The Path of Enlightenment

What I'm learning from my time with Honey Boo Boo Child

What I'm learning from my time with Honey Boo Boo Child

Austin photo: News_Honey Boo Boo_Pageant
Honey Boo Boo: glitzed up and on go-go juice. Courtesy of TLC
Austin photo: News_Honey Boo Boo_At home
Alana: Behind the glitz. Courtesy of TLC
Austin photo: News_Honey Boo Boo_Family
The whole clan (clockwise from l): Chubbs, Sugar Bear, Pumpkin, Chickadee, Mama and Alana. Courtesy of TLC
Austin photo: News_Honey Boo Boo_Pageant
Austin photo: News_Honey Boo Boo_At home
Austin photo: News_Honey Boo Boo_Family

Y'all, there's a new love in my life.

She's blonde, she's curvaceous, she's hysterical and she's a pageant queen. Of course, she's also six years old and lives in Georgia, so I only get to watch her on TV once a week.

But thank goodness America has turned its recession-weary eyes on the Deep South for lessons on making it in these tough economic times, along with a dash of schaudenfreudian delight mixed in for good measure.

 Luckily, Alana is busy making a million dollars and having a successful cable series focusing on her and her family — something none of these other big-hair "flipper" chicks are doing, that's for sure. 

The Learning Channel, now known more commonly as TLC (so as to hide that pesky L-word), has made breakout stars of Alana Thompson and her oddly endearing car crash of a family, recognizing the cash cow(s) available after their original breathtaking appearance on the consistently jaw-dropping Toddlers & Tiaras.

The producers of T&T (which could just as easily be called Toddlers' T&A) saw the miracle that sweet baby Jesus had presented to them in the crazed eyes of that spastic backwoods beauty queen Alana who called herself "Honey Boo Boo Child" and instantly made herself a star.

True, Alana is not exactly winning Grand Supreme at any of her beauty pageants that value whatever disgusting pageant definition of "beauty" that includes babies wearing fake eyelashes. She's too hyper, too pudgy, too much talking like a life-weary, roadside stripper to fit in with this crowd of tiny parental abuse victims. Sadly, beauty pageants will likely never be her road to happiness.

Luckily, Alana is busy making a million dollars and having a successful cable series focusing on her and her family — something none of these other big-hair "flipper" chicks are doing, that's for sure.

And, y'all. This show. Honestly, it's just so fascinating. From an ethnographic standpoint, and also from just a human-being-in-the-world-with-eyes way, too.

First off, the Thompsons are some real-ass Americans. They are overweight, they are undereducated. They are clueless as to the harm they are doing to themselves and their offspring. And they are hysterical and hard-loving and weird as all hell.

Basically, they're like your family if you stripped away all the pretensions about what we're "supposed" to be and just let everything hang out in the open and laughed about it. They just don't care what you think. And it is a beautiful thing to watch.

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo! is the show that America needs and deserves right now. The geniuses at TLC are actually teaching us something about the ample embrace of blue collar America and about our desires to romanticize it when times get hard.

There's a reason Bravo's Housewives of Whoville's antics are no longer the subject matter at the water cooler. We're done dreaming of what we can't ever have. Now we want to feel better about where we are, and where else are we going to find that kind of reassurance?

There is a raging debate about whether or not Mama June Shannon (the morbidly obese "coupon queen" who has a refreshing level of self-esteem) and generally absent father Mike ("Sugar Bear") are abusing their children with the never ending flow of junk food and "go-go juice" (Red Bull and Mountain Dew) that keep Alana in tip-top pageant form.

In her defense, Mama says, "A lot of pageant moms know what the special juice is. Everybody has their different concoctions. We tried the Pixie Sticks, what everyone calls 'pageant crack.' But we went through 15 bags at one pageant and it just don't do anything for her... I'm not hurting her."

See? She gets it.

Most sigh-worthy, however, is the fact that Mama June is now a grandmother at the tender (and downright shocking) age of 32. (Yeah, she's only 32.) Her eldest daughter, "Chickadee," is about to give birth to a baby girl at the age of 17, which is two years older than June was when she had Chickadee.

This is not to say that having a baby at the ripe age of 15 is in any way life ruining or even all that uncommon these days, but looking around the Thompson household, you can see how it might lead down a path of extreme couponing and pageant momming.

But even in the bleak confines of their sparse McIntyre, Georgia home, the family (or at least the edited and packaged version presented to us, the ravenous masses) seems genuinely compelled by love and respect and humor towards one another.

June clearly expresses her support for her girls and has instilled in them a healthy (if not, at times, over-inflated) self image. Below their constant play fighting and taunting is a sincere level of warmth and respect.

And every one of the family members (except for the silent Sugar Bear, perhaps) is surprisingly funny. How six-year-old Alana developed her keen comic timing is honestly beyond me.

In Episode Two, the producers give Alana a squealing pot-bellied pig that she promptly names Glitzy. When told that the pig is a boy and Glitzy is a girl's name, Alana responds that she's going to dress him up like a girl and make him a gay pig. What!

"I just hope Mama doesn't eat Glitzy. She eats everything else," says Alana in a testimonial shot. You're killing it, six-year-old!

Glitzy's arrival is at the same time heartwarming (people in the South know what "gay" is and they have no problem with it!), hysterical (she's putting a pig in a dress and painting its nails!) and totally awful (it's a screeching pig in a dress given to a loud, overweight pageant contestant!).

So many conflicting, layered feelings. Good work, The Learning Channel.

Like all of our childlike empresses, Alana will eventually be sacrificed to the pop culture engine that is presently crowning her with so many barely-earned titles. Childhood won't last long enough, and she'll eventually realize that shaking her belly at strangers elicits a very different response.

Her circumstances have not mapped out an easy future ahead, so pretty soon we'll get to see if she is really as smart as the pageant queen she plays on TV. She could be our next Kathie Griffin or Roseanne Barr. Or she could be our next pregnant 17-year-old from McIntyre, Georgia.

Now that'll be something worth watching.

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Here Comes Honey Boo Boo (aka your reason for getting cable) is on TLC on Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. in Texas. Check your local listings for specifics.