The controversy was immediate. People were on TLC's Here Comes Honey Boo Boo like flies on pig shit. Or maybe our collective revelry in the show's trashiness resembled a pig in shit. Whatever it was, a metaphor involving pigs and shit is apt for a show that featured a rented pet teacup pig Glitzy pooping on a kitchen table. This incited laughter onscreen and validation within each audience member, wherever he or she fit on the continuum ("These people are vile" to "These people are endearingly raw").
This show has inspired loads of predictably dull hand-wringing, as well as the occasional fair and insightful think piece like Michelle Dean's "Here Comes the Hillbilly, Again" for Slate. It seemingly has yet to peak in popularity – the premiere of this week's episode, in which Mama June at last revealed her fly-swarmed, "forklift foot" grabbed nearly 3 million viewers (in contrast, the show's premiere episodes had around 2 million). I've been interviewed three times by major outlets based on things I'd already said. We've reached the phase of this phenomenon where we're talking about talking about it.
Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is a perpetual motion machine that would be doing just fine in the closed circuit of display-and-response. But life is messier than that, and the one thing that the show's fans and detractors can agree on is that the family profiled on the show is very real. They're so real, in fact, that they can't be confined by a TV production – their actual reality spills out of the sides of their above-ground pool of a show. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo debuted less than a month ago and it hasn't stopped kicking up extracurricular scandal since. Here is a rundown on the Thompsons' supplemental messiness:
The National Enquirer reported that production "nearly came to a screeching halt" soon after its start in March when Georgia's Division of Family and Children Services visited the Thompson clan. What precipitated the visit was footage of Alana aka Honey Boo Boo (the 7-year-old whose January Toddlers & Tiaras appearance spawned Here Comes Honey Boo Boo) dancing on a college bar that was uploaded to YouTube. (Note that one of this child's catchphrases is, "A dolla make me holla!") Also included in the Enquirer's story: "The parents feed her energy drinks, cheese puffs for breakfast and brag about how they cook roadkill for meals. She even eats roadkill with flies swarming around her head!" ("Energy drinks" refers to "go-go juice," a mixture of Red Bull and Mountain Dew that the Thompsons rhapsodized on their first Toddlers & Tiaras appearance but have apparently stopped feeding Alana. There has been no mention of the pageant pick-me-up on Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Eating roadkill, however, has been mentioned on the show.)
What we learned: A lot about Alana's mother, June, who posted a now-deleted response on Facebook to the chatter surrounding her clan:
well because it out there im going to adores it for my self personally out in fb...first I want to thanks the pageant mom for selling a good story to the national enquirer but u need to get our facts right and u exactly who u r im going to leave u on my list but just remember karma is a b****... first I was locked in 2008 in a contempt of court over a child of mine and a theft charges that was dismissed the same day cause I didn't do it ...second the enquirer story sugarbear isn't all my girls daddy he is only alanas ..another yes CPS was in my life in march cause of bogus calls over the go go juice and a appearance we done at a concert/bar location we done that one time and one time only yeah I made a mistake I realize this and the judge in the court seen im a good mother and dismissed it it was the WORST 4 days of my life I dint wish it on no one im not a perfect parent by no means whi is but ppl that know us I love my girls and would do anything in the world for them ...I don't push alana to do anything she does when she doesn't want to b on tv or do Pageants we r done ...and another thing I HAVE NEVER made fun of Kaitlyn extra thumb on the right hand we just embrace it and have move on ..oh and alana calls all gay men.poodles she got that from her old pageant coach but she love her uncle and don't judge any one .oh k now everyone knows what the truth so go sell my story the real story ...
The "poodles" comment refers to the Thompsons' second Toddlers & Tiaras appearance (which aired immediately before the Honey Boo Boo premiere). Alana's gay-acceptance is verifiable: She practically hoped her pig Glitzy was gay and when her sister took exception, she retorted with the oft-quoted: "You can't tell that pig what to do!"
Oh, and about that extra thumb?
Scandal: An infant with an extra thumb being fed Mountain Dew
Alana's 17-year-old sister Anna (aka "Chickadee") had a child, Kaitlyn, who was born with an extra thumb and then fed Mountain Dew by another of Alana's sisters, Lauryn aka Pumpkin. There is photographic proof of these things. I wonder the antics of Baby Kaitlyn count as a spoiler for an upcoming episode and/or spin-off. Do you really think that TLC, the network currently running separate series about conjoined twins and primordial dwaf siblings, is going to refrain from capitalizing on an extra thumb?!?
What we learned: June is to extra thumbs what Alana is to animal queerness. "We have embraced [the abnormality]. It makes Kaitlyn more special to us," she told People. Sounds like she's already thinking like a producer.
Scandal: Cops were recently called to the Thompson home.
Except, the Thompsons are the ones who called when they arrived home and noticed a door was ajar.
What we learned: The Thompsons are potentially being stalked or grew up in a barn (and forgot). But mostly we learned that for the time being, anything these people do that sounds vaguely scandalous will make for great headline fodder.
Case in point:
Scandal: Here Comes Honey Boo Boo beat the Republican National Convention in ratings.
People are more interested in watching a family sit around than listening to a bunch of politicians bullshit and spit bile at our president! Civilization is falling and there's no Life Alert button big enough or infomercial for that device long enough to help it get up. Yeah, not so fast: The Hollywood Reporter story titled "Honey Boo Boo Ratings Top the Republican National Convention" that perpetuated this myth went on to state that this victory was in the demographic of adults 18-49, and this results from coverage of the convention being spread over multiple channels. "Aggregate coverage of the RNC across networks obviously eclipsed Honey Boo Boo considerably," Michael O'Connell wrote. Obviously. Considerably.
What we learned: There are still plenty of people who'd rather watch a bunch of rich people lie than a bunch of less-than-affluent people tell their truth.
Scandal: "Honey Boo Boo Suffers a Wardrobe Malfunction!"
With a leering headline, Radar invoked language typically reserved for those of age to tease a scene from an upcoming episode, in which Alana's tutu falls off. If a child has a wardrobe malfunction, it's not called a wardrobe malfunction. It's called being a child.
What we learned: As creepy as child pageantry can be, it's no match for the Internet.
Scandal: June's several baby-daddies are felons
June's four daughters all come from different men, and the three she can identify are convicted felons. Alana's father, who appears on the show and is referred to as Sugar Bear, was sentenced to five years in jail in 1998 (way before Alana was born) for robbing and arson. Chickadee's father, David Dunn, received sentences for stealing a handgun and cigarettes. The father of Jessica (aka Chubbs), Michael Anthony Ford, served two years in prison for the sexual exploitation of a child over the Internet in 2005. He also wrote bad checks and shoplifted from his workplace, Walmart. Supposedly, no one knows who Pumpkin's dad is.
What we learned: These people have several seasons' worth of material. They are prepared. Are you?