Despite being widely panned as a “sign of the apocalypse,” TLC’s redneck reality show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo trounced Fox’s coverage of the Republican National Convention and was recently renewed for a second season. Interestingly, the comedic treatment of pregnancy and obesity on the show dovetailed with presidential wrangles over women’s health. With election week upon us, the time seems especially ripe for considering the pleasures and pitfalls of the show’s gendered health discourses.
My clip highlights what I find both enjoyable and troubling about the series. It depicts 6-year-old Alana (a.k.a. Honey Boo Boo) and her family joking about pregnancy’s unseemly side effects—from hemorrhoids popping out to a woman “‘ew’-ing” herself. The segment culminates with pregnant, 17-year-old Anna peeing unexpectedly during a fit of family laughter. On the one hand, it’s refreshing to see headstrong women and girls having fun together, supporting each other, relating openly and honestly with each other, and taking pride in their love of food and full-figured frames. On the other hand, the show’s formal structures wage an incredibly misogynistic war on women. From sound effects that exaggerate their bodily eruptions to camera angles that emphasize their protruding bellies; from editing patterns that highlight the pee-stained horrors wrought by “pregnant” bladders to frequent cuts to Alana expounding on the “disgusting” nature of “birthin’ babies,” pregnant and fat female bodies are repeatedly held up as objects of scorn and ridicule. Thus, while Honey Boo Boo carves out a much-needed cultural space for dialogue about women’s health, it also problematically casts teen pregnancy and obesity as the gross and laughable side effects of “white trash” women and girls.
When Governor Romney was recently asked on Live! With Kelly and Michael if he preferred Honey Boo Boo or Snooki, he explained his allegiance to Snooki by way of her newly svelte figure. “Look how tiny she’s gotten,” he exclaimed. Happily, Honey Boo Boo’s fun and feisty females throw such sexist drivel about appropriate forms of femininity into sharp relief. But even though TLC’s gendered politics may sometimes be pleasurable, we mustn’t forget that the economically savvy network—not unlike some political pundits—is laughing all the way to the bank at women’s expense.