The Honey Boo Boo craze has hit the nation. Comedians, newscasters, bloggers and play ground moms everywhere have been talking about The Learning Channel’s show, which follows child pageant princess Alana and her family.
I was never a Toddler’s and Tiaras watching fan, so it didn’t occur to me to even investigate the Honey Boo Boo madness. But as my remote wandered on Wednesday, I stumbled upon the program and ended up recording the remainder of the season marathon as it was time for me to head back to my own life and put my kids to bed.
I watched the recorded episodes last night and am not shy or embarrassed about saying that I love the show as much for what is wrong with it than for what is right.
There are plenty of things to find wrong; obesity, poverty, folks living at the low end of the socio-economic ladder, children who curse as freely as the adults, lack of manners and education, terrible eating habits, questionable hygiene, tobacco use, loudness, abrasive behavior, teenage pregnancy, and least of all the strange phenomenon of child pageants.
If you choose to believe that the success of the show is because of its likeness to a reality train wreck, then your glass is half empty, but I do understand your disdain.
If your glass is half full, though, you might see beyond the obvious. You might find beauty underneath the surface. You might find compassion while falling in love with the crazy band of misfits, lead by a mother who is doing her best.
Consider this. More than thirty five percent of American adults are obese, just like Mama. Genetically engineered foods are everywhere. Cheap and unhealthy fast food is easy and abundant. Corporations don’t teach people to drink water and plant gardens. They advertise soda and junk food and to many people who haven’t been taught a better way, it is the only way they know how to live. If you are doing your best to get by (Mama feeds her family of six on eighty dollars a week) then try to understand the conundrum.
In one scene Mama is making dinner for her family; sketti with ketchup and butter. In the microwave is placed a bowl of Country Crock margarine and a big squeeze of ketchup. It’s melted and mixed and poured over the spaghetti (which I am sure is white flour enriched, not a whole grain within a mile) and Mama mentions that she was “raised on sgetti and ketchup and butter.” It’s no wonder then that her weight (and that of the family) is an issue that they are trying to address and remedy with weekly weigh-ins.
For people who find fault with the language that is used and the often incorrect grammar, verbage and made up mix of vocabulary, consider that one of the biggest social dividers is the difference in education between those with and those without.
I learned to be sensitive to this during my first year of teaching the fourth grade in a poor section of Durham, North Carolina. Most of the time I could barely understand my children and wished they had subtitles like the cast of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. They were ten-year olds, though, and so I could correct their incorrect grammar, fix their vocabulary mistakes. It was hard, but I learned that underneath the lack of knowledge were regular children with the same loves and likes as the richest and more educated ten-year olds I’d known.
Don’t misunderstand. I do not feel sorry for these people. There have been reports highlighting the serious dysfunction (arrests, multiple baby daddy’s, etc.) and it is worrisome. But I am not blind to where they come from, so I don’t feel contempt the way one might if they choose only to see what’s on the surface.
What is below is far more interesting and beautiful.
For example, Mama knows her weight is a problem. Her struggle to ascend the bouncy tower at Alana’s birthday party was frustrating for her, but her attempt to stay away from the junk food and lose some weight is enviable.
The family talks to each other. Whatever you may think of the cursing or word mash-ups, they talk to each other. No one is fighting over the iPad (though maybe that will change with the success of the show). At present time, no one seems lost in technology land.
One episode focused on Mama’s trouble in keeping her kids busy during the hot southern summer. Without many options, the family sets up their own slip and slide with a tarp, soap bubbles and a hose. They went grocery shopping together, played Bingo together, worked together to get Alana ready for her pageant. Together they acted like a family! A real and functioning family.
And there is love.
One of my favorite scenes was when Mama was going on a date with Alana’s dad and wanted to get pretty by putting on some makeup. Mama encouraged her four daughters to make her up and they all laughed and teased and ultimately made their mom look like a “rodeo clown.” After washing off the mess, Alana stroked her mother’s face and said, “I’ll make you pretty, mama,” and the moment of sweetness and love outshone all the nuttiness of the minutes before.
I should mention the lone man who lives amongst the wackiness of Honey Boo Boo’s world. Alana’s father, lovingly called Sugar Bear, is a chewing tobacco spitting in a bottle kind of guy. He’s missing a good bunch of teeth and wore a t-shirt for the professional family photo shoot (he only dresses up for funerals). Again, if we are only looking at the surface, he is a mess.
Dig below and you see that his eyes get soft when he speaks of the birth of his daughter. When Mama’s seventeen year old daughter comes home from the hospital with her new baby Kaitlyn, Sugar Bear sits in his chair, a thin line of a smile demonstrating his happiness. Not a man of many words. A heart that beats quietly on his sleeve.
But the biggest reason for the success of the show is its namesake, that Honey Boo Boo Child, the adorable and feisty Alana. Despite (or because of) her environment she is free and secure in herself and happy. She knows that she is loved and when she is sad (like when her teacup piggy had to be returned to the breeder) she cried like any normal six-year-old would. She may not have great table manners, but she says, “Thank you,” when it’s appropriate and she turns on the charm when competing in her pageants. You want to hug her, she’s so real and for the first time I was rooting for a pageant princess instead of rolling my eyes at the ridiculousness of the sport.
TLC was smart and just this week renewed Honey Boo Boo child for a second season. I for one will be watching and hope for good things for this family.
Have you seen the show? What do you think about it? Agree with my take or just find it offensive?