With TLC's Here Comes Honey Boo Boo pulling in huge ratings—2.2 million for the premiere episode, and holding strong—the backlash has begun. Now that she's a public figure, people have dug into Mama's background to find an arrest record, mug shot, and a CPS investigation. Additionally, the network is coming under fire, with critics claiming that six-year-old Alana Thompson and her family are being exploited.
This morning on Today, experts weighed in on the controversy of whether these kinds of shows are entertainment or exploitation, touching on all of the talking points of the same, tired old argument that's been going on about reality television for 40 years, since the premiere of An American Family in 1973.
Lisa Belkin of the Huffington Post provided a classic anti-reality show comment:
I don't think people are watching them as role models. I think people are watching them to laugh…And it shouldn't be fun to watch. I'm not quite sure how we got there.
This happens every time a reality show becomes a huge hit and crosses over into iconographic territory. Social critics start wringing their hands over how low we've sunk as a civilization, joke about how said show is a sign of an impending apocalypse, and express shock that anyone could bring themselves to watch such "trash." My favorite, though, is when people like Belkin profess their concern for the subjects of these shows and how they're being mocked. The implication is that people on reality TV, like the Thompsons, can't even comprehend that their lives are totally unfit to be broadcast on television. The sentiment, essentially, is that these people are too stupid and ignorant to know that their lives are unessential and embarrassing. Publicly voicing such opinions is the height of rudeness. Also, give these shitshows a little more credit: the stars tend to know why they're on air. They're not as clueless as we might like to believe.
And why shouldn't the Thompsons showcase their cheeseball breakfasts, pregnant daughter, Redneck Games, and discussions of their own obesity? Is it because it's bad for them? Or is it because it's bad for you? Does it make you uncomfortable to see how other people live? Would you rather not be associated—as an American or a fellow human being—with people like the Thompsons because you deem them beneath you? If that's the case, who's the ignorant party here? The people who are totally comfortable with themselves the way that they are, or the people who don't like those people for being the way that they are?
Jersey Shore, The Real Housewives, Toddlers & Tiaras, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Teen Mom—they might not be representations of the America that you like, but they're a part of an America that exists. As TLC president Eileen O'Neill recently told the Washington Post, "[These] are worlds that exist with or without our camera there." And that's very true (at least in the first season of any reality show, before its subjects are affected by the trappings of fame). But reality TV is so ubiquitous—and actually, a viable career option—that documenting how people react to that just-add-water brand of insta-celebrity is a worthy social study.
And June Shannon, AKA Mama, is certainly learning, firsthand, about the cons of a meteoric rise to notoriety. Just last week, her mug shot and arrest record—charges regarding child support and theft—came to light. Then The National Enquirer revealed that in March 2012, Shannon was investigated by CPS after a video popped up on YouTube of six-year-old Alana dancing for dollars on a table top at a bar. (The case has since been thrown out of court.) The Enquirer adds:
And that criticism is bound to increase later in the season after Alana's 17-year-old sister Anna, aka "Chickadee," gives birth to a baby girl with two right thumbs –- and grandma June makes fun of the defect!
Always one to keep it real, Mama June addressed the recent bout of bad press on Alana's official Facebook page today, owning up to her legal troubles, explaining her position, and refuting rumors:
yes I was arrested in.2008 over a contempt of court over a child case with one of girls and a theft charges that was DISMISSED the same day ...second no sugarbear ain't all the girls father he is only alanas ...third yes CPS was in my life in march over the go go juice and a concert/bar appearance it happened one time and only one time would NEVER do it again but i made that decision b4 CPS came we went to court and the judge seen im NOT a bad person and there was NO abuse it was the WORST 4 days of my life and it was dismissed…and finally I have NEVER made fun of kaitlyns extra thumb on the right hand we have embraced it
If you've ever seen their show, you would know that the entire family would embrace a physical deformity. They've already come to terms with Mama's "forklift foot" after her toe was mangled when working in a factory. They have their own definitions of beauty. And they seem to have a shared, and healthy, sense of humor. They're funny people on a funny show. It's OK to laugh at a show called Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
Entertainment or exploitation? Experts disagree about 'Honey Boo Boo' [MSNBC]
Change or die: Is TLC approaching a tipping point with its reality shows? [WaPo]
HONEY BOO-BOO ABUSE SCANDAL [National Enquirer]
Image via TLC.