Saturday, May 11, 2013

Yet Another Defense of Honey Boo Boo

Yesterday, Legal Ruralism discussed Eric Deggans' condemnation of "hicksploitation. Deggans astutely points to the lack of outrage to the "truckload of reality shows that make fun of working-class, white Southern culture." We do not fight mockery of working white class individuals the same way we do the negative depiction of African-American and Latinos on television. This is not to say that we should not be outraged about the portrayal of minorities. Aisha Harris recently wrote a poignant article on about the troubling viral trend of the “hilarious” black neighbor, where the "laughter directed at people like Sweet Brown plays into the most basic stereotyping of blacks as simple-minded ramblers living in the “ghetto,” socially out of step with the rest of educated America." However, Deggans' point is to shed light on how redneck, hick, and other epithets directed at (and at the expense of) working class white people persists to be a socially acceptable.

However, I wonder if the TLC show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is actually bad per say. Deggans includes this show as one of "a big pile of the worse stereotypes about white, working-class people." He would classify it is as another opportunity for the television industry to make money off of America laughing at backward "white trash" folks. But not everyone feels that way - including the very individuals who are on the show. In an interview with Anderson Cooper (a professed Honey Boo Boo fan), June Thomson (Honey Boo Boo's mother) thoughtfully  responded to haters of the show. She said, "in life there is going to be criticism ... There is people who love us and people who hate us. We appreciate the people who support us and all through this and the people who hate us, it's a part of life everyday. We are real, we are not scripted. We are who we are, we are loving and I love being around my family so that's all that matters."

The reaction to the show has been interesting to say the least. There seems to be two camps of individuals. On the one side, you have individuals such as Deggans who believe shows like these perpetuate working white class stereotypes at the expense of the reality tv show subjects. Then there are others who think the show is a new low of reality tv, with individuals such as Maroon 5's front man Adam Levine to cite the new show as "the worst thing that has ever happened" and evidence of "the decay of Western Civilization." All this passionate outcry over an average (yes, I said average) working class small town family. This makes me think the real problem is us.

Last year, Joanna Spataro wrote a pretty brilliant piece in the Huffington Post, entitled "In Defense of Honey Boo Boo." Spataro grew tired of hipster, "intellectual," urban elites derisive reaction to her love of the show. (And she's not the only one! The show had higher ratings than the 2010 Republican National Convention, attracting 2.9 million viewers and tied in the ratings with Bill Clinton's barnburner speech at the Democratic National Convention.) She notes, the "dismissive way [a party goer] said that show perturbed me. He was quick to trumpet his more pretentious than progressive views on equal rights, but even quicker to put down a family he had never watched in action."

The Honey Boo Bo family is both supportive and positive. They spend loads of family time together. While Mike "Sugar Bear" Thompson is the biological father of Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson only, he embraces all of June's children as his own. At June and Sugar Bear's commitment ceremony last weekend, the couple felt it was important to stay "true to [their] roots and made the focus on the family" and their commitment to each other. Unlike other pageant moms, Spataro says "we never see June forcing Honey Boo Boo to practice nine hours a day for her pageant or yelling she's too fat to fit into her frilly dress. When Honey Boo Boo says she looks like a chunky lemon in her yellow life vest at a water park, her mom says she's beautiful." June instills a strong sense of worth in her girls. She tells them to "never settle for a man who doesn't treat you right. If a guy doesn't love everything about you, move on! There are plenty of other fish in the sea." June says, "I give this advice to my daughters because I always want them to be themselves and surround themselves with people who love them for them." To me, it seems that Honey Boo Boo and her siblings have a lot to be thankful for tomorrow on Mother's Day.

Further, the family "seem[s] to embrace the rainbow, as they do each other." Honey Boo Boo's revelation of LGBT tolerance was both profound and adorable. She stated: "Ain't nothin' wrong with bein' a little gay" and "Everybody's a little bit gay." Some cringe at the meals the family makes. For example, they love sketti, the mom's homemade sauce made of ketchup, butter, and a hint of mustard. If I'm honest, I love a dish called tuna fish pasta, which consists of cooked pasta, canned tuna, and copious amounts of mayonnaise. Not exactly an "urban" worthy classy dish to serve at a dinner party. Perhaps we are all not just "a little bit gay," but if we look inside, we are all a little bit country as well. 

Of course, not all shows are the same. So I admit Deggans criticism may very likely ring true for some or many of the shows he mentioned. However, I think Deggans' own criticism can be seen as its own form of intellectual elite perception - one that can be just as damaging and hurtful. I think the Honey Boo Boo family is honest and real. They are most assuredly different from my urban indoctrination of what it means to be "a good white person," but that does not mean that they are bad or that their presence on television is a bad thing. Instead I think we should look within and reexamine our reactions. After finally watching an episode of the show, Ben Bailey summed it up pretty perfectly in his blog:
Now that I have [watched the show], 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 judgmental, especially about s**t 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.


Anonymous said...

thanks for share..

Imron Bhatti said...

Confession: I'm a Honey Boo Boo fan. The family's great. I agree with you (and a couple of the bloggers you mention) that the show is enjoyable because it centers on a tight-knit, loving family that is in some (some) ways an exemplar that transcends class and the urban-rural cultural continuum. That said, I think criticism of TLC is fair: the show's premise, especially in earlier episodes, is absolutely hicksploitative, and it's contrived to build an audience on the same voyeurism that spawned auto-tuned remixes of Charles Ramsay, the 'hide yo kids' guy, etc. It's shamefully apparent in the show's production - animal noises and all - and it's lovely that the family's humanity has risen above that muck.