The Silver Lining of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo
Although they are criticized and judged for their uncouth and disgusting behavior, the cast of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo (HCHBB) has more to offer than what meets the naked eye. TLC mockingly frames the behaviors of former toddler beauty pageant contestant, Alana Thompson and her rural Georgia family as ignorant poverty-stricken rednecks. Highlighting their lack of manners and appetite for junk food, “HCHBB” has become the standard for TLC’s niche in speculative reality television productions. The backlash of this production has been both harsh and critical, as the family has been called everything from the “underbelly of America “ to “awful and soul-crushing” (Goodman). There is however a silver lining in the flatulent prone cast of “HCHBB”, in that they push against the grain of pretentious reality television stereotypes by rejecting culturally established standards of beauty, size and materialism, while identifying with a large portion of underprivileged working class Americans. As Allison Yarrow of The Atlantic describes them, they are the “anti-Kardashians”; they face real problems of poverty, obesity and teen pregnancy, which is a far cry from the troubling red carpet appearances and lavish lifestyles of Kim Kardashian and company.
The most obvious and noticeable difference between “HCHBB” and the rest of reality television world is the size and appearance of it’s cast. While most reality television shows feature obnoxiously attractive and unrealistically thin individuals, “HCHBB” is honestly the polar opposite as the majority of the cast is overweight and particularly unattractive. June Thompson, “Mama” the family matriarch, is the face of this image as she is known for having “crust” in the rolls of her chin-fat, is noticeably obese, and frequently refers to her “Vagiggle jaggle” and “beatuimous” looks. Despite being on national television in front of 2-3 million viewers weekly (Yarrow), the cast chooses to look as if they just rolled out of bed (which many times is the case) and to be comfortable in their own skin. This carefree attitude in association with appearance is a stark difference from that of the superficial Kardashians, whom are defined by their beauty and the great lengths they go in order to look their best for the camera. The cast of “HCHBB” does not shy away from the fact that they are overweight and have odd grooming habits, but rather they embrace it. In an interview with InTouch magazine Mama June explains, “Everybody has opinions, and everyone has haters. I think you have to be happy with yourself, even if you’re big. If you worry about trying to make other people happy, you won’t be happy yourself”. This message of self-acceptance is a constant and reoccurring theme throughout the production as Mama June and family could care less about what the viewers think and don't change their looks or behavior for anything. Megan Carpentier of The Guardian further explains this theme as she states, “none of the women or girls who participate in the show seems to hate themselves for their poverty, their weight, their less-than-urbane lifestyle or the ways in which they diverge from the socially-acceptable beauty standard”. Unlike most reality television productions that perpetuate unrealistic beauty standards, Mama June and her daughters run against the grain and remind Americans that it is perfectly ok to be outside of society’s definition of beauty.
Not only does the cast of “HCHBB” reject the culturally constructed standards of size and beauty, they also reject the notion that material possessions determine happiness. In the first two seasons of “HCHBB” the family’s financial struggles are apparent as Mike Thompson, “Sugar Bear” is the sole bread winner and June’s coupon obsession enables her the ability to feed the family of six on a mere eighty dollars a week. Despite their financial struggles they make the best of their situation and embrace their southern redneck subculture, finding happiness with the company of one another in redneck festivals, riding ATV’s and the challenges of couponing. They do not require lavish vacations and designer clothing to generate happiness as it is created through the dynamic of their family interactions. The sad reality is that the redneck Thompson/Shannon family truly appears to be much happier with much less than the affluent Kardashian/Jenner family.
Even after receiving a significant pay increase to $50,000 per episode in season three, the family has stayed true to their frugal and humble lifestyle (Yarrow). This is illustrated in the episode: “Funk Shway”, during which the family decides to keep their current home rather than significantly upgrading to a more accommodating one. They see no point in upgrading from their home near a noisy train intersection, as this house is home to them and that's what is important. Sam Worley of the ChicagoReader reports, rather than splurge and spend their newfound wealth, Mama June has decided to put all of their newly earned revenue into trust funds for the girls until they are 21 years of age. Ryan McGee describes this lack of desire to change as, “They either don't know how to change or don't understand that change is even an option." Regardless of whether they don't want to change or can’t change, this lack of concern for material possessions is vastly different from the rest of reality television world as many times reality television revolves around material possessions. Rather than encourage the shallow materialistic values of greed and envy, “HCHBB” perpetuates the opposite in humbleness and the appreciation for a dollar.
Another important way that “HCHBB” pushes back against reality television stereotypes is by offering an authentic and realistic production for many marginalized audiences to identify with. Unlike Millionaire Matchmaker, Duck Dynasty, The Bachelor, Real Housewives, and Laguna Beach, “HCHBB” is able to identify with portions of America in one form or another. Through their socioeconomic position, redneck subculture or physical stature “HCHBB” validates and reconciles the happiness of individuals that are often pushed to the margins and left to feel excluded from mainstream society for one reason or another. Allison Yarrow describes it perfectly stating, “the most real, relatable, unpretentious Americans on television”. While the rest of the reality television world portrays fantasylands of designer clothing and fancy vehicles (things that are not realistically obtainable for a sizeable portion of the United States population) “HCHBB” displays a life that is authentically equivalent for many viewers to relate to and illustrates that there are truly no restraints to happiness.
While no one is arguing that “HCHBB” is the highest form of culture or that their behavior is remotely appropriate, however it should be argued that their messages underneath the flatulence, obesity, junk food and foul language is something of genuine and authentic value. They truly defy the stereotypes of cliché pretentious and materialistic reality television by illustrating the endearing happiness found in the dynamic of a loving family. To judge Mama June and her family, as the “underbelly of America” is ignorant as it fails to look past their obesity and poverty to their core messages of happiness and acceptance.
Carpentier, Megan. "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo's Surprising Home-truth." Theguardian.com. Guardian News and Media, 13 Aug. 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.
"EXCLUSIVE: Mama June: "I Won't Be Bullied for Being Fat"" Celebrity Gossip and Entertainment News. InTouch, 11 July 2103. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.
Goodman, Tim. "'Honey Boo Boo': That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore." The Hollywood Reporter. N.p., 22 Aug. 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.
McGee, Ryan. "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo · TV Club · The A.V. Club." Here Comes Honey Boo Boo · TV Club · The A.V. Club. N.p., 8 Aug. 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.
Yarrow, Allison. "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo Is a Fabulous Cultural Ambassador fo
America." The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 22 May 2013. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.