Here comes Honey Boo Boo…John Logie Baird turns in his grave

10 09 2012

If you were to sit down in a pub with your mates at this moment in time, the chances are that your conversation over the next few hours would cover a lot of subjects.

Most would be related to sport, sex or politics. In some cases, a combination of all three.

You might talk about how religion should not be the reason why you vote for a future President, or discuss why the first song to be transmitted from another planet was by a Black Eyed Pea instead of a Thin White Duke. You could even find out if anyone managed to catch the remake of Total Recall in the 47 hours that it was available in movie theaters.

There could be millions of things to discuss, hundreds of paths to go down, thousands of tangents to follow and several pints to drink.

At some point, either social media or reality TV will make an appearance. Someone will tweet or update their Facebook status, somebody else will check in at the place you are all sitting and there are likely to be pictures taken to be uploaded later as evidence of what a fun night you are all having.

Spoiler Alert: You don’t know what fun is until you have hung out with “Crazy” Tony at the local dump looking for clothes for your teenage daughter in a dumpster. Fun is something that can only be achieved by rolling around in mud, feeding six-year-olds a mixture of Red Bull and Mountain Dew and breaking wind wherever (and whenever) possible.

Welcome to the world of Honey Boo Boo.

I admit that I have a deep dislike of reality TV.

I try to stay as far away as possible from the soul-sucking despair that comes from watching a camera crew focus on human misery as a form of entertainment. I don’t want to see Dance Moms, have little interest in watching a bunch of brides-to-be have their wedding paid for by a television network and I would quite happily go through life without ever needing to know just how desperate a single guy or girl has to be to go on a show that puts them up in a mansion for weeks, sends them to foreign places and then films the moment when their heart is wrenched from their bodies – it’s similar to the scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom but with more crying and the knowledge that the unlucky loser in love will be on the next season.

I remember when reality TV was less about the drama and more concerned with a social experiment. I loved the first season of Big Brother in the UK, it was fresh and exciting, a fascinating glimpse into what happens when you lock strangers in a house and get the public to watch. The second series was not as good, the third got worse and by the time that the show had disintegrated into a bunch of pre-Z-list celebrities trying to be outrageous, slutty or a little bit mad, I was long gone.

Reality TV has been around for years, it has become a cheap way to fill TV screens with human interest stories that can, if filmed correctly, offer a valuable insight into how other people live their lives.

Last week, I stumbled across “Here comes Honey Boo Boo” on the channel formerly known as learning, TLC. Put it this way, it has taken me several days to gather my thoughts and write them down.

For anyone who isn’t aware of who HBB is, she is the “breakout star” of something called ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’,  a show about beauty pageants for children that I have mercifully missed. She lives in a house in McIntyre, Georgia, that isn’t just on the wrong side of the tracks but actually located about 2 feet from them – seriously. Her real name is Alana, she is 6 and she is packed off on a regular basis to compete in local beauty contests by her morbidly obese mother, June.

Alana is a little bit chubby and is not what you call a classic beauty. Her language sounds like a stripper asking for more one dollar bills and she has a pet pig called Glitzey. Theoretically, she is the star of the show.

But she isn’t really. The camera is on her a lot, but it is the supporting cast that made me put my hands over my eyes on more than one occasion.

There is the mother, June, 32. June has four children, all girls known ‘Pumpkin’ (12), ‘Chubbs’ (15) and ‘Chickadee’ (17). The father of these girls is not in the picture. Alana’s dad has stayed around, his name is Mike but he is just known as ‘Sugar Bear’.

Chickadee (real name : Anna) is already pregnant, although considering that June gave birth to her when she was 15, she has bucked the family trend. Sugar Bear works, at what we are not really told, but June spends her life sitting around in chairs and breaking wind. She is not an attractive woman.

The entire show has subtitles so that we can understand what they all saying…however, as they seem to use language as a random selection of noises, the subtitles are relatively pointless.

I had come to the conclusion recently that reality TV had hit the bottom of the barrel. Then I watched this program. There is no bottom. In six months time, we might even come to consider this glimpse into Alana’s life as a well-made social snapshot of what life is really like for people struggling to cope in the aftermath of the recession.

Aristotle once said that “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.” He was wrong.

Poverty is the cash cow that allows companies like Endemol (surprise, surprise) to film people that we can all point at and smile…and not in a good way. Alana Thompson and her family are being exploited, not just by a system that has let them down but by the entertainment medium that is so important in their lives.

And we are responsible.

I can’t get really mad at Endemol, they think they are doing their “job”, that we need to see reality as it is for other people. Actually, they probably should bear a responsibility for inflicting this sort of programming on to the viewing public…but this is a two-way street.

The viewers and the television production company. An unholy alliance.

Because we are the ones that want the bottom-scraping nature of Reality TV to never end, we want to feel smug in the knowledge that the “freak show” is displayed for our entertainment and that we can sit back, relax and enjoy the sight of a six-year-old girl starting her life in the full glare of camera lights that will disappear as soon as the next circus comes to town.

We should be ashamed.

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