Over the course of writing this column, I’ve made no secret of my deep appreciation for trash TV. When it comes to consuming the crud scraped off the bottom of the cable scrap heap, I have a stomach made of steel. No amount of Kardashians or guidos or any other vacant, appallingly self-unaware attention whores has ever made me gag.
Well, dear readers, I regret to inform you that something terrible has happened: I’ve met my match.
It’s called Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo. If you haven’t seen or read about the show, it’s a spinoff of Toddlers and Tiaras, which is now only the second-worst program on TLC. It stars a 6-year-old beauty pageant contestant named Alana and her family of proudly self-declared rednecks living in a small town in central Georgia. Although her nickname is in the title — because how could “Honey Boo-Boo” not be? — the child is less the star than the excuse for the show’s existence.
More central is her 32-year-old mother, June. She is the walking embodiment of every stereotype the world holds about rural Southerners. She weighs more than 300 pounds, has sagging eyes and a mouth that perpetually hangs agape. Words slide out of her throat in such a greasy garble that the show is forced to use subtitles half the time. She got knocked-up with her oldest daughter at age 15, of course. (And, of course, that daughter is also a teenage mother-to-be.) Of course, she obsessively clips coupons and buys in bulk at the local Piggly Wiggly. Of course, she thinks there’s nothing wrong with being on the border of morbid obesity. Of course, she allows her kids to eat cheese balls off the floor, then chides her 15-year-old for being fat.
I watched two episodes of Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo, pretty much entirely because of the title. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but the show was too much for me. I recoiled from it like an episode of Hoarders.
Let me be clear: I’m not pretending I’m above gawking at and mocking poor folks who submit to having their lives splayed across national television. It’s just not as fun as mocking the privileged. And it gets damn near impossible when there’s a child stuck in the middle. Alana’s precociousness — she’s prone to yelling phrases like, “I’m sassified!” and fawning over her “gay” pet pig Glitzy — is overshadowed by the awful notion that she’s being paraded onto the airwaves to serve as her family’s meal ticket, either via the pageantry circuit or reality TV stardom.
Worse than that, it’s clear to see where her future is leading. Most reality shows have an aspirational quality, either explicitly or implicitly. There’s little indication anyone in Alana’s family is truly striving to break the cycle of poverty, premature pregnancy and health issues they’re mired in. Even more repellent, the producers clearly hope that doesn’t happen, either, so TLC can make the inevitable Honey Boo-Boo Is Pregnant! spinoff in seven years. And that’s one piece of trash I just can’t swallow.
I Need Media is a biweekly media column. Matthew Singer watches everything from PBS documentaries to Community and Showtime’s Gigolos, but mostly he’s just happy Breaking Bad is back. Follow him on Twitter@mpsinger.