Should We Be Laughing At Honey Boo Boo?


A friend made me watch it.

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.  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.  It dawned on me, for one thing, that these obese people are probably seriously malnourished.  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.  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.  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.  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.  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.  Although I worry about her health a lot, I am not that concerned for her over-all well-being.  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!







15 Replies to “Should We Be Laughing At Honey Boo Boo?”

  1. Truth be told, this is the first I’ve heard of the show. I feel for the girl from the description, though I’ve obviously never seen it. The show sounds a bit like a car-accident.

    For instance, while it wasn’t run over by a forklift, my dad (who spent years operating one) got his foot caught in a conveyor belt at work when I was maybe 10 years old? If there was a time to be grateful for Teamster’s health insurance and New York State worker’s comp, it was then o_O It was such a nasty injury. He healed fine, thank goodness, as a result of those two aforementioned institutions. I couldn’t imagine finding “forklift foot” that funny though. Those accidents really aren’t that uncommon. It’s a class-specific car accident, really. Yikes. I hope she gets medical care too.

    It’s bad form to ask for a joke to be explain. I know that. But you know, I am really confused about why “fall off the bandwagon” was funny in reference to dieting. I’ve heard that phrase, in that context, more times than I can count. It does not seem out of place to me, and I grew up in a non-rural area in a northern state and live in the PNW now. It’s probably bad form to ask for a joke to be explained, but all the googling I just tried to do was an abject failure. 🙂
    [A subtle thing, Chris, but the expression is “fall off the wagon” when you quit a diet or start drinking while trying to be sober. To be on a “bandwagon” is a whole different phrase — when you get on your bandwagon about something, it means to be deeply devoted to a cause. She just mixed up the expressions, that’s all. We just found it really cute and funny. – PB]

  2. Well said, my dear, very well said! I have another, long list of why I am not a fan of the show but had not thought of most of your points. Its sad to me on so many levels. The ‘Reality Show’ machine that seems to obsess America is going to chew them and up and spit them out like all of the other un-couthes before them. Unfortunately we won’t hear much about HBB again until the birth of her first child, in roughly 10 years. And it will be a long decade for the whole family, once the cameras and paychecks stop and they find themselves in the same or worse position but with a new found hunger for fame and fancies that junk food wont satisfy.

  3. Good for you for noticing this. When I was a minister in the South I regularly got a lot of contempt tossed at me and the people I served and the state I lived in by “tolerant” liberals from other parts of the country. Poor southern whites were one of the few groups (in addition to fat people) that it was Ok to mock publicly. A few years ago I (briefly) served a church that had a “white trash” party where people dressed up in a way to mock poor white southerners. When a member of the congregation mildly objected, she was set upon and driven out of the church. There was a sad but funny segment on The Daily Show tonight about this in which people at the DNC were bragging about how they were the “tolerant”, “big tent party”, who welcomes everyone except the toothless, evangelical, guntoting redneck evangelicals.

  4. I haven’t watched more than a few minutes of the show. And I feel sorry and scared at the same time.

    But I’m glad you wrote about this show, especially because liberal religious folk want to avoid class talk. And this show is nothing if not a way to confront the issues of class perceptions/misperceptions and stereotypes.

  5. I’m pretty sure that any amount of watching that show would depress the living fuck out of me. I mean, good for you for watching it and not laughing at it, as far as I can tell, laughing at the people on it is the intended way to be entertained by it.

    Someone on twitter said that Honey Boo Boo “isn’t why terrorists hate us. It’s why I hate us.” And I really can’t get past that reaction, though I’m trying because if someone as sophisticated in you sees something redeeming in it, I’m thinking it has to be there.

  6. I’ll tell you what I find endearing: the family plays together. They find stuff to do that doesn’t cost money, and they have introduced me to cultural traditions that I find fascinating. Sugar Bear loves those girls. Mama June is as good and devoted a mom as she knows how to be. Honey Boo Boo (Alana) is a sassy little kid who recovers remarkably well from disappointment and hurts, which says a lot to me. She seems emotionally healthier and better adjusted than a lot of the children of the upper middle class of my acquaintance. I like that the show brings me into the living room of people so different from myself. I can’t help but feel affectionately toward this family who seems not to care that they are the laughingstocks of America. Maybe the joke is on us. I’d like to hang out and bellyflop in the mud with them! There’s something incredibly refreshing about the lack of materialism and vanity in that family — despite their involvement in the pageant world. Alana’s involvement in the pageants is no more stressful than the sports activities that the kids you and I know are involved in.

  7. I understand what you appreciate about it – I noticed a review from a Jewish journal in LA who felt the same way – I was just unnerved that the ratings were higher than the DNC and the RNC – and shouldn’t we be a bit worried about Pharisaism when we watch something like this? – that we are secretly pleased we aren’t like that and imagine ourselves to be superior?

  8. I saw a few episodes of “Toddlers & Tiaras” during a first-season afternoon marathon, and was appalled. Though I generally think it is unwise to reward children for conforming to commercial beauty standards at what should be innocent ages, I don’t have a major concern with pageants as long as contestants are encouraged to look like children, which at least used to be standard in small-town pageants often associated with July 4th and community festivals. As the JonBenet Ramsey case warned us over 15 years ago, “glitz” child beauty pageants are another story.

    Regarding economic class, what I learned from “Toddlers & Tiaras” is that children’s pageants seem to attract the upper middle class, who can easily afford four-figure beaded dresses for four-year-olds, and the lower middle class, who may dream of their child being named Grand Supreme (is this really a title for human children rather than racecars and oversized ice-cream sundaes?), but are probably spending thousands more than they will ever win on pageant costumes and other paraphernelia. Please, all pageant parents, do the math. Save your money and something even more important: your children’s mental health!

    I have never watched “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” and don’t plan to, because I want to respect the Thompson family and myself, and don’t think I could do either if I ever saw the show. In addition, I think HCHBB would make me sad, especially the family’s poor eating habits and obesity. If pageants are important to Alana, how does she expect to continue her pageant career if she is obese? From her picture, she is clearly already overweight. For the record, I wouldn’t approve if her weight was too low, either.

    Lest I seem too serious, I am willing to consider another possibility: perhaps for the Thompson family, much of their show is an act, and because they’re laughing all the way to the bank, they’re really laughing at their audience!

  9. The other political and economic implication of the reality TV machine is WHY reality TV was invented. It is cheaper for the networks producers to find “volunteers” make spectacles of themselves instead of hiring writers, actors, and technicians who are members of unions. Most reality shows are non-union productions. They are scripted, but not by members of the Writers Guild. Years ago, a speech instructor pointed out to the class how much material is needed to fill up the hours of television broadcasting. I have not seen this show, nor do I watch much reality TV.

  10. PB, the attitude that distresses you has been going on for nearly two hundred years now. It’s partly cultural and partly economic. As the wise KJR points out, some people in other parts of the country like to deride Southerners (as far as I’ve ever been able to tell, simply for not being smart enough to be just like them), and dissing the poor because they’re poor has been going on since wealth was invented.
    Poor white Southerners (like me) have a hard time keeeping to healthy diets, partly because all that fat and salt is addictive. HBB’s mama buys a lot of things with coupons, and mostly what you get with those is high fat/sodium. I see very few coupons for fresh produce, or even flash-frozen veggies. Just as an exercise, folks, go to a dollar store that carries food. See how many things you can buy that are actually good for you.

  11. for an interesting review hear Anna Maria Tremonti on The Current (see the CBC aka the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation – a bit like NPR ) – she had 3 guests; a critic, a person who develops reality shows and an academic – most interesting comment was that these shows are about your reaction to them – what that tells you about you –

  12. I’ve only watched (lots of) youtube clips of this show.
    What I love about this family is what I DON’T see in them – there is some kind of cruel hearted nastiness interpersonally, so common on television, especially reality tv, and in so many people everywhere, that I just haven’t seen in this family.

    The oldest daughter with the new baby – I think I have read elsewhere that she had not even been living with the family at all for the past few years until they started with this show?

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