In Defense of Honey Boo Boo

10 Aug

So I know this blog is about books, but I think it’s important that we all stop for a second to reflect on something incredibly important that occurred in the pop culture sphere this week: The premiere of new TLC show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. (Non-TV people, you can check out now.)

For the unfamiliar, Honey Boo Boo, or Honey Boo Boo Child, is the nickname of six-year-old Alana, who made her reality TV debut in Toddlers & Tiaras. Unlike most young beauty pageant participants, Alana is basically the opposite of poised, which makes her a fairly shitty pageant contestant (she has yet to win a crown or any sort of money) but a normal six-year-old, and an amazing subject for reality television. It is quite unsurprising that out of all the toddlers profiled on that show, Alana was the one to get a spin-off.

So far, Honey Boo Boo is like the 50 Shades of Grey of reality TV—2.2 million people watched the premiere, making it the No. 1 cable show in its time slot among women. “Honey Boo Boo” was trending on Twitter through yesterday, and the ever-resourceful TLC has already pioneered Alana-themed ringtones (one of which is now my alarm.) 

Just as with the premiere of Jersey Shore (can you believe that was almost three years ago?) Honey Boo Boo has also revived the debate around reality television and its tendency to openly exploit the poor, mentally ill or at least unintentionally hilarious. Sites like Warming Glow and Pajiba are all “Aren’t we sick to watch this shit?” while the Internet is (and has been) awash with clips of Alana and her mom (June, d.b.a. Mama, d.b.a. “The Coupon Queen”) appearing on various talk shows to defend their participation in pageantry.

So far, out of everything I’ve read (which is an embarrassingly large amount) only Gawker and Time seem to have it right: Yes, the Thompsons are rednecks who fart at the dinner table and aspire to four-wheeler ownership. But they also appear to be extremely cognizant of that identity, and amused by the perception it evokes in other people. Even the Redneck Games, a South Georgia event the family attends in the first episode, was started as an inside joke about what sort of Olympic games the general population would expect from the South. In essence, the Thompsons—and by proxy, others like them—know we find their lifestyle amusing. (Trust me coastal cities, even before reality TV, we have not been discreet about our opinions on middle America.) But they also find themselves amusing, and that, more than anything, is what makes the show great.

What’s strange is how riled up people are about Honey Boo Boo in particular, either because the Thompsons are so hilarious that laughing at them seems like overt mockery, or because Alana is a mere six years old and should therefore be exempted from the wanton judgment that comes with appearing on reality shows. To this I say: pish posh. The Thompsons are, without question, one of the most self-aware families on television today, and their “I don’t give a shit what people think” attitude is, in my opinion, what separates Honey Boo Boo from more mainstream shows. In fact the only difference between Alana and a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, The Bachelor, or American Idol, is that she knows we’re laughing.

Sure, TLC is guilty of some dubious editing—there’s no non-malicious reason to show footage of June sneezing repeatedly—but out of all the reality television I’ve watched (a lot) the most awkward moments never appear on a show like Honey Boo Boo (or the somewhat similar Duck Dynasty). The truly cringe-worthy always comes from the networks, from the shows with audiences topping 20 million. Like when Kasey from The Bachelorette sings Ali a song about their helicopter journey, or any talentless wannabe on American Idol is allowed to perform in earnest before the judges. People like the Thompsons aren’t on TV because they think of themselves as sophisticated and worldly, and the fact that America doesn’t think so either isn’t exactly earth-shattering news to them. Rather, it’s the completely clueless that bear the burden of exploitation; and even then I’d argue that it’s an exploitation in which they choose to participate.

So get over it, Honey Boo Boo haters. Watching the country’s kookiest has been a thing since the days of Ricki Lake and Sally Jesse Raphael, and just because Wednesday’s premiere reminded you of that doesn’t mean TLC, or television in general, has crossed some previously sacrosanct line. Get on board with Alana and June—and the rest of their farting, belly-flopping, pig-owning, extreme-couponing family—or change the channel.

9 Responses to “In Defense of Honey Boo Boo”

  1. Rebecca August 13, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

    Great review! I can’t help but find this family completely endearing. Though it’s clear that TLC’s editors are taking advantage of June at times when she lets her guard down, I generally feel like these people are in control of the image they present. Their lives seem cheerful and comfortable in a way that I actually envy.

  2. V.E.G. August 21, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

    Toddlers and Tiaras is getting out of hand, somewhat. Take Sally DeWees for instance. Sally had a baby at age 10 (that’s right, TEN!)

  3. jandgwriting January 9, 2014 at 10:56 pm #

    I think things are getting a bit crazy for TLC, but it does provide some “interesting” entertainment.

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  1. Cashing In On Catastrophe « Sorry Television - September 11, 2012

    […] beach weather, I had a chat with a friend of mine about this Reuters video investigating the very important issue of our national obsession with Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Said friend, a fellow news man (I am not a […]

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