When TLC’s Here Comes Honey Boo Boo first premiered, Jenni (and many others!) watched the antics of Alana Thompson, “Mama” June Shannon, and the rest of the gang, and thought they spelled the end of Western civilization. This made me wary about watching it myself, because there’s only so much exploitation I can stomach. Wasn’t it enough that these people were poor, ignorant, unhealthy? Did TLC really have to parade them around on TV for us coastal elites to laugh at? Just seemed like adding insult to injury, really.
Then I actually watched it, and realized I’d been so, so wrong. To feel bad for these people for not being more like me would be the height of condescension. They might not have gone to college, but they’re not stupid, and they’re both aware of, and happy with, who they are. Plus, Alana Thompson is a natural born superstar.
The line in Jenni’s review that stuck out to me was this:
While it’s clear that this family loves each other and sticks together, that’s obviously not the focus of the show.
I disagree! In every episode, we see numerous examples of the family sticking together. Sugar Bear‘s purchase of Glitzy the pig was not meant to be a sideshow, but a heartfelt gesture to make his daughter happy, and I was especially touched by Mama‘s support of her pregnant daughter Anna. She acknowledges it’s not an ideal state of affairs, but says she’s going to help her out so she can finish high school. (Mama dropped out when she had her first kid.) And when she goes to have her ultrasound, the entire family goes with her. Alana even helps smear the gel on her belly. If that’s not supportive, I don’t know what is.
This is a family that knows who they are and instead of feeling ashamed like society tells them they should, feels proud. Mama knows she’s “not the most beautimous…but put a lil’ paint on this old barn and it’ll shine like new.” She’s comfortable with her body, but when her daughter wants to go on a diet, she goes on one too, to support her. They knowingly wink at redneck stereotypes at something called “the Redneck Games.” And while it seems like they’re laughing at Alana at times, I think more often they’re laughing with her. The kid is a natural entertainer, and she’s done at least three different voices so far: The sassy old southern woman, the high pitched voice she makes her stomach talk in, and this past episode, some sort of gay male fashionista.
Most reality shows are uber fake, and while I’m sure there are scripted moments here, it seems much realer than most of what you see on reality TV. While they might make jokes and mug for the cameras, you get the feeling they’re not that different when the cameras go away. I’ll take this family’s disgusting toilet humor over the put on histrionics of surgically altered “Real Housewives” any day.
And as for Glitzy the gay pageant pig, he doesn’t read as a homophobic joke to me. After Alana decides that the pig is gay (because he’s a boy in girls’ clothes), she accepts him for who he is, even telling Pumpkin that he can be gay if he wants to be. They also have a gay human uncle, whom they accept. This might not be the most enlightened understanding of gender and sexuality, but the kid is six, and her basic intentions are good. And remember that they live in an area where such an accepting attitude is not the norm!
All in all, I don’t think Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is any more exploitative than any other reality TV show. These people might not be rich, but they are getting by, and they’re fully capable of understanding the exchange that’s being made: they get money and their fifteen minutes of fame in return for letting the cameras into their weird (but ultimately wonderful) home. You might not like their antics, and that’s fine (even understandable), but don’t pretend you hate the show out of some condescending faux-concern for the people on it. Especially when this show might just be the thing that enables the Thompson kids to go to college.