If the political scene has you down in the dumps, relief is just a few channels away on your TV remote. When discussions of the "fiscal cliff" give you the jitters, it's a great comfort to know that you can always turn to The Learning Channel for some deeper understanding of this troubled world. Yes, nothing puts it all in to perspective better than watching back-to-back episodes of "Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo."
Honey Boo-Boo premiered in August of this year and has become an instant hit. One of those unreal reality shows, it follows the life of Alana Thompson, a 7-year-old beauty-pageant participant whose nickname is Honey Boo-Boo Child. She lives with her mother, June (all 309 pounds of her), her father, and three older sisters in McIntyre, Georgia. Their house is so close to the railroad tracks that they could reach out the window and touch a passing train. One of the older sisters is pregnant with no father/husband in sight. The house is lined with shelves packed with bulk-purchased paper and canned goods. There is a whole wall of mustard, more than a restaurant would use in a year. There is no explanation other than June apparently likes coupon deals.
Honey's father, Sugar Bear, always looks like he had just been arrested for something. He is always posing for a mug shot. He generally expresses great surprise at the goings on in his house, then spits tobacco juice into a big cup that he always carries around. The family sort of speaks English, but they always use subtitles because there's no understanding them otherwise.
I had heard mention of Honey Boo-Boo on other TV shows. It seemed so strange that I sought it out in disbelief. Since the first episode in August, it is now drawing audiences of close to 3 million people. During the Republican convention, Honey Boo-Boo drew a bigger audience than Fox News' coverage of the convention. There have been something like 16 episodes. The Learning Channel stacks them up on weekends so, if you were so inclined, you could bring in a stash of Cheetos and Mountain Dew and watch eight hours of Honey Boo-Boo. Not coincidentally, you could simultaneously watch the collapse of American civilization.
It's truly appalling and at the same time irresistible. Some have called Honey Boo-Boo a modern-day Shirley Temple. She is bursting with personality, but her beauty-queen poise is sometimes broken by strings of profanity. She's sort of a mix of Shirley Temple and Eric Cartman from "South Park." "South Park" included Honey Boo-Boo in a recent show, though even they struggled to parody something this outrageous.
Of course there is a Wikipedia article on Honey Boo-Boo. It refers to reviews in serious publications. One reviewer said the show falls flat because, "aside from the beauty pageant stuff," there is no real dysfunction there. Really? The beauty pageant stuff is the closest thing to normal in the show. You want dysfunction? How about a 309-pound mother who feeds her kids butter with spaghetti sauce on it, the knocked-up 15-year-old, the hoarded paper goods, and a family outing to go mud wrestling? They actually eat road kill at Honey Boo-Boo's house. A 7-year-old butter-ball beauty-pageant contestant seems downright normal in this setting. The redneck family on "The Simpsons" looks like a model of responsible parenting by comparison.
I have no idea what the lifespan of a show like this will be. It's something that will wear out quickly. The whole thing is a train wreck waiting to happen, and Honey Boo-Boo probably won't be an appealing teenager. This will end badly. It's blatantly exploiting all kinds of negative stereotypes. June and Sugar Bear are laughing all the way to the bank, unless she has opted to be paid in ketchup instead of cash. It's sort of embarrassing to watch it (though not as bad as some friends who confessed that they TIVO the shows about midgets and conjoined twins).
But the good news is that Honey Boo-Boo has hour-long Thanksgiving and Christmas specials ready to air. I can hardly wait.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.