No, really. She did. And we sat and watched three episodes back to back, fast-forwarding through the commercials and screaming with horror and laughter at the antics of the Honey Boo Boo clan, the rural Georgia family of Alana Thompson (the titular Honey Boo Boo), a 6-year old beauty pageant star who was apparently foisted on the viewing public in another terrifying show called “Toddlers and Tiaras” (also on The Learning Channel).
Honey Boo Boo is actually a pretty charming kid, and she seems happy. Her mama, June Shannon, loves her and is devoted to her and her siblings, all of whom have colorful nicknames like Pumpkin and Chubbs. Their father (well, Honey Boo Boo’s father — the other kids have different daddies) is a taciturn, exhausted-looking guy named Mike who goes by the name Sugar Bear.
Not that you didn’t know this already, but this is mostly just class prejudice and humiliation served up as entertainment. The family is edited to seem like the crassest of all possible hillbillies. They’re constantly passing gas or blowing their noses into washcloths or taking about poo. Â In one episode, Sugar Bear brings home a little pet pig for Honey Boo Boo as consolation for her losing an important pageant. The pig, named Glitzy, is adorable and funny scrambling around her play pen. She seems to be getting decent care. Then the kids put her on the dining room table and she poops, causing all of America to join in one communal, “Ewwwwwww!” Makes good viewing: apparently, episode 6 of the show got higher ratings than the RNC.
I admit that I had a great time guffawing with my friend at the things that came out of these people’s mouths (like when June said of her failed diet that she “fell off the bandwagon”). Little HBB herself already has some catch phrases that are destined to become pop culture classics (“I holla for the dolla!”) and she’s pitching ring tones at the commercial breaks. No one knows how much the family is getting paid to be exploited like this — the media reported $2-4,ooo per episode, but Mama refuted that. Who knows? Only their lawyer, and I hope they have a good one.
Somewhere along the second or third episode of the show I viewed, I stopped laughing so easily and became queasy and guilty for enjoying the show. Â It dawned on me, for one thing, that these obese people are probably seriously malnourished. Â Mama June is a couponing addict (by her own admission) and serious devotee of food auctions. With her coupons at the store and at auction at a some kind of local hall, June buys huge amounts of junk food — potato chips, mini frosted cakes, Nestle drink mix (pure sugar), and “snacks” for Sugar Bear to take to work. You never, ever see or hear of any kind of actual nourishment pass these people’s lips. They’re fat and starving, and all candidates for Type 2 diabetes. The adults constantly look exhausted and twice my age – but they’re fifteen years younger than I am.
The producers undoubtedly thought it would be a laff riot to have an etiquette coach visit the house in one episode, and I did get a kick watching the coach barely conceal her disgust at the uncouth behavior of the little girls, one of whom asked if it’s okay to fart at the dinner table. However, if The Learning Channel wanted to live up to its name (ha ha – not in this lifetime), it should have had a nutritionist visit the household and teach the adults how to feed their family on a budget. Â My heart breaks for mama every time she steps on the scale to tip it at well over 300 lbs. and then weighs in her kids. They’re all fighting a losing battle, trying to stick to their “diet” when they must be famished all the time. Â Mama don’t know the first thing about how to eat.
There’s a pregnant teen daughter in the house, of course, following in Mama’s footsteps (June Shannon had two kids by the time she was 17 and often speaks of how hard it was to be a single mother of two babies). There’s no mention of the daddy and it’s none of my business, but when I heard that the baby was born with an extra thumb I wondered if anyone actually knows who the father is. Is it out of line to ask this girl if she was raped by a family member? Don’t come down on me: this is an at-risk kid, and extra thumbs ain’t THAT ordinary that someone shouldn’t be asking questions.
In one episode, Mama June takes her brood to the water park to escape the heat. We find out that she’s very self-conscious about her “forklift foot,” and constantly wears a sock to cover a toe that is deformed as the result of being run over by a forklift. Forklift Foot is funny! My friend and I screamed with laughter when Mama said, “I’m sure I ain’t the only person to get runnd over by a forklift.” But we sobered up fast when the reveal on Mama’s messed up foot showed a severely infected-looking foot with gnats flying around the nail. Good God, this woman needs medical care! Immediately! Are we going to sit around and chortle over the catchy phrase, “forklift foot” while June Shannon loses a toe, or a foot?
I don’t want to be the bleeding heart liberal offering sanctimonious advice where it’s not welcome, and I realize that June Shannon doesn’t care about my concern for her and her family’s health. I still like her, though. Listen beyond that “must-be-dumb-as-dirt” deep country twang and she’s got some great salt of the earth insights.
I’ve heard people I know and respect refer to this child as “not a ‘she’ but a ‘thing.'” That disturbs me a lot, as it should disturb all of us when we hear anyone vilify a 6-year old kid for the crime of being famous and subjected to public scrutiny and ridicule. Yes, her mother has put her up for sale, so to speak, but Mama June did not ask us to demonize and body-shame her child – that’s the public’s choice, and I would ask us not to participate in that. Â The show has encouraged Americans in their moralizing about fat people and reinforced the notion that fat people are lazy, stupid and disgusting. Like this sniffy Hollywood Reporter reviewer, who equates the fat, slovenly Honey Boo Boo clan with the well-groomed, professional and put-together beauty pageant coach, (who is also overweight), TLC’s program gives Americans a weekly chance to bond over our national sport of sexist objectification and fat-hating. Don’t blame TLC. They wouldn’t run it if we didn’t watch it.
If it makes you feel good to rip on the HBB, be my guest. But don’t be surprised when I walk out of the room. Â Alana Thompson and June Shannon are children of God, not pigs or “its.” They’re rural Georgia gals who ain’t doing you no harm, folks, and who have done nothing hateful. If their ugliness offends you, quit watching as an excuse to exercise your superiority muscle. I’m going to keep watching “Honey Boo Boo” because I like this family and I’m rooting for them. I think little Alana is legitimately funny and bizarrely appealing, and she doesn’t seem any more abused or traumatized by her crazy home life than any other child I know. Â Although I worry about her health a lot, I am not that concerned for her over-all well-being. Â She is loved, she is confident, she is no more amped up on sugar and garbage than a lot of children of privileged parents, and she has a good time. It’s downright refreshing to see an American family hanging around together with unscheduled time to share, all in one place without everyone in their separate climate controlled rooms or vehicles, clicking away on electronic devices. They have fun, and I wish I had had more fun like that growing up.
Another thing, though, in addition to desperately wanting to go grocery shopping with Mama and send a nutritionist her way, I’d love to see just one book in that house. Those kids need to be eating healthy, and they need to be reading books.
Time to go. I have an order of service to craft, and Honey Boo Boo is on in 40 minutes!