I can’t believe I’m about to do this but I think I need to defend “Honey Boo Boo”. In case you escaped the recent press, “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” is the latest installment of reality TV shows from TLC. In a nutshell, it’s a voyeuristic perspective on the life and times of six year old Alana Thompson, a.k.a. Honey Boo Boo, and her family. Alana was discovered on another TLC series “Toddlers and Tiaras”, which I’m not sure I can defend. But “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” is quite a different story. The storyline is a daily celebration of the family’s “redneck” lifestyle in McIntyre, GA. They neither look for your approval nor do they need it. Last week, in its premiere, the show was the number two cable original in the Nielsen Ratings with a 0.8 adults 18-49 rating. (Dallas earned the top spot).
Why do we want to watch the antics of this family? Apparently, they make us laugh. Are we laughing at them or with them? They don’t seem to care. The controversy caught my attention on the Today show. There were a lot of opinions being tossed around on whether the show represented good parenting or was exploiting a child who was not yet old enough to decide if she wanted a reality TV show. I can’t see how this is any worse than “Toddlers and Tiaras” or even “Jon and Kate Plus 8” for that matter. It’s television. No one is making you watch it.
I started to think about reality TV and how this all started. I learned we have Alan Funt to either blame or congratulate. Oh you must remember “Candid Camera”. It doesn’t matter that it premiered in 1948. That show changed how we engage with our television sets forever. Reality TV is a genre. It makes use of “regular people”, not actors, there are no scripts and they are usually put in humorous or testing type situations. At least that’s how it started. Around the time we were all worried about Y2K, reality television exploded again, this time it was “Survivor” and “Big Brother”. Today the genre includes the “American Idol” and other contest type reality, non-scripted programming. It’s big.
Apparently we like to watch other people. Maybe we like to compare ourselves to them, live vicariously through their courage on stage, or perhaps we just like to escape from our own lives for a little while. After all, television is an escape. It’s a peek into another life right from the comfort of your own home. Personally, I’m not all that entertained by Honey Boo Boo, but I don’t think that warrants a petition to stop it. I just won’t watch it, probably. I have a choice. That’s what’s so cool about that remote. It’s very easy to control. Change the channel to “Pawn Stars” if you want to.
I thought it interesting that Today brought on a television guru from the renowned Syracuse University (full disclosure I’m an Orange Woman and that may be why I paid attention). Robert Thompson, professor of TV and Popular Culture, told Today, “These shows are really designed in many ways for us to feel superior as we make fun of the people on them, but I’m not sure these people should be disallowed from doing it”. After all, “By the time you’ve completed an entire episode, this seems to be a happy family that kind of has a lot of fun”. I love that he teaches popular culture. Maybe therein lies our conundrum. Are we concerned that popular culture is leaning towards six year old redneck pageant contestants? Is that frightening the thinkers? How do they feel about a zombie apocalypse or hoarding? If Alan Funt were alive today, I wonder what he’d turn his candid camera on. It might be us in our own living rooms laughing at rednecks and never admitting it. I think I have an idea for another reality show. We can call it “I Only Watch PBS” and we can catch people watching Honey Boo Boo and laughing.
“Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on TLC.
Liz Thibodeau is a producer and account manager at Take One Digital Media.