth in the stereotypes.

"[Seaside Heights] is a very trashy place, I'm not going to lie," said Ryan Buist, 18. He lives within walking distance of the Shore town whose current claim to fame is that it played host to the orange-hued menaces of Jersey Shore for a month last summer.

Programs like Jersey Shore - MTV's wildly popular reality show that details the summer adventures of eight delightfully loudmouthed, dangerously tanned Italian Americans and, as it happens, starts a new season Thursday at 10 - give the state a bad rap, Buist said.

Growing up at the Shore, Buist remembers going to 9 a.m. Mass at the Catholic church on his street and then walking straight to the beach - a far cry from the Jagermeister-soaked escapades of the Jersey Shore cast.

Even Christie has weighed in on Snooki and her gang. In an interview Sunday on ABC's This Week, Christie slammed the reality show, saying it's "negative for New Jersey."

"What it does is takes a bunch of New Yorkers . . . drops them at the Jersey Shore, and tries to make America feel like this is New Jersey," he said.

Poking fun at the Garden State is a tradition that dates to the colonial era, said historian Marc Mappen, author of There's More to New Jersey Than the Sopranos.

At least one of the state's early leaders was less than enthusiastic about the little stretch of rural land between Pennsylvania and New York. When Jonathan Belcher became governor of the province of New Jersey in 1747, he was appalled by his new home's apparent lack of high society or culture.

"It is the best country I have seen for middling fortunes and for those who have to live by the sweat of their brow," he sniffed.

Even William Penn was in on the joke: He once wrote a pamphlet complaining about New Jersey's mosquitos, said Maxine Lurie, a history professor at Seton Hall University who specializes in New Jersey history.

Mappen said Jersey jokes might stem from the fact that the state is sandwiched between two of the biggest media markets in the country.

"The image of New Jersey has always been shaped by people outside our boundaries," he said. "It's natural human desire to find people who are inferior to you. And I think New Jersey has been identified that way."

A campaign to halt the ridicule "can't hurt," Mappen said.

"We've sort of embraced [the jokes] - we've taken a sort of perverse pride in it," he said. "But I think New Jersey is a great state. They're underestimating us."

Besides its website, Facebook page, and Twitter account, the campaign also runs a YouTube channel featuring seven videos of a man dressed in a pine-tree air freshener costume emblazoned with the site's logo, imploring people to show some respect for the state.

So far, the clips have garnered a combined 17,000 views.

Anthony DeVito, 44, is the man in the pine-tree costume. An actor and comedian in Brooklyn, N.Y., he's not a Jersey son but relates to its citizens' pain.

"I like the idea of defending New Jersey from nasty jokes and insults," he said. "Being from Brooklyn, I had to deal with a lot of those. I know what it's like to be from a place that people have a lot of preconceived notions about."

But despite his love for his home state, press secretary Drewniak says there's also something to be said for rolling with the punches. After all, New Jersey has been dealing with criticism for as long as anyone can remember.

Christie is "not the kind of guy who takes huge offense to such things. In a sense, it's a little part of New Jersey, and we don't mind it - we can chuckle at it too," he said. "We're not that thin-skinned."