Nov 28 2012
I’m by no means a huge fan of reality television (Reality Television? Is it a proper noun yet?), but I do have my weaknesses here and there. I seriously enjoyed the first couple of seasons of Jersey Shore before the cast, like the great method actors of the 70s, aged into shadowy caricatures of themselves. I also quickly tired of the relentless casual misogyny. From the women.
Then I found Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. I had seen a singular episode of Toddlers & Tiaras and vetoed it from my rotation—watching children suffer anxiety attacks while their parents pretend not to be living vicariously through them ain’t exactly my bag—but little Alana Thompson, aka “Honey Boo Boo,” was a refreshing change. She was the only one who seemed to be having some real fun! No one in her family seemed to regard the pageants with any more seriousness than necessary. So when I heard the little southern blondie was getting her own spinoff, I dove in headfirst. I will admit, I was fully prepared for that uncomfortable embarrassment that serves as the base level for the ever-popular cringe comedy taking over much of our media. But my god, how I loved it.
Hi, my name is Sara, and I’m on Team Glitzy.
“And *his* name is Glitzy.”
Yes, the Thompsons’ manners approach a level of shamelessness that borders on clownish. But hey, I’ve been with my husband for ten years and I’m certainly not going to sit here and pretend we haven’t heard each other fart and belch. I’m also not going to pretend we don’t occasionally have contests for best fart/belch. And I’m not going to pretend I don’t win half the time. Yes, their general diet is obviously unhealthy. But frankly, some of my bachelor friends could go toe to toe. Yes, Mama June’s children were fathered by different men. In the words of the wise women of SNL’s Bronx Beat: “Who cares? Have a glass of wine. Live your life.”
Maybe it’s because I grew up in a low-income town in the middle of the Southwest, but I can’t bring myself to look down on this family just because they lack money, good social graces, or a mid-Atlantic accent. If anything, I think the showrunners serve up calculated situations which prod the audience to feel superior by, among other things, subtitling their speech as if English is their second language. Again, maybe it’s my own Southern roots allowing me to understand them, but I’ve always had a problem with subtitling anyone speaking English, even a foreign professor in a talking-head documentary. It seems somehow insulting to both the speaker and me.
Excellent question, tiny philosopher.
What I see is a mother who clearly and unabashedly loves her children for exactly who they are. I see a group of women who don’t constantly fret over their appearance as if that’s the only measure of their worth. I see a guy who goes to all of his daughter’s pageants wearing full fan gear, who spends the better part of an afternoon wrestling with an outdoor pool to give a his family a respite from the Georgia heat, who dresses like Santa for neighborhood kids for Christmas in July (Sugar Bear 4 Eva). I see a 12-year-old wryly commenting from another couch during her mother’s confessionals (Pumpkin is straight-up comedian-style hilarious). I see a girl still in the throes of being a little kid, who’s allowed to be a little kid with all her eccentricities intact. I see a whole family full of nonjudgmental (“Everyone’s a little big gay.”), flawed yet endearingly charismatic, regular people.
I see someone majorly rocking an Elvis suit.
The show is divisive, and there’s been a lot of internet discussion about the Thompsons. I’ve seen a lot of comments deriding the family as “trash” along with cries of exploitation—as if it’s obvious the only reason to watch this show is to make fun of them and they’re just too dumb to realize it, the poor things. Listen, when someone gets the Christopher Walken treatment, then answers it by doing the reverse—as in Honey Boo Boo and Mama quoting Walken lines—you can go ahead and chalk that up to a level of self-awareness on par with Descartes. Senses of humor: they haz them.
Of course, as mentioned earlier, I do think the show often tries to present the family for ridicule and/or disgust: filming them picking up roadkill (Southern roots: I’m 100% on board with this practice), dumpster diving (if they were hipsters they’d just be “freegans”), jumping around in mud pits (fun), lingering on Mama’s injured “forklift foot.” (Okay that one is bad. June, get that checked out. Once gnats take a shine to hanging out around an injury, it’s time to see the doc.) Yet despite it all, the Thompsons refuse to do anything but remain completely comfortable with themselves and each other.
Gotta admit, she can turn a phrase.
Above all, the show has taught me to cast a more discerning eye towards myself. At the end of one episode, Alana is sitting in a lawn chair speaking to the camera. In the middle of a sentence, she sneezes and a huge snot rocket shoots out of her nose and hangs there. Alana reacts totally naturally for a six-year-old, and covers her nose with both hands to hide the offense from the camera. She’s clearly embarrassed and clearly at a loss for what to do next. She’s six. It seems like the crew are the only other people around. The camera, and thus the audience, stays trained on her like a pointing breed. The seconds tick away and no one says anything. No one offers or suggests a tissue. If we just sit here long enough, surely something good—something gross—will happen and…wait, who are the shameless ones again?
You’d better redneckonize.
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