'Honey Boo Boo': That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo in chair - H 2012

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo in chair - H 2012

Among the many crimes against humanity that TLC, this country's most socially irresponsible channel, has inflicted upon viewers, perhaps Toddlers & Tiaras is the worst. Well, until the breakout star of that show -- a precocious/annoying child named Alana but better known as Honey Boo Boo Child, who is pageant-whored-out by her obese mother, June -- got her own series. It’s appropriately titled Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

The third episode airs at 10 p.m. Wednesday if you want to help reduce the worth of the world by watching it. No pressure.

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Listen, I understand the allure. Honey Boo Boo is a name that’s funny. It rolls off the tongue. Alana, age 6, apparently will say anything. Like, “A dollar make me wanna holler.” She’s all about money. And pageants. And winning. Oh, and drinking her “go-go juice” before each pageant, which is a mixture of Red Bull and Mountain Dew. It winds up the pudgy little girl, and she goes onstage to dance and prance and make faces that the judges truly seem to love.

As does TLC. And lots of viewers.

Which brings us back to that allure. Some people watch because they are entertained by the spectacle of it, apparently without realizing how awful and soul-crushing it is. Others -- let’s say this is you -- watch it because you get the wink-wink that TLC is giving the country and other people like you. It’s the green light to laugh at rednecks and fat people, which is how Honey Boo Boo’s mother, June, aka Mama, readily describes the family.

Everybody loves to laugh at the cliche, and reality shows love to exploit that. Like Jersey Shore. But once the cliches are in on the joke, they start pandering to the camera, and some of the joy is lost. They just become annoying because now they’ve taken the power we had over them -- laughing at their pathetic lives -- and are turning it into cash.

Which is probably what Mama is doing with Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. She’s already famously into “extreme couponing” and justifying a way to save money so she can send Alana to another pageant. But there is some sense here that maybe Mama is too dumb to be savvy enough, just yet, to play to the stereotype like Snooki and company. Which makes the show that much more horrifying and TLC that much more repellant.

Because this is exploitation squared, Honey Boo Boo Child. There’s no doubt that a dollar makes TLC wanna holler. Once hilariously known as The Learning Channel, it has no equals when it comes to showing the underbelly of America. And the neat trick is that everyone who watches can’t really call bullshit on the practice -- precisely because they’re accomplices in the success of selling and promoting trash.

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For the longest time, this is why I never watched. I’m a big believer in the concept of “vote with your remote.” Hate it? Don’t watch it. End of story.

But there’s something peculiarly reprehensible about Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. It’s not simply that Alana is going to need to melt down every cheap trophy she wins or do some extreme couponing to pay for therapy, it’s that there’s seemingly no punishment for TLC in producing this without conscience. (Yes, I know, we’re well past that point with TLC. But still.)

Having caught up with Here Comes Honey Boo Boo -- after trying to put her and her family out of my mind and vacuumed from the cultural part of my soul after seeing them on Toddlers & Tiaras -- I realize I’m not as jaded as I thought. Translation: I guess I never thought a reality show would be this transparently heinous.

Mama is 33. She’s massively overweight (last count, 303 pounds -- down from 309 after a three-week “diet”). She’s involved with Mike, aka Sugar Bear, who couldn’t be more Central Casting from Deliverance if you did a national search. Mike basically sits there, dumbfounded. That’s his role. In the opening credits to Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Mama farts and laughs about it. In the last episode, one of her three overweight daughters (including one who's pregnant, of course), laughs and says: “That crust on my mama’s neck, I don’t know what it is.” Turns out it’s exactly what everyone thinks it is: an egregious amount of dirt stuck in the fat rolls of her neck.

“I ain’t trying letting myself go – I just look good when I want to look good,” Mama says, unconvincingly. In one episode she tells the camera she needs to blow her nose, then takes a face cloth and does just that. Then smiles.

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The show uses subtitles, because the apparent lack of education and the Georgia accents mesh together like some kind of indecipherable Scottish accent.  

Is Mama a hoarder? Of course she is, with all that extreme couponing. She says it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how to do it. Neither does it take a rocket scientist to figure out that this redneck exploitation is a step or four too far in our culture. But it won’t stop anytime soon -- unless everyone stops watching.

And why would they? Honey Boo Boo just got a pet pig (irony lost) called Glitzy. Honey Boo Boo says, in apparent seriousness: “I hope Mama don’t eat Glitzy. She eats everything else.”

In one scene, Glitzy craps all over the dinner table. One of the daughters yells about Mama: “She was gonna eat it! It looked like a hot dog to her. A burnt hot dog.”

Yep. We’re there. At that depth where no one imagined we’d go, even the cynical ones.

One of Mama’s daughters is nicknamed “Chubbs.” Another is nicknamed “Pumpkin.” The other one is pregnant. “Anna’s baby daddy ain’t in the picture,” Mama explains helpfully, noting that she had Anna when she was 15. For her part, Anna tells the camera less than convincingly that she’ll probably be a good, but not great, mother.

Which is encouraging.

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This same episode has the family jumping on a makeshift Slip N’ Slide. “Heat and big people don’t mix, period,” says Mama.

“Rednecks take a bath, waterslide and mud bath all at the same time,” Mama notes.

Honey Boo Boo hasn’t been on a great roll at the pageants lately. She’s lost a few. That’s why they got her the pig. And a new pageant coach who is -- wait for it -- also ridiculously obese. The new dance number for Alana has her trying to be Elvis. “Do you know who Elvis is?” the pageant coach asks. Says Honey Boo Boo, “He’s Santa Claus’ helper."

God help us all.

So here’s the deal: You know this show is exploitation. TLC knows it. Maybe even Mama and HBB know it, deep down in their rotund bodies. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is a car crash, and everybody rubber-necks at a car crash, right? It’s human nature.

Yes, except that if you play that card, you also have to realize that human nature comes with the capacity to draw a line, to hold fast against the dehumanization and incremental tearing down of the social fabric, even if this never-ending onslaught of reality television suggests that’s a losing effort. You can say no to visual exploitation. You can say no to TLC. And you can say no to Honey Boo Boo Child.

Somebody has to.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine