Here Comes Honey Boo Boo: the cruelest reality show ever?

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo debuted on TLC last night, and the good news is that the Earth is still spinning this morning. While TLC rarely airs a reality show that isn’t about staring with mouths open at someone who is the opposite of average in their behavior or physical appearance, this show is particularly awful and unbelievably cruel.

I have little sympathy for June, who’s 32, or her husband and his face full of chewing tobacco. But the show spends a significant amount of time mocking underage kids, including a pregnant 17-year-old and a 15-year-old whose nickname is “Chubbs” or “Chubbette” even though she is among the most average-sized person in her family.

There isn’t a single scene or moment that isn’t crafted to ridicule whoever is on screen, whether directly (as they stuff their face with food and talk about losing weight by farting) or via the editing (juxtaposing footage with comments and/or music). The show even rips people for no reason, like the etiquette teacher producers brought to the house; as she’s walking to her car, we hear her say, “Okay, do I have my keys?” Why include that if not to make her look like a fool?

I won’t pretend that I haven’t done my share of mocking of reality show contestants, but it’s always for their behavior, and they’re nearly always adults–adults who consented to being on TV. (I am struggling to rectify my reaction to this with my fond memories of Kid Nation, although there’s clearly something different about filming a kid’s daily life and taking kids that volunteer to be part of an experiment away from their parents.)

Really, mocking the cast of this show is too easy. It takes no effort, no critical thinking, no creativity to process what you’re seeing at then make connections or draw humor out of it. It’s like the dumbest of dumb comedy, so stupid that it’s actually not funny.

I did laugh, I’ll admit, once: When June cracked up while trying to explain why they use the word “biscuit” as a synonym for “vagina.” I think it’s dumb to have kids use synonyms for biological parts, but that she couldn’t explain it without laughing seemed like a truly genuine, non-performative moment.

This show doesn’t seem that fake to me. Just as pageants exist even without reality TV, I have no doubt that this is how Alana and company live. Reality TV, at its best, can show us how other people think and live. But this is not framed, filmed, edited, or presented as a documentary, it’s presented as comedy. There are glimpses of something interesting here, like Alana calling a male pig in drag “gay” but then defending that pig’s right to be whatever it wants to be. More broadly, one could argue that the show is about unapologetically being oneself.

But Here Comes Honey Boo Boo mocks people for being themselves, and would rather go for cheap laughs. And what pushes me over the edge are that its targets are kids; I fear for Alana.

Mostly, I fear for a society that’s so willing to take swings, especially at the easiest, youngest targets.

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo: F

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