In recent weeks, the family behind TLC’s much-discussed show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo has been under a microscope. And none of this really surprises anyone in 2012, right? Because that’s what we do. We are a Facebook stalker culture. This is our entertainment: knowing and judging the lives of others. We take the good humanity with the bad. It’s what these people signed up for, after all — and most of them heartily agree, having no qualms with this version of a public unveiling.
Every night on seemingly nearly every network, regular people’s realities are expertly edited and crafted into 22- to 45-minute blocks of entertainment for the masses. And often, these shows glorify the missteps of their stars for entertainment. On occasion, they work, because, hey! Not everything reality is terrible (the author freely admits to viewing and enjoying Top Chef, The Bachelor/Bachelorette, the early days of Project Runway and The Glee Project) and they’re certainly not going to go away any time soon. Guilty pleasures exist everywhere, so why not on our television as well, right?
Earlier today, the mother of Honey Boo Boo, June, was quoted by People, saying that she doesn’t “have anything to hide” when it comes to her life before and outside of the show. Her record of arrests (including: contempt of court and an unrelated theft charge that — according to June — “had nothing to do with family,” were subsequently dismissed) have been fodder just as much as her daughter’s pet pig Glitzy. But she has nothing to hide and doesn’t care that people know who she is, warts and all. So it’s fine, right? Well…
Glorifying stereotypes is nothing new in the world of entertainment — reality or otherwise. These guilty pleasures aren’t bad for the consenting adult viewer who is well aware of their novelty and place in society. Take ’em with a grain of salt! Life is ridiculous for everyone and we can watch these shows and at least laugh and agree upon that, if nothing else. Absurdity isn’t a lifestyle choice: it’s just part of the game. If it’s caught on camera, it’s entertainment.
And people make mistakes: there’s no guidebook or how-to for living life, raising families, and one cannot preemptively prepare for a life in the spotlight. It’s what makes us human. June herself has no responsibility to the public to act or behave in a certain way, just as we don’t have a responsibility to watch it. It is quite often the response of those with reality television stardom under their belts to proclaim that they aren’t ashamed of their less-than-shiny pasts. Life happens! Keep it moving.
And really, if you think about your own life: would you want to be judged on your past mistakes in front of millions of people? That time you maybe got too drunk in college or said that stupid thing on the Internet? No, probably not. But these folks don’t have a problem with that judgment. They’re adults. They can handle it, and they’ve probably experienced worse person-to-person since, you know, middle school still exists.Regardless if you think these shows are effective in their transmission of a person’s real life, the format is wildly successful for the networks. Advertisers line their dollars up around these shows — sometimes true rating juggernauts — and networks promote the ever-loving s**t out of them. Their stars’ zingy catchphrases are emblazoned on cups, t-shirts; turned into GIFs and memes on the Internet. Regular people become multi-million dollar brands. Just like Honey Boo Boo is on the road to be. But this time, the star of the show is a 6-year-old child.
In previous years, children of reality stars were sheltered, respected by the media as off-limits in order to allow for whatever semblance of normalcy that could be afforded. Children were rarely shown on TV as a member of the rolling credits, and it (at least) felt like parents were cognizant of the issues that could arise if your child was embroiled in entertainment fodder. Then, slowly, children were brought into the fold. And we’re not talking game shows here. No Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? or Kids Say The Darndest Things here — those shows did nothing more than introduce a child as a potential prize-winner or 30-second funny little human. No, this involves first and last names. It involves their home life. It arguably started with Jon and Kate Plus 8 and went full steam ahead with Toddlers & Tiaras, Sixteen and Pregnant, and Teen Mom. Children’s personal lives were no longer off-limits, in fact, they were the centerpieces of it all.
The cause for pause comes in when it involves the children. As an adult reality star, you have no responsibility to anyone but yourself. As a parent, you have a responsibility to your child to introduce them to what the world throws at people. Help them when they make mistakes; guide them to a better understanding of the world. Help them to learn. To grow. Become adults that can handle both the good and the bad of other people. And while the parent may feel their own life won’t be affected by the scrutiny of the public, what about the kids? And how does the scrutiny of their parents (or the kids’ lives themselves) affect these little beings with so much less understanding?
Children are always more affected by things than adults because they have yet to experience and grow from life lessons that afford them a thicker skin — an understanding that people’s opinions don’t matter. To say nothing of the marked difference between a hometown and a national viewing audience well into the millions. So while June says it’s no problem her entire life’s mishaps are on display, does she realize how that affects her child? Alana really has no real say in the matter because she doesn’t truly understand what is oscillating around her. What about what people will say about or to her? About her parents’ mistakes, or things far more nefarious than that. What then? Alana and her sisters aren’t all over the age of 18; they’re not legal adults. Sure, the parents understand what could happen… but do they really? Does anyone? And more importantly, can the kids? Hindsight is the only thing that’s 20/20.
Look at Teen Mom. Here are teenagers having babies. Here is living life as a teen. Here it is on television, glossed up to be entertainment. Here, now, is a child. A baby. Here is growing up — for both the parent and the child — thrust into the spotlight of an audience hungry to be entertained. Personal details splashed across the shelves of grocery store check-out lines across the country. And here are the repercussions of their actions, some of which are further dissected and judged. For strangers to diatribe about, or worse: approach you in your regular, everyday life with no TV screen to protect the exposed to the consumer. Yell in your face, in the child’s face. Call them names, or worse. Let’s ask Kate Gosselin‘s kids in 10 years if their family’s television show helped or hindered their mental well-being.
FAME’S HIGH COST
Sure, the mom and dad can roll with the punches, figure it out. They’re adults (or at least soon will be in the case of teen moms). And thanks to that handy-dandy third eye we like to call The Internet, these deeds are never forgotten and will likely be picked up by Junior and his friends a few years down the line. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Getting made fun of as a child generally shapes a person’s character. Most of the playground banter revolves around whether or not someone is “cool” or a “loser.” When it’s on television, it’s not just about being cool anymore. It’s about what these people, their children, their parents stand for: it becomes a much bigger, more hurtful argument. Sometimes these people become metaphorical punching bags for a cultural instance people by and large dislike. Representatives not by choice.
On the playground, the bullies won’t just call them uncool or losers or geeks. Instead Teen Mom‘s Amber Portwood’s daughter will have to deal with the repercussions of her mother’s drug use and physical assault against her father playing out on a national stage. Some people will use whatever they can against a person to hurt them. Or worse, they won’t even think about the person, because to them, these entertainers are no longer people: they’re characters. And who needs to worry about characters feelings — no matter how young — right?
So sure, Alana is fine now: In her eyes she’s famous. She’s a star! She’s all that and a bag of chips! She has a strong sense of self, which is commendable at her age. She can be shielded from the Internet hounds for awhile, but not forever. And it’s not a question of whether her mother’s behavior will be used to attack her — unfortunately, it’s a question of when. Because the family is edited to be polarizing, to be different than your typical next-door neighbor. (Otherwise, you’d look out your window instead of at the boob tube.) Fame’s high cost for Honey Boo Boo and her family may not be money, but it might be much worse. The real question is: is it worth it?
[Image Credit: TLC, MTV]