I have a friend who hates to love reality TV—the trashier the better. She freely admits it, and I admire her candor. I used wait until my husband left to sneak a peek at, say, the Coyote Ugly tryouts in a more gluttonous age of cable, and I'd laugh and laugh (and watch and watch) at the importance these gals assigned to their mastery of the bar dance.
I've since come out of that closet, because really, looking at these programs (briefly) is useful anthropological research. I like to know what sort of whackos are out there in the world, and it seems wise to study the nature of those beasts in the event I meet one in a dark alley.
So, on my friend's recommendation ("It's so hideous, you have to see it") I looked at "Toddlers and Tiaras," TLC's reality series that profiles young pageant contestants and their parents.
I really wish I hadn't; that's when I first beheld the trainwreck that is Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson (guess who gave herself a nickname?). No amount of Jane Goodall-ing will justify the loss of those minutes of my life. At the very least, I've come away with a few impressions: pageanting flirts with child abuse (sorry, but penning a kid into a gig that doesn't allow her to be an actual kid isn't kosher); it is never appropriate to dress a child as a "naughty" cop; and kids like Honey Boo Boo must be stopped, as they only serve to validate gross, public displays of parents vicariously living through their children, who, in so doing, inadvertently (we hope) hijack their offspring's childhoods and possibly put them in danger, thanks to no shortage of sexual predators in this world.
(To be fair, there were little beauty queens-in-waiting who were almost as obnoxious as Alana and her family. Almost. But the misguided self-centeredness that is the foundation of young Alana's life makes her my official poster child for all things wrong with parenting-to-pageant.)
Of course, Alana, age 6, herself isn't really to blame. It's her fame-seeking mother, June, who's created the fidgety, egotistical, loud monster, whose landed her own reality show spin-off, "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo," after winning over viewers when she first appeared on "Toddlers and Tiaras" in January.
Mama June, the "coupon queen" who clips her way to savings to fund Alana's pageant gear, has failed as a parent in a few ways. Most video clips of Ms. Alana show a child who can't sit still and who unintelligibly rushes through her "lines" — all of which are sung out, as though she's on a stage. Even when she's at home.
Also, her daughter, at age 6, appears to have fallen way behind in speech development. (When Alana first appeared on the scene, TLC added sub-titles for viewers, with good reason.)
June, who is grossly overweight, also doesn't seem interested in breaking that particular cycle either. She feeds Alana "special juice" — half energy drink and half "caffeinated beverage" that resembles Mountain Dew — to get her psyched up for pageants.
"My special juice is gonna help me winnnnn," Alana declares.
PS. Shame on you Dr. Drew for making a cutesy bit out of it. I'm pretty sure most non-sellout doctors would advise against feeding a 6-year-old high doses of sugar and caffiene.
Perhaps my ex-Catholic guilt is too strong, but I contend no 6-year-old should ever have to wear a spray tan or fake breasts; be told to suck in her belly; sexy up her dance routine ("Shake your butt, baby!" Alana's mother shouts from the audience in one episode); or make porn-star-esque pouty faces to a panel of judges (allegedly grown adults). Plenty of time for that after they turn 18.
Then there's the footage of wee girls with hair out to here, sitting in chairs, chastised every time they walk around because their stage moms don't want them to muss their hair.
"But I'm boreddddd," one contestant protested.
Of course she is. She's a kid. As much as their mothers insist that their children love the limelight, I'm certain Honey Boo Boo et al would prefer to run around, play with her toys, maybe watch a little "Yo Gabba Gabba" and go to bed. (Alana herself says in one episode, "Beauty is so boring, I don't even want to do it.") Of course, they'd probably have to be taught how to be real children after years of Aqua Net fumes on the brain.
I shouldn't pick on the Thompsons, as there are many more Honey Boo Boos out there. And really, viewers share much of the blame for enabling a legion of little monsters even Lady Gaga would disown. I recognize the "what the wha?" value of programs like "T&T" but any healthy person should feel very dirty indeed for partaking in more than 10 minutes of this swill. And if a sample of "Toddlers & Tiaras" or Google's search results for "Honey Boo Boo" isn't enough to convince you, consider this: "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo's" ratings beat those of the Republican National Convention on Fox News, and tied CNN's coverage of Bill Clinton's speech at the DNC.
Do we really take more stock in the goings on attention-starved wingnuts than we do in the future of our nation?
On second thought, don't answer that.
Yes, Honey Boo Boo believes she's a "superstar" because she does pageants. She's also insufferable and demands constant validation and attention—god help her if she grows up to be anything less than cute. I'm fairly certain no amount of couponing will cover Alana's therapy bills when she hits her awkward phase—or realizes what a spectacle her mother created when she was too young to know any better.
I'm on Twitter @TheMDesk.