Curiosity got the better of me regarding “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” a TV program I had vaguely heard about but zeroed in on when President Barack Obama joked that he was relieved to have received Miss Boo Boo’s endorsement during last year’s presidential race. A “Honey Boo Boo” marathon ran on, ironically enough, The Learning Channel, so I set my DVR to record three episodes.
I didn’t like the show – no surprises there – but I was also somewhat and unexpectedly appalled by it. Most reality shows are at some level exploitive, but this one seemed egregious. In the Boo Boo household (I have no idea what the family’s surname is), the camera captures a chicken pooping all over the house, while providing close-up shots of people picking their noses. Food and infants get sneezed on frequently. For meals, Honey Boo Boo’s mother, June, opens cans of slop, mixes everything in a disposable baking dish, slaps half a tub of butter on top and serves what looks like dog food to her family. At Thanksgiving, the family guesses that the holiday has something to do with the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria and eventually throws their feast all over one another.
Though the family isn’t portrayed as ignorant and unhygienic every minute of the show, it’s definitely a focal point. And while one can make the argument that the Boo Boo family is being demeaned all the way to the bank, I still felt uncomfortable watching. Maybe I’m too serious-minded about the nature of reality shows in general, but it was sad for me to think that as an audience we’re supposed to point our fingers at these people, then look forward to doing it every single week. The Boo Boos themselves are a complete mystery to me. Fame and fortune notwithstanding, why anybody would want to be characterized as moronic and unattractive on national television is beyond me.
In one episode, Honey Boo Boo’s 18-year-old unmarried sister gives birth to a baby with, no kidding, two thumbs on her right hand. Sugar Bear, the infant’s grandfather, hilariously describes it as looking like a Swiss Army knife. But after chuckling about it, my mind leapt immediately to thoughts of inbreeding without knowing if being polydactyl is even a condition linked to it. By that point, I had been invited down a path that at least veered in that direction, crumbs carefully lain down by the producers of the show.
I know the program is meant to make you laugh, but in order to do that you have to get pretty lighthearted about a terrible education and bad nutrition. I think it attempts to work around this minor inconvenience by wrapping the bad behavior highlight reel in a satin-ribbon package constructed around themes of family love and unity, presuming this will balance out any dysfunction we’ve just witnessed. That way, we can all remain comfortable, maybe even feel better about ourselves than before we sat down to enjoy the train wreck. Fine, I guess, if that’s what grabs an audience nowadays. But it does make you wonder: In this scenario, who is really the dysfunctional party?