Boo Hooing Over Honey Boo Boo?

TLC hit a goldmine with Here Comes Honey Boo Boo: A 7 year old pageant queen who knocks back a Red Bull/Mountain Dew concoction of “go-go juice” before making fart jokes and saying words like “redneckonize” in an accent so tragic it requires subtitles.

The critics, of course, are all over it. Some want the show yanked off the air, bashing it for mocking small-town people and perpetuating offensive stereotypes. South Park creators dedicated an episode to Honey Boo Boo in a satirical critique of how we’ve “lowered the bar” on what we find entertaining. And the rest see it as proof that Western civilization as we know it has fallen.

But here’s the thing: reality TV has always been lowbrow shittiness that’s caricaturized people, mocked cultural diversity, and exploited human emotion for entertainment value. This is not news.

So why such harsh critique of this show? Where was this anger during airings of Bad Girls Club, Basketball Wives, and Flavor of Love? Why was this niggatry so accepted as “harmless entertainment” but Honey Boo Boo is the catalyst for a cultural meltdown?

Because this is a show about a white, working class family with a blonde haired, blued-eyed daughter. So surely, something must be done.

In retrospect, mainstream pop culture has been pretty good to white folks. Even reality TV has churned out wholesome, rosy-cheeked family shows like 19 Kids and Counting, John and Kate Plus 8, and Sister Wives.

And even among the more trite variety of shows (Real Housewives of, Jersey Shore, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, the Hills) the premise often highlighted the attractiveness, affluence, status, or lifestyle of the stars.

But a hugely popular White Trash-a-thon? This is some new shit.

The backlash against this show consists mostly of embarrassed white people trying very hard to point out how “unrealistic” Honey Boo Boo is, thus engaging in a rare social practice: explaining the behavior of other people in their racial group to save face.

That’s the amazing and ironic thing Honey Boo Boo has done: unintentionally exposing white people to the experience of collective racial shaming. The kind that assumes the negative behavior of one member of a marginalized group represents the behavior of that group in its entirety.

The identity of whiteness has always been fluid. We’ve judged its members on an individual, case-by-case basis and not as a cohesive whole. And within that privilege came the freedom of living organically; without fear of reinforcing stereotypes or generating shame for the people who look like them. The assurance that, unlike minorities, they could never single handedly be a detriment or credit to their race.

Most of this has to do with the terms in which whiteness has been defined by white people themselves: a hard-working middle class Leave-it-to-Beaver utopia. An image that has managed to be protected and perpetuated, in part, because of the limited aspects of white reality we actually see in the media.

That’s what makes Honey Boo Boo so embarrassing. She and her family penetrate the image of whiteness we’re so conditioned to seeing with extreme contradictions. Instead of the clean-cut “all-American” pedigree, they are overweight, disheveled, unapologetic rednecks. Instead of middle-class suburbia, they live in a rural town where nearly half of its residents are below poverty level. Instead of Judeo-Christian morality, the are four children with four different fathers, teenage mothers, and parents with criminal pasts.

And even as stupid as this show is, it’s ironic that we can more easily internalize the negative images of blackness within reality TV. That we can somehow see a negro in a viking hat and a giant clock around his neck as a reflection of black life, but refuse to accept any aspect of Honey Boo Boo as “realistic. “

So criticize Honey Boo Boo for it’s lack of nuance and authenticity. Push back, protest. Hell, get the show cancelled. But if Flavor Flav ever shows back up, you’d better be just as mad.

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6 thoughts on “Boo Hooing Over Honey Boo Boo?

  1. Who is Flavor Flav says:

    Honey… Is 7 years old, that is the problem. Making this a race issue doesn’t make sense.

  2. Sarah says:

    This is the most glorious thing I’ve read today. And for the record, I love Honey Boo Boo. Or, at least what I’ve seen of her, which ain’t much. I know a thing or two about being white trash, and can say of its detractors – yes, this show is kinda realistic. Of course it’s exploitative, it’s reality TV. But out there in the world, there sure as shit are are white, blond-haired blue-eyed 7-year-olds with potty mouths who drink MD like it’s water and make dildo jokes with three of their mama’s potential baby daddies. I seen it with my own eyes (not on TV, even!)

    And, just to add to the nuance – “The identity of whiteness has always been fluid. We’ve judged its members on an individual, case-by-case basis and not as a cohesive whole.” Well, yes and no. The whiteys who really get the most out of their whiteness is not those we see on shows like HBB or their peers – we judge “white trash” very much as a whole. Poor, food-stamp having, Wal-Mart going rural whites are very much judged as an unwashed mass, a singular culture worthy of mocking (seen the “People of Wal-Mart” blog?). Middle- and upper-class whites are the ones who get the full benefit of being judged on their special snowflake individual merits.

    • negress007 says:

      While i agree that white trash in and of themselves are viewed as singular culture, honey boo boo and people like her still very much benefit from white privilege (hence why people care so much about this show). Also, we dont lump the honey boo boos of the world in with the “standard” white people, nor do we measure them by those standards. In other words, even second-class citizen whites can behave in outrageous ways without ever compromising the leave it to beaver image. Blackness (or any other marginalized identity) doesnt work that way. For instance, there is no “black trash”, no status hierarchy within the race itself that implies an exception to the rule. Blackness IS the rule, and there are a strict set of negative internalized images that define it in america. So much so, that even when black people participate in the game of respectability, even when they manage to tip toe around every negative stereotype theyre STILL subjected to it. (Look at the obamas). Standard whites dont associate themselves with white trash and their willingness to push them into that singular culture, far far away from the leave it to beaver whiteness is an example of that. Honey boo boo can drink go go juice and make fart jokes and that will never really affect the way we see the people on 19 kids and counting because the predominant inage of whiteness is still a good one. Honey boo boo is the exception. Flavor flav is the rule.

  3. Sara says:

    I think race is definitely part of it, but I think another aspect is that they are poor and fat. It is still widely acceptable to mock fat people because of their fatness, and with so many people convinced they’re ‘middle class’ that they can’t recognize the inherrent dehumanization of capitalism, it’s shocking to see fat poor people receiving so much attention and acclaim. I think race is part of it, but it’s also because they’re poor and fat.

  4. Ivory Johnson says:

    Here’s one thing I take from this whole situation: THIS IS HOW YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO REACT TO NEGATIVE PORTRAYALS! Where was black outrage over (insert BET/VH1 miscue here)? I know for certain that “Love and Hip-Hop: Atlanta” didn’t portray any reality with which I’m familiar, but I don’t remember any well-to-do, well-heeled African-Americans saying, “This is not something that represents me and my culture.”

    Interestingly enough, though, I would imagine that most observers of the Honey Boo Boo phenomenon probably don’t see Alana Thompson and her family as white. While the label “poor white trash” may be applied to them by viewers of all races, I’m more than willing to bet that very few of those viewers see the Boo Boo clan as “actual white people.”

    As a native Southerner, I have observed in the last two decades a shift in race relations, where a new divide has developed. Rather than being a black-white thing, it’s more of a less poor-more poor thing. Lower middle- and lower-class whites are simultaneously adopting aspects of lower middle- and lower-class blacks (like Honey Boo Boo’s hand-on-hip-neck-roll-sista-girl-in-training persona), while being treated like poor black people by better-off whites.

    The outrage expressed by whites toward Honey Boo Boo is a manifestation of the realization, “There but for the grace of God go I, and I better make damn sure nobody else notices it.” I pity the poor Boo Boo clan, not only for their unfair demonization (while whites produce programming lampooning black life), but for the fact that they sell their dignity for (I believe) around $7K an episode.

  5. bubbamuntzer says:

    Race, Class and Generalization

    That’s a very bold analysis, but anything that confronts “the predominant image of whiteness” has to be.

    An anthropology teacher told me that culture is basically ‘the rules.’ In another context with working class southern whites, The Andy Griffith Show, there is cast of oddballs who are allowed (by an authority, sheriff Andy) to be oddballs (break the rules) within a certain range, but when they stray too far are gently channeled back toward the acceptable range.

    So the critics of Honey Boo Boo are trying to police of the image of whiteness, albeit less subtly than did the writers and producers of Andy Griffith.

    In any case, it’s a very provocative analysis and I hope you continue to flesh it out.

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