For anyone who knows me, this will not come as much of a surprise, but I absolutely adore bad reality TV. If it were possible to be a connoisseur of trashy TV, I am pretty sure I would be it. I love it. I love watching, sneering, judging & laughing at people and feeling the warm glow of smug self righteousness at the stupid people that will sign a release form.
My favourite? Toddlers & Tiaras. It has all the trainwreck of stage mothers, overdone makeup, rednecks and sequins to get me excited. I don’t understand pageants. I don’t understand pageant Moms. But to watch them is a delight. They are generally miserable, vain and superficial and… well… I like to mock people to feel better about myself.
I first saw Honey Boo Boo (aka Alana), with her mother (“Mama”) June on Toddlers & Tiaras. I remember June, because I mocked her. I stereotyped her and judged her. I was outraged at the idea of giving her daughter a pep drink. And I remember Alana’s cuteness & OTT precociousness. As did most people. But, that was that – I watched it, I moved onto the next train wreck in the next episode, and continued my life.
Then, this month, I heard everyone talking about Honey Boo Boo. It rang a bell, so last Friday, I said to Martin “I need to find out what this Honey Boo Boo thing is all about”. We hit up YouTube and watched the first few minutes.
And that was that. We laughed our arses off and I decided right then & there that I needed a piece of this show. You know, because I am a Toddlers & Tiaras fan and have been known to yell at the TV during Keeping Up With the Kardashians. I needed this delicious trainwreck.
So I started watching. They are all on YouTube… start with this and work your way through:
The first episode exceeded my expectations. As did the second, and the third. I found myself laughing in disbelief, condescension and outright disgust at what I was watching. And, when Martin pointed out the lifetime supply of toilet paper in the background – I was a goner. But then… something strange happened.
I kind of fell in love with these people.
I can actually pinpoint the moment it happened. The precise moment where the Thompson family felt like family, and someone made fun of them and I wanted to punch them in the face. There is a scene in Episode 4 with a smirky pedicurist (or whatever they are called) snarking with the camera about June and the girls’ feet.
Something shifted. What started out as a pretty transparent attempt by the TLC Producers to show up the family as idiotic, grotesque hicks dancing like monkeys for my amusement – in that moment, turned into much more. That pedicurist, with her condescending smirk about the ‘interesting’ family turned it all on its head and made HER look like the idiot.
It was quite startling.
There is actually substance to Here Comes Honey Boo Boo that I never, ever expected. And, despite all the power of Reality Show editors, farts & closeups of a fat woman eating (oh have Mercy!), it became pretty clear that this family… are… happy.
How many people do you know that are happy? I know I’m sure not. Looking past the superficial, that family – made up of a fat matriarch with a ‘forklift foot’, her de facto a short toothless man called “Sugar Bear”, a pregnant teen who gives birth to a baby with an ‘extra thumb’, and an obviously screaming untreated ADHD world-famous 6 year old daughter – not to mention the fact that Mama’s 4 girls are to 4 different Dads, they eat roadkill and go “shopping” at the dump (yes, for those who haven’t seen it yet… I know how that reads… and yes, it is funny writing it down) – they are living the life so many of us want and daren’t admit it.
Bear with me, because I am not saying I want to eat roadkill or eat sketti with butter & ketchup.
OK, I kinda want to try the sketti…
There is a sweetness and authentic love in this show that makes it impossible to continue laughing at them, and instead, you begin to laugh with them. They are just so… endearing. And funny.
Not in a condescending way. Not in a “oh look, they’re poor and fat and they’re ignorant” way.
In that truly envious way, where they remind you exactly of what is important, and see the wisdom underneath. “Sugar Bear” is devoted to his family, and doesn’t differentiate between his biological daughter and the others. Both parents create fun & happy memories for their children, spend quality time with their friends and play in the mud. Even when it is uncomfortable for Mama to do so, she gets out there, puts on a bathing suit and goes on a water slide in public. They eat food because it tastes good and is cheap so that they can support their youngest daughter’s expensive ‘hobby’.
And they laugh their arses off. They play stupid games like “Guess the Breath” and hang shit on each other in a way that only someone who truly loves you can. And when the teenage daughter’s baby was born with the extra thumb, they laughed at it, embraced it and moved on. The love in that family is just so obvious, that it just smacks you in the face. Watching that baby come into a family of people who truly were excited to see her join them was… surprisingly moving. Yeah, I cried. Shut up.
There’s been a lot of hate towards the family. The South Park episode was rather mean-spirited, and commentators are calling it ‘exploitative’ (like, somehow they are in need of our middle class/educated ‘protection from themselves’, because… you know… they’re so stoopid and muddy and fat!), or that it is mocking them & their ‘ignorance’. But, much like the pedicure girl who thought she was the clever one – maybe the joke is on us.
Because you know what? They are happy. And most of us are not.
The Kardashians are not happy. The Pageant Moms are not happy.
But Mama, Sugar Bears & their family? They are happy.
This is confronting to us, because they lack the “happiness” metrics: thin bodies, good looks, teeth (!), money, a house without a train running through the backyard, big screen TVs, marriage, romantic dinners and possessions… in fact, in most ways the Thompsons do pretty much everything that is opposite to what most people deem to be “successful” in life.
And yet, there they are. Right in front of us, mocking our value system: Laughing. Smiling. Happy with who they are. Charitable to those less fortunate. Having fun with ‘extreme couponing’. In love. Water slides! Raising women who are secure in their bodies. Supporting and loving their pregnant teenager, and celebrating the arrival of their granddaughter (at 32!) and showing love and acceptance to each other – no matter what. Even the gay uncle “Poodle”.
That’s pretty uncomfortable, isn’t it? To think that you might have it all wrong and that these people that you initially watched with the intention of feeling superior, actually did the opposite.
If you haven’t seen the show yet, do. It starts as a laugh and ends as a journey with people that, truthfully, I envy. And I am not ashamed to admit it.