In Praise of Honey Boo Boo

August 28, 2012

Alexandra Molotkow is an editor at Real Life magazine. She was a founding editor of Hazlitt, an associate editor of the Hairpin and arts columnist for...

The other night I went to kind of a ravey thing at a public beach. There were women in maxi-skirts twirling with their palms up as though presenting babies to Mother Gaia. There was a guy in blue short shorts and suspenders with no hair save for a long ponytail, which I was about to compare to a horse’s tail before I remembered what the term for that is. I overheard one girl, who seemed to be wearing a sheer, witchy cloak—although maybe it was the effect of the moonlight on her sensible cotton—remark that she was “really into sacred geometry” and that she wanted to build a geodesic dome. Unless geodesic domes represent portals to the netherworld, I hope she does that.

The older I get, the less I hate people for being different than me, or for pursuing lifestyles that seem kind of squishy and pungent like a week-old plum. Whatever makes you happy, if it’s victimless, is fine with me. Who am I to judge? The past couple of years, in which I’ve lived mostly single in a bachelor apartment, have been a journey of self-discovery. Here are some things I’ve discovered: I am comfortable passing out with the lights on next to my laptop, then rolling over the next morning and getting back to work; I would rather live in a small, grimy apartment and save money than blow 55 percent of my salary on an expensive apartment more befitting a woman of 26; and the idea of going every day to a cubicle, and then sealing myself into that cubicle in a forever promise by getting married and having a baby and undertaking a mortgage is less appealing to me than pitching a tent on Mount Royal and living for the tam-tam.

I understand that such thoughts are borne of privilege, and that individuals with cubicle jobs and mortgages, and even small, grimy apartments in Toronto, Ontario, are among the luckiest people in the world. That doesn’t change the way I feel, because the one thing I want most in this life is to be happy. And happiness is all about the right fit.

You know who seem super happy? The cast of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, the wildly popular reality show currently banking over 2 million viewers per episode. (Gawker provides a handy guide here.) A spinoff of Toddlers and Tiaras, it features 6-year-old beauty pageant contestant Alana and her self-described redneck family as they buy potato chips at auction, bob for pig’s feet at the Redneck Games, eat, fart, and love one another. The family’s matriarch, 300-pound June “Mama” Shannon, encourages her mostly-overweight brood to be themselves and makes good-natured jokes at their expense; in turn, the brood seem generally happy with themselves and sling good-natured barbs back at their mother. Shannon’s “shackin’ up mate,” Sugar Bear, brings home the bacon and seems to really dig his wife.

The show has its critics, even among cool and freewheeling individuals like my friend Sarah, who, when I mentioned I was writing this, responded: “Ewwww you can watch that?” And while yes, child beauty pageants are kind of a freaky thing that I don’t really approve of; and no, it is not healthy to scarf down chips and candy and soda pop all hours of the day, nor, probably, to put raw pig’s feet in your mouth—the Honey Boo Boos appear more loving and affectionate and supportive a family unit than most.

I will defer here to Jezebel’s Tracie Egan Morrissey, who is incredibly good at being right (and, for the record, a mother): “Why shouldn’t the Thompsons showcase their cheeseball breakfasts, pregnant daughter, Redneck Games, and discussions of their own obesity? Is it because it’s bad for them? Or is it because it’s bad for you?” Most of the time, when people express worry on behalf of complete strangers who have done their thing in public, it’s an expression less of benevolence than of distaste. Eating shitty food may be dangerous, but I dunno. So is snowboarding.

I will give Sarah the benefit of the doubt and assume she was mostly grossed out by the farting. Which is gross in my world, too, but things that aren’t gross in my world include wearing the same shirt for a week because you’ve been working from home, and leaving your hair sheddings in the bathroom sink until a guy comes over, unless it’s the guy you’ve been seeing for a year who doesn’t seem to care. So I’m not an authority on gross. My idea of gross is as erratic and personal as my idea of awesome, which makes me about human.

Happiness is a beautiful and elusive thing, much like love and satisfaction with oneself. I’m not always happy, but I have a decent idea of what makes me happy, and I’m sure it’s not not gross by some people’s standards. Those people should feel free to make fun of me for being gross, just as I’d make fun of them for being dull. As Mama June says of the etiquette teacher who tries, and fails, to teach her daughters not to fart at the table, “She’s what we call a square. And we’re kind of like a lopsided obtuse triangle, oval all put together, like a deformed shape.” That’s a pretty punk rock thing to say.

Alexandra Molotkow is an editor at Real Life magazine. She was a founding editor of Hazlitt, an associate editor of the Hairpin and arts columnist for the Globe and Mail. Her writing has appeared in The Cut, The Believer, The New Republic, and The New York Times Magazine.