I first saw Honey boo boo several months ago after hearing a debate on CBC radio on the significance of airing such a graphic description of craven lower-class slovenliness, and the argument was heated over whether Honey Boo Boo and her family were being taken advantage of, or if they were actually in on the joke.
I fully admit to having been curious about this apparent car crash–a depraved depiction of motherhood! ooh!–but I was also genuinely interested in what sounded like perhaps a unique (if sensational) representation of contemporary family life.
So I found access to a couple of the early episodes online, and…I kind of loved it. I didn’t love it enough to continue watching, because voyeurism isn’t really my thing, and I have lots of work to do, but I loved it enough to stop to think about all of the media attention the show has received, and to wonder why there is so much negativity about what seemed like an affectionate and relatively well-adjusted (comparatively?) family.
I really want to emphasize that my position is *not* one of being an avid tv enthusiast. We don’t have a tv, and I watch the screen fairly rarely (although I have enjoyed the odd series, and a movie once in a while. Lee is a huge fan of the Walking Dead, but I can’t really get past the relentlessness of the blood & guts misery of it all). I have actually never watched a “reality” tv show before this, but I was immediately charmed by Honey Boo Boo and her irrepressible and hilarious family. I found them all to be incredibly loving and sweetly kooky. The lifestyle of Honey Boo Boo, Momma, Sugar Bear and the older sisters is not what I want for my own life, but they all seem very happy.
And I know this probably seems like a very strange subject for me to write about, but since hearing the CBC piece on Honey Boo Boo (in which no one even considers the possibility that Honey Boo Boo is a show that could be portraying–albeit lightheartedly–a real family), I have come across countless other discussions and essays on how terrible the family is, what an awful mother Honey Boo Boo has, how disgusting it is that they are all overweight, etc. I have even heard specific criticisms of an early scene in which the girls scramble on the [relatively clean] floor, popping escaped cheezies into their mouths. Well now. Clearly no one has ever eaten anything off the floor at my house. Gosh no.
And I find it interesting that well-educated, middle-class, informed mothers like myself, who buy organic food and who read books, are allowed to say nasty things about Honey Boo Boo and her family, but that when well-educated, middle-class, informed mothers like myself say factual things about, oh I don’t know, birth practices in North America, we are labeled as being judgmental.
Frankly, I find Honey Boo Boo’s real main character “Momma” to be positively lovely towards her daughters, and I think she provides an example of totally appropriate motherly devotion, as evidenced by the fact that her eldest, the pregnant 16 year old, is living at home [perhaps reluctantly] and being taken care of with what seems like a total absence of judgement from either of her parents. And Sugar Bear seems like a gentle, kind man, and a devoted father.
Child beauty pageants in general? I think the practice is horrendous, vulgar, and highly highly problematic. But rather than simply illuminating the destructiveness of the beauty pageant industry by playing to the expectations of snobs like me, Honey Boo Boo actually refreshingly complicates my knee-jerk response to that world, by giving us a family that is supportive of their little pageant star *without* seeming to apply astronomical pressures on her, or pathologizing the situation.
To me, Honey Boo Boo represents a family that has really hacked the cliche of small-town, white-trash bungalow American life, by living in the middle of it, sticking together and finding some love while they joyfully wallow in the mud.
I think so many of us are thinking about what it means to have a private life, and what it means to put so much of our lives on display. I certainly think about how my children might perceive my openness online…I do not, for example, regret at all, posting Felix’s birth to youtube: I shared that with the world with the genuine intention that other women might be inspired, and I think many people certainly have been. And I do understand that in sharing that piece of my experience, that I am granting people the permission and the right to assess, comment, and yes, judge.
So, in conclusion, I suppose I think it’s a good thing–that we are all out there, thinking about how we want to live, and of who we want to be. As I get older, I feel more comfortable with who I am, and also of where I am going, and of what kind of life I am cultivating. I realize, increasingly, that the small choices we make every day, the little ways in which we spend our time: these make up our life. I want to be reading books, making music, making art, and bringing up my children with a rich backdrop of art and culture.
But I just can’t knock another mother who treats her kids with love and knows who she is, even if her consumption choices are different than mine.