In the latest ‘stop the world, we want to get off’ moment, yesterday brought the news that six-year-old Alana Thompson, who became famous on US reality television show Toddlers and Tiaras, is now getting her own spin-off series, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
If you’re confused and blinking at this point, Toddlers and Tiaras follows the lives of young pageant contestants and their families as they compete for crowns, sashes, tiaras and above all else: cash. It’s ‘train wreck’ television. You know you shouldn’t watch it but somehow your finger slips on the remote and ‘oh whoops’ you watched the whole episode and now you want to tell everyone how appalling it is.
And let’s address the elephant in the room. Honey Boo Boo’s family are poor, uneducated and describe themselves as ‘red-necks’. Clearly, watching their outrageous behaviour and listening to them interact is the basis of the cringe appeal.
Alana – nicknamed ‘Honey Boo Boo’ – is the ultimate pageant stereotype. Her extraordinary mother June subjects her to spray tans, hair bleach, false eyelashes and hires ‘professional’ pageant coaches to drill her in her heartbreakingly weird, sexualised dance routines.
June also gives her 6 year old ‘go go juice’ – fizzy drink that contains huge amounts of Red Bull and Mountain Dew (read: caffeine and sugar). But nothing we can write can come close to watching it all unfold.
Here’s Alana (AKA Honey Boo Boo) jumping around after drinking the ‘go go juice’:
And now Honey will have her very own show.
Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is less focused on the pageant side of things and more on the Thompson family themselves. There are three older sisters, as well as ‘Coupon Queen’ mother June and ‘Sugar Bear’ father Mike.
There are ‘redneck water slides’, farting during the opening credits and the parents buy Alana a teacup piglet when she lost a pageant competition. There is endless talk of diets, teen pregnancy and bemoaning of how expensive pageants are and the extreme lengths the family goes to, to fund them.
Content-wise it’s on par with similar US reality shows but with one key difference: Alana is not an adult, capable of making her own decisions. She’s six. Of course she wants to wear pretty dresses and be on TV. But is it really in her best interests?
And what about our role as viewers? It’s easy to sit back and giggle at this little girl’s antics and feel smug and superior about the dodgy parenting skills on display but ultimately, is what we’re watching entertainment or exploitation?
After all, this isn’t about celebrating Honey Boo Boo’s ‘talents’ – it’s about producers deliberately setting her up for ridicule and an audience tuning in to watch the fall out.
Lisa Belkin wrote for the Huffington Post that this is exactly why she can’t stand to watch Honey Boo Boo:
Perhaps that is what some object to. My problem with the show, though, is that I can’t help but project a decade or two in the future. A grown-up Alana will live forever with the image her mother is encouraging her to project before she can possibly understand the consequences.
I don’t doubt that the child is having fun now, or that her mother loves her fiercely. And Lord knows she is a mesmerizing dynamo. But no one who is watching — not the TLC viewers, not the Jonas Brothers, not the talk show hosts who have been calling me all morning to weigh in — are doing so because she is talented. They are watching to laugh at her. And I can’t bring myself to do that to a child.
These are the kind of shows, that you watch with your hand over you mouth. It’s the very worst of human nature on display. And that human nature isn’t just the family we’re watching on our screens but the mindset that lets it all happen in the name of entertainment.
And because these shows continue to rate, they will continue to be made. So aren’t we, as the viewers, just a little bit guilty too?
What do you think? Are shows like this just harmless entertainment or are they exploitation of a family that doesn’t seem to know any better? Do you watch?