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Last night, TLC premiered its first Toddlers & Tiaras spin-off, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. It is a show that reinforces what its source has been trying to tell us all along: the families of those who enter their children into beauty pageants are way more fascinating than the pageants themselves. The show's resulting viral noise has been astounding. You know a piece of pop culture is onto something when many agree that is that it's signaling the fall of civilization. Not since Jersey Shore's debut have the pearls been clutched so ardently, the eyes fixed so steadily.
If you didn't pay attention to Alana Thomspon's first wave of virality earlier this year, which lead to her family's spin-off, or if you have no idea what Toddlers & Tiaras is or why Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is important television, watch the video above and read the explanation below.
What is a Honey Boo Boo?
"Honey Boo Boo" (sometimes extended to "Honey Boo Boo Child") is the catchphrase and eventual nickname (weirdly enough) of Alana Thompson, a 6-year-old from McIntyre, Georgia, who made her debut earlier this year on TLC's child-pageant reality series Toddlers & Tiaras. Her demeanor was unpolished, which worked against her in her pageant but for her in the more important, more grotesque pageant that is reality TV. With a neck-rolling affect that seemed to conjure antiquated black-woman stereotypes, she astounded with her lingo ("A dollar makes me holler, honey boo boo!"), her "go go juice"-fueled hyperactivity and her overconfidence ("I'm gonna win the whole pageant," she bragged, eventually coming in fourth in her age division).
In that episode, Alana was referred to as "Smoochie" and "The Diva Beauty Queen," but because people like to parrot funny things and sometimes use them as names, "Honey Boo Boo Child" is how she was referred to when her outlandishness immediately went viral.
How in the world could a 6-year-old go from appearing in a few segments of a Toddlers & Tiaras episode to carrying her own show?
Well, the thing is that she doesn't really carry her own show. Her mother June, a breakout from Alana's Toddlers episode in her own right, is the real star. On T&T she introduced herself as "The Coupon Queen," in a synergistic bit of TLC-centric crossover (this network also airs the mesmerizing Extreme Couponing, which finds people paying nickels for hundreds of billions of dollars worth of food via coupon clipping and store-policy loopholes). Her behind-the-judges prompting of her onstage child was, uh, pronounced. She gave weird directives like, "Show them your belly!" She dressed her child as Daisy Duke. More than one star was born on that night.
OK, so the mom is a freak. I still don't get why out of the hundred-plus families that have been profiled on Toddlers & Tiaras (because I'm keeping count), these people were the ones to get their own show.
Well, you could read this in several different ways, but the most optimistic answer is that this is TLC's slyly subversive response to the entire concept of pageantry. Alana is as cute as any 6-year-old, but she is far from your average child beauty queen. She's round, she keeps her hair shortish, she farts in the face of refinement (this is literally true – more on farts in a second). Toddlers & Tiaras has been a nonstop showcase of the uncouth and one could easily make the argument that the act of entering one's child into a pageant is a supremely trashy thing to do, but the Thompsons really take the cake, drop it on the floor, pick it up, eat it and note that they've violated the five-second rule. The show all but announces, "This is white trash in America today." Not since Mama's Family has a television show unrepentantly reveled in that aesthetic. As specific as the Thompsons are, this show is vividly anthropological.
It's also a triumph of the underdog (or "middle dog" as June described Alana's status during their second appearance on Toddlers & Tiaras, which aired right before the premiere of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo). The wild weirdo won what all the girls onstage really want (or what their parents want them to want): the spotlight. All of the training in the world couldn't compete with Alana's charisma and noxiousness.
Laughing at the needy is not anthropological; it's just mean. This is poorsploitation. You should be embarrassed for defending it.
I would be if the Thompsons weren't laughing along, or at least laughing so hard that it drowns out all other laughter. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is a show about the joys of sitting around one's house. It's speckled with self-awareness, especially from June, who in one scene washes her hair in the kitchen sink, explains why (in a bathtub, you're sitting in your own filth, so...) and then in an interview itches her head and says, "Hold on, I'm scratching my bugs." The family attends their local Redneck Games, which is an over-the-top display of Southern culture including mud-pit belly flops and bobbing for pig feet. You would have to have the brain of a literal pig not to realize the tongue-in-cheek nature of these events. People participate because it's fun and funny.
Now, that is not to say that there is absolutely no snark leveled at the Thompsons on TLC's end. Bits that in any other show would be excised, such as June's bizarre sneezing and nose-blowing, or Alana being distracted by bugs in an outside interview or having her face visibly wiped down by her mom during a group interview, are kept in. The family is raw and those things display their essential rawness.
None of this, by the way, comes off as particularly cruel. It's 2012. We mock what we love and we love what we mock. Get with the program.
So then Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is "real" as reality TV goes?
Well, the Thompsons certainly don't put on airs (unless we're talking about farting, which we're getting to, I promise, I promise). They do seem performative, but so do a lot of gregarious families when you enter their homes. There were moments in the two-part premiere that ranked among the realest things I've ever seen on film: the scene in which Alana spills a bunch of cheesballs on the floor and then is made to clean them up is straight-up how people live. Cheese dust meeting real dust is real life. (In a later scene, Alana's sister Pumpkin actually eats off the floor other cheeseballs that are spilled in another part of the house.)
So she actually ate cheeseballs off the dirty-ass floor but NOTHING feels contrived?
I didn't say that. While the first episode came off as a slice of the lives of June, her "baby daddy" Mike (aka "Sugar Bear") and daughters Alana, Pumpkin (Lauryn, 12), Chubbs (Jessica, 15) and Chickadee (Anna, 17 and pregnant), the second had some elements that felt like production machinations. The family bought a pig, Glitzy (yet more pageant snark, since "glitz" is the label put on the full-make-up-and-fake-teeth style child beauty pageants). Also, an etiquette coach was brought in to whip Alana and Pumpkin into shape. That felt very much for the sake of the show. Also, as mentioned in the premiere's opening minutes, the show's premise is that Alana is not very good at being a beauty queen and the entire family is banding together to help her self-actualize. How structured.
Luckily, their existence outshines any arc thus far: Alana decides that their pig will be gay (since it's a boy pig that she's dressing as a girl) comes with a staunch defense of their pig's individuality and her acceptance of him if he is indeed gay (I can't believe that is a real thing for me to report, but check the video above). And the etiquette coach's flustering at Alana and Pumpkin's rudeness is so palpable that you feel her pain.
Tell me more about June. She sounds amazing.
Oh, she is. Her explanation of why she refers to female genitalia as "biscuits" is sensational (ultimately, if a biscuit is "cooked right," like those "from Hardee's," it looks like a vulva). She weighs herself on camera, comes in at 309 and keeps her head up in pride. Though nothing that we see suggests she lives a healthy lifestyle, she certainly has a healthy attitude about herself: "Granted, I ain't the most beautimos out of the box, but put a little paint on this barn and shine it back onto its original condition 'cause it shines up and looks like it's brand new." When her daughter asks if they can go on a joint diet, she says she's happy with herself, but will do so out of solidarity.
She says things like, "All that vajiggle jaggle is not beautimous," when referring to scantily clad big girls. She takes her family to a weekly auction of food and home goods. Some of which are "close to expiring" and/or fell off the back of a truck. Her expressions of self-awareness are specific and poignant. Commenting on that poor, tormented etiquette coach, she says, "And I think that she's what we call a square, and we're kind of like a lopsided, obtuse triangle, oval all put together. Like a deformed shape."
Whether she knows it or not, this woman really knows her medium.
Blah blah blah blah blah, what about the farting?
Farting is mentioned at least once a segment on Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Its hilarity seems to be the one thing that everyone agrees upon (though that is not to say that there is strife – this show, in its twisted way, is almost entirely positive at least superficially). The intro/theme opens with a fart joke. Glitzy farts on Alana and June laughs. Chubbs (aka Chubette) decides that she will lose weight by farting a lot. Get ready for the fart diet to take the nation by storm.
Remember when "fart" was something people didn't say on TV? That wasn't even that long ago. Now you can't fart without hearing a fart joke peeling out of your flatscreen. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is a celebration of where we are as a culture with all that, of what constitutes entertainment today.
Ugh, TL;DR. Just give me a single sentence as to why I should care about this at all.
It's Jersey Shore meets Juggalos with a hint of Flavor of Love's weird nomenclature. What more could you possibly want?