Going Down (South): Here Comes Honey Boo Boo Child, Southern Progressive Icon

Going Down (South) is a regular column about y’all being a gender neutral pronoun, how red states are actually more of a purplish color, boiled peanuts, and the trials and tribulations of being a rural homo — with an emphasis on the tribbing.

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As with most things, I learned that Here Comes Honey Boo Boo would be filming in my college town by word of mouth. It was early March then and Statesboro, Georgia was in the awkward throes of springtime. Every Bradford pear on campus reeked of stagnant bodily fluids, triggering my allergies.

I was trying to figure out whether I should hold my breath or blow my nose when several students walked past me on the pedestrium.

“That Honey Boo Boo thing is going to be filming here. Ugh.”

That following weekend, Alana Thompson showed up at Rum Runners, one of several redneck dive bars conveniently circling the perimeter of Georgia Southern University:

And later that spring, Alana and company returned to make use of Statesboro’s humble waterpark:

While I’d never watched TLC’s Here Comes Honey Boo Boo before, I’d seen the show’s protagonist, seven year-old Alana Thompson, .gif’ed all to hell on Tumblr. I’d also heard several reality television-loving friends reference the program in passing. I got the gist of it: Alana was on some child beauty pageant show. The network found her so nifty that she, her three sisters, her mama and her mama’s boothang ended up with their very own program.

Oh, and Alana is also Certified Grade-A Podunk Redneck “Roadkill Is Palatable If Harvested Within Three Hours” Georgia Trash.

This – not the fact that Alana’s guardians may or may not be participating in some loony form of modern day child exploitation — is a subject of much contention in the American South. When news of Alana’s visit to Statesboro made it to a local newspaper, an op-ed columnist seethed:

I am all for being country and being yourself. I know families with the same level of education, same lifestyle, and same lack of desire to change. That’s one thing – but to blatantly celebrate everything negative about your life on television is beyond my understanding. I know it is a “reality” show, but really? The nation already makes fun of Georgia and the South, but shows like this perpetuate the stereotype. Why in the world would someone produce a show about a family who embraces ignorance and wears it as a badge?

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is fucking with a lot of Southerners’ immaculate images of themselves, for liberals and conservatives alike. We love to be known as the belles and beaus who dress in Lilly Pulitzer and Vineyard Vines for Saturday football games. When someone says “Deep South,” we want you to think of comfort food, yes ma’ams, no ma’ams, lilting voices, sticky sweet weather and Rhett Butler straddling Scarlett O’Hara a stallion.

We do not want you to think of a sassy, mud-caked family from McIntyre, Georgia.

There’s an old Confederate saying that goes, “If they’ve made it into a someecard, well, I’ll be goddamned, it must be true.”

But while so many Southerners break their necks in the attempt to distance themselves from the “hick” aesthetic that the Shannon-Thompson family exemplifies, I’m inclined to embrace it for a number of reasons.

First off, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is dismantling the romantic image of the South which prevents Southern progressives like myself from addressing present day racism, sexism and homophobia within the region. While antebellum plantation homes and cotton fields look lovely on a television screen, these images mask the region’s past and ongoing struggles with racism and poverty. As a gay woman, the prevalent patriarchal narratives (demure belle meets man, demure belle loses man, demure belle damned near kills herself trying to get said man back) surrounding love and marriage in films set in the region erases the experiences of queer Southerners (and Lord know there are a lot of us).

Secondly, my own background is irrevocably Certified Grade-A Podunk Redneck “Roadkill Is Palatable If Harvested Within Three Hours” Georgia Trash. My first animal was a stuffed dog named Hoofy who came out from “The Green Store” (AKA a public dumpster) circa 1989; I still have him. I hail from a long line of Southerners with bad teeth due to malnutrition. My upbringing was more Jack Daniels than mint juleps, more prison tattoos than monograms, more trailer parks than plantation homes. I spent most of my adolescence trying to hide two things: The fact that I liked women and that my family was uneducated and impoverished. Somewhere along the way, I realized that owning up to being gay shattered a lot of peoples’ preconceived notions about queer folks – we can be moral, tenderhearted and even a little bit cute. In its own way, the same proved true for owning up to being rural trash – we can be moral, tenderhearted, and even a little bit…whipsmart.

Which brings me back to the this fall when I finally sat down to actually watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, and my head and heart simultaneously exploded. In one episode, Alana hangs out with her “Uncle Poodle.” In the narration which follows, she turns to the cameraman and utters the following:

Out of the mouths of babes. I never would’ve imagined that we Southern progressives would find a mouthpiece in a tiny girl from Bumblefuck, but it totally happened, repeatedly – from June Thompson’s endorsement of Obama to the fact that Here Comes Honey Boo Boo beat out the Republican National Convention in the ratings race.

The only thing that I love more than the least likely of people saying, “gay is okay!” on national television is when that endorsement comes from someone with a drawl who fancies grammatically incorrect English. At the end of the day, this is all I really want.

 

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Sarah Fonseca diplomatically lives, works, and plays in rural south Georgia. A Lambda Literary fellow, her essays and articles have appeared in The Q Review, Lavender Review, Thought Catalog, Autostraddle and Choice USA's ChoiceWords.

fonseca has written 45 articles for us.

18 Comments

  1. Thumb up 28

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    alana is a perfect child and american princess, i do not kid

    somehow june raised her kids to respect drag ball culture (they throw around references like it’s nothin’), own their bodies WITHOUT SHAME, and be 100% okay with queerness – glitzy the pageant pig is “gay” according to alana, who defends it as nothing to be ashamed of

    when i see criticism of honey boo boo, it infuriates me because it’s usually a) centered around their bodies (WOW LOOK HOW FAT AND UGLY THEY ALL ARE HA HA HA WHY DO WE WANT A SHOW ABOUT UGLY FAT PEOPLE) or b) their class level (WOW LOOK HOW POOR AND TRASHY THEY ALL ARE HA HA HA WHY DO WE WANT A SHOW ABOUT POOR TRASHY PEOPLE)

    but damn it all if honey boo boo isn’t a perfect fucking child

    • Thumb up 17

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      the thing that gets to me the most is the criticism of food and how this somehow reflects june’s parenting skills. like the whole thing involving go-go juice would’ve the perfect time to talk about lack of accessibility to healthy foods in the south, but nope, nope on a rope. june’s a bad mom with three chins who feeds her kids butter by the stick.

  2. Thumb up 4

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    For the first time since this show was announced, I want to go watch it. Thank you?

    Also,

    “We love to be known as the belles and beaus who dress in Lilly Pulitzer and Vineyard Vines for Saturday football games. When someone says ‘Deep South,’ we want you to think of comfort food, yes ma’ams, no ma’ams, lilting voices, sticky sweet weather and Rhett Butler straddling Scarlett O’Hara a stallion”

    is the perfect description of how we want to portray ourselves. I sure as hell try to convey that version of the South to people; I feel like I have to play up the class factor to balance out folks like the idiot in NYC who asked if we have elevators in Alabama…

  3. Thumb up 8

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    I’ll never forget how taken I was with Alana the first time she was on Toddlers & Tiaras back in January. That sweet little girl had such a go get ‘em attitude. Plus June seemed to be one of the only mamas who was there to truly support her kid, not live through her.

    I think the Thompson family is one of the most “real” things on a reality show and that scares people.

  4. Thumb up 3

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    I love this post, and Honey Boo Boo! Her sister Pumpkin is hilarious. This article about HBBC and her family is also very good: http://withloveandswallow.blogspot.com/2012/09/if-youre-disgusted-by-honey-boo-boo.html
    It’s called, “If you’re disgusted by Honey Boo Boo, it’s you that’s the problem.”
    I just can’t stand it when some “friend” or family member tells me “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” glorifies ignorance and unhealthy lifestyle choices. I’m all, back up the privelege train a few stations and actually watch the show. Watch June be a supportive mother who teaches her kids to love themselves, no matter what.

  5. Thumb up 6

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    My cousin from TN said it best:

    “Honey Boo Boo is the best thing to happen to (white) America SO THEY KNOW IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT LEAVE IT TO BEAVER [AND SHIT].”

    Welcome to what a good chunk of what “America” looks like!

    Personally I LOVE LOVE LOVE Honey Boo Boo no irony, she reminds me of a childhood friend who didn’t care that my parents had an accent and I had a “funny” name she just want to make mud pies with me in the playground. I get the serious warm fuzzies with that amazing little girl.

  6. Thumb up 3

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    I love this! There was something about Alana that I just really liked when I first saw her. I think it’s just that she’s this spunky, silly kid who totally isn’t afraid to be herself.

    The first clip I ever saw was this video, which my sister sent to me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9nF82fcryY

    At 1:12 she lifts up her shirt and starts showing off her belly. She says “This is what I show to the judges” and later she says “Look at this big thing. They don’t know a good thing when they see it.” I feel like Alana and her family are the perfect example of how to just be themselves. In other words, they get the whole “You Do You” thing.

  7. Thumb up 3

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    ahh i love honey boo boo and her family and i definitely teared up at more than one episode because i love how much they all love each other. their family looks so much more like mine (not southern although recent alabama transplants, but definitely trashy) than any other family i’ve seen on tv recently. i have a lot of thoughts about how the network wants to make a mockery of them, their bodies, their class status, etc, and i think they and june especially knows it and just do not give a fuck because they are here to have fun. my thoughts are way more academic and complicated that but BASICALLY I THINK HERE COMES HONEY BOO BOO IS REALLY GREAT and i’m so happy when people come to love it unironically! because it shouldn’t be ironic to love watching a family have fun with their lives, just because the world wants you to focus on how they’re fat and poor and southern!

  8. Thumb up 8

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    I grew up in the mint julep part of the south, complete with private school and charm classes, and I didn’t have half the support system this little girl and her family give to Uncle Poodle or her.

  9. Thumb up 2

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    I feel like people’s desire to distance themselves from honey boo boo and her family has something to do with people’s weird innate hatred of the poor/working class i.e: a very real, very large part of the country. Idk, I find their honesty refreshing and they’re actually having fun which is a lot more than I can say about uppity ass southerners/hipsters trying to act so pretentious and better than the folks that are still living in their small town.

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