Wednesday, January 30, 2013

In Defense Of: Honey Boo Boo (Seriously)

Many have scoffed at the idea that Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is on a network called The Learning Channel, as if we could never possibly learn anything from it. I learned a very valuable lesson after the few episodes I watched - that a great many Americans who consider themselves normal and socially acceptable as compared to Honey Boo Boo and her family are actually huge assholes. Okay, I sort of already knew that, but this really brought that notion home.


I'm always late when it comes to pop culture trends, usually because I hate most of them and try to deliberately avoid them whenever possible, but in any case, I finally got around to watching the Honey Boo Boo show recently, and something about this one has really bothered me. Now, I'm not talking about the show itself, but rather the reaction to it. Everything I heard about this show before I watched it was how it was not just awful, but somehow illustrative of a new low in our society. South Park did a whole episode expressing just this point, and Adam Levine famously cited the new show as evidence of "the decay of Western Civilization," about which he is apparently jealous, as his band Maroon 5's shitty music is evidently not causing said decay fast enough. I haven't seen every episode, so maybe I just haven't gotten to the one where the family starts fucking each other or eating people, or whatever horrible thing I'm supposed to find so shocking, but frankly, I don't see what all the fuss is about.




I accept the general criticisms often applied to the whole Pageant Mom phenomenon, but I have to think the out-sized reaction to this show is about more than that, as the travails of the Honey Boo Boo clan seem to have sparked more controversy than the original show ever did. More than that, if the show mom thing is really the big issue, than Honey Boo Boo seems to be the least egregious example I've ever seen. I'm often disgusted by the kinds of parents who force their kids through extremely stressful and demeaning programs often against their will just to live vicariously through their children's success, but if anything, Honey Boo Boo seems to be having a lot of fun every time she's in one, and her family appears to be treating these events like the healthy extracurricular activities they are meant to be. So she spouts weird catch phrases like all little kids do at that age to get laughs out of adults, and maybe they don't always make the best dietary decisions for a child, as if my fat ass always ate right. They are passionate sure, but it never comes off as abusive or extreme as far as I've seen.


And I don't buy the whole exploitation canard either. Most of the criticism surrounding the show seems to be content based, that this uncouth family represents a negative example of rural poor American life, but many go even further, suggesting that this family is somehow being manipulated or made to look foolish under their noses. This seems even more insulting than the people who just want the embarrassing rednecks off of their TV. It implies that they are either too stupid to understand how they are being depicted in the media, or that they are too greedy and craven to pass up the money at the expense of their dignity. I certainly can't argue against the claim that the show seems to be edited in such a way as to make the people on it look unintelligent, but I don't immediately then jump to the conclusion that they are ignorant of this, or that it means they've sacrificed their self-respect in exchange for a quick buck. Maybe they're comfortable with the portrayal because they know the exaggerations aren't a true representation of the good decent people they know they are (something that I would argue shows through despite editing tricks), and are content to laugh along with us all the way to the bank. Then again, that assumption requires that one can accept the premise of Honey Boo Boo and her family as intelligent and moral people, which nobody seems all that willing to do.


This family isn't like mine, surely, and in their behavior and appearance they aren't what most people consider to be TV friendly or within the typical standards of acceptability and beauty, but unless I'm missing something, I don't get how these people are destroying America. More to the point, I think they are representing America, albeit a facet rarely depicted on TV, which normally likes to hide people who look and act like this in favor of showcasing the lives of the pretty and/or wealthy. Okay, so they're rural and the mom's overweight, and a lot of them talk funny or appear somewhat uneducated (I say appear because I have no reason to think they are, only that the people who edit this show seem to want me to think they are), heaven forfend! I've met people like this, I know people like this, or people that have many of these qualities to different degrees, and you have too. Did you crumble in apocalyptic fear at the knowledge that these people were real. Is this culture to which they belong, stripped of the goofball sanitation of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour jackoffs just self evidently horrifying?


A lot of people hate Kim Kardashian's show, or like it but hate her, watching the show out of some morbid fascination. Personally, I don't care enough about her to feel one way or the other, but while I've heard a lot of groans and gripes about her show and her perceived unearned success, I've never heard any of those complaints ever reach the same kind of hyperbole as those against Honey Boo Boo. Why is a world in which Honey Boo Boo exists so much worse than a world in which Kim Kardashian exists? Why was the premiere of Kim's show not a sign of the coming doomsday, or a point where we were all compelled to naval gaze and wonder what has gone so wrong in our pop culture? Honey Boo Boo's family, for all the quirks I'm supposed to be shocked by (oh, she buys in bulk, horrible!) come off as a loving, caring, down to earth group of people, while the Kardashian's seem completely devoid of love and human feeling (as I assume all rich people are). If you're hitchhiking down the road and two cars pass, one driven by Honey Boo Boo's mom, and the other by Kim Kardashian, who do you think is stopping to help? Oh, but they might have an old beat up car and say things like "ya'll" when they ask you where they can take you, so, you know, fuck that I guess.


I would submit that anyone whose immediate visceral reaction to Honey Boo Boo is disgust is at least on some level an elitist snob. I can't help but view the reaction to Honey Boo Boo in light of the larger pop culture obsession so many people have with living vicariously through, and alternatively judging the lives of real people who happen to appear on television or in movies. Take for instance, our habit of building up celebrities only to pull them down when it suits us, like the recent Charlie Sheen debacle where every one seemed to agree that he had a serious drug problem, but for some reason found it hilarious instead of you know, a reason to feel bad for the guy. Or what about the growing army of so-called crazy young starlets who only seem to go crazy after we send paparazzi to blind them with flashbulbs 24 hours a day in the hopes of one day catching them coming out of their car without underwear on. Our TMZ tabloid bullshit vulture culture is so bad, it makes me feel bad for celebrities who make millions of dollars doing nothing. Who are we to judge anyone, let alone someone like Honey Boo Boo or her kin, who do nothing outwardly objectionable beyond maybe not being like us?


Is it maybe because on some level, when we say we "hate" reality celebrities like Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton before her, or tabloid fixtures like Lindsey Lohan and Charlie Sheen, we secretly envy them a little too? Maybe our jealousy at what we believe is their unearned fame and fortune is what's at the forefront of our minds when we step back from the edge of absolutely condemning them like Honey Boo Boo. We hate them, but we also kinda want to be them too, or at least be in their position or have their advantages (because we'd be oh so much smarter and morally superior than they are if we were that rich and famous, and certainly wouldn't become just like them). With Honey Boo Boo's family, no one really envies them or wants to be them, so all they are is a mirror reflecting a part of life we either want to deny exists or laugh at until it goes away. They aren't sophisticated like us, and don't have the luxury of obsessing over the minutia of the lives of people we say we can't stand. I mean, they probably wouldn't even know how to spell schadenfreude, let alone practice it as a reflex, am I right?


I just don't get it. I'm not a reality show guy generally. The only ones I like are Comic Book Men and The Joe Schmo Show, only because the former follows a crew I liked previously from their movies and podcasts, and the latter is almost the anti-reality show, depicting all actors save one unaware participant. I would not have ever seen Honey Boo Boo were it not for the explosion of shock, outrage, and collective national shame it brought on. Now that I have, I think we all need to be a little ashamed at how we were all far too ashamed, and what that initial shame says about what complete dicks we are. I say embrace Honey Boo Boo, and learn to be a little less judgemental, especially about shit that does not directly effect us, or the culture, or anything in any way. Honey Boo Boo's family isn't a new low, and just in terms of reality television, I'd say its a step up to actually have people on TV with actual human souls for once. And they're not the decay of civilization either. They're just a family that, if they were my neighbors, I'd think were pretty fun. I wouldn't be crazy about what they'd do to my property values, but what the Hell.
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