McGinnis: TLC’s ‘Honey Boo Boo’ sneers at sterotypesWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | email@example.com
Two weeks ago on 92.5’s top-rated “The Morning Rush,” the world was made privy to two important facts. Fact No. 1: Having never heard her music in my life, I referred to Joss Stone as “he.” (Modern music ain’t my bag, dudes.) Fact No. 2: I had no desire in any way, shape or form to watch the new TLC reality series titled “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.”
But then, Sara Hegarty — my friend and fellow radio personality, as kind and bright a person you would ever meet, a woman who I would do anything for — challenged me. She said that she would watch any show I named if I would watch one — just one — episode of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.”
Put on the spot, I agreed.
I have now fulfilled my obligation by watching the very first episode of the show, which premiered two weeks ago. It has become a runaway hit for TLC in its brief run, drawing ratings of .9 in the key demos and more than 2 million viewers overall. What does its success mean?
If my brief, brief time with Honey Boo Boo is any indication, it means that we are even more starved for entertainment as a nation than I thought. This is a thoroughly offensive production. It’s not just that the subjects of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” are presented as Southern stereotypes with accents so thick that the series sets a record for English subtitles in a show where everyone is speaking English.
The real problem is that the enterprise is so ridiculously mean-spirited toward the people involved. The editing and construction of the show make it plain that the “entertainment value” of the project is supposed to be in laughing at the Thompson family, not with them. How else to explain touches like a title sequence which ends with Mama Thompson loudly passing gas?
The show is a spinoff of another TLC trainwreck, “Toddlers and Tiaras,” which I have had the misfortune of seeing a few times. Focusing on kiddie pageants and the parents who support the kiddies in them, the series takes every negative connotation about children’s beauty contests and puts them on display for the world to see, like “Little Miss Sunshine” without the self-awareness.
One of the runaway stars of the show is a curious little 6-year-old named Alana, who insists on referring to herself as “Honey Boo Boo” and exposing her belly to use as a bizarre puppet. She became a YouTube sensation as well, leading to this spin-off focusing on her home life.
All well and good as a concept for a show, I guess. The family lives in Georgia. Alana has three sisters, all with nicknames like “Chickadee” and “Chubbette.”
Everyone goes by a nickname in this family, whether via family tradition or for television marketing purposes.
The show’s real lead character is Alana’s mother June, or “Mama.” She’s the one who basically narrates as the series follows her family to events like the various pageants Honey Boo Boo competes in or the “Redneck Olympics.” (“It’s similar to the Olympics, but with a lot of missing teeth and a lot of butt cracks showing.” Mama’s words.)
I get that Alana and her wildly confident stage demeanor have a curiosity all their own, hence her YouTube success. But Honey Boo Boo is such a minor presence in the series that bears her name that
the show needs to have a reason for existing outside of her.
Its makers seem to have decided that reason lies in viewers looking down on and chuckling at Honey Boo Boo’s curious family.
It’s all about playing up — or down — stereotypes here. Whether or not the series is actually scripted, the producers love to focus on little touches like armadillo roadkill — while coming back from commercial break, no less —and showing one daughter talking about losing weight while having a mouthful of pork rinds. There’s an inexplicable moment where Mama, talking to the camera, stops to sneeze twice, and the producers leave it in. Why would they, if they were at all sympathetic to their subjects?
If the series would sympathize with the Thompsons, take them seriously or give them a little dignity, I might be able to give “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” the benefit of the doubt. But as it exists now, watching the show made me feel like I was being encouraged to sneer at real people for the sake of entertainment. The experience made me feel bad about myself and pop culture in general.
So, Sara, I have fulfilled my obligation. While I love you deeply, I warn that you should prepare yourself, my friend.
The eventual payback will be hell.
Email Toledo Free Press Star Pop Culture Editor Jeff McGinnis at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.