TLC – that’s The Learning Channel – has decided that you want to – nay, need to — learn more about “Honey Boo-Boo Child” aka Alana Thompson, the headline-grabbing star of its shall-not-be-named series about toddlers who wear tiaras (among other overdone accessories) to pageants.
I admittedly know not too much about the aforementioned reality series or the star of its newly greenlit spin-off. But I do know that both fall into the category of what I call “exploitainment TV.”
Because say what you will about the very worst and most disillusioned of American Idol auditioners or the desperate daters who aim to bed Bachelorettes and swing in the Bachelor Pad, they are by and large consenting young adults, people who have the presence of mind and wherewith all to know what they are doing – and, more importantly, what is being done to them. Those goons from the Jersey Shore may have a blood alcohol level of 0.1 when they sign on for each season (and draw double the audience of time slot rival Awake, sigh), but they are of age.
But these tiara-wearing toddlers…. they’re pawns.
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If I can offer you but one illumination about “Honey Boo-Boo,” know that this 6-year-old is plied with “Go-Go Juice” — a homemade cocktail of Red Bull and Mountain Dew that packs as much caffeine as two cups of coffee — to blaze through her busy itinerary of preternatural pageantry. In a climate where cupcakes are forbidden at grade-school classroom parties and the mayor of New York City is declaring war on super-sized sodas, Go-Go screams of being a no-no as well as abuse of at least the rugrat’s health.
Yet some people upon hearing the news of the spin-off say, “Abhorrent! But… I’ll probably tune in anyway.” “It’s just a guilty pleasure” and all that. Such enablers reckon that the program and its ilk are in the pipeline to be consumed anyway, and lest you have a Nielsen box your implicit endorsement of its existence doesn’t count one way or the other.
To that I can only trot out this chestnut: If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. By consuming the empty calories that such programs deliver and sparking even one watercooler session or typing a single tweet about them, you keep them in the pop culture conversation. The very fact that the tiaras show spawned a spin-off says loud and clear: Moms, if your child is involved in some funky stuff that quite possibly does not benefit their psyche in the long run, rush out and get thee an agent. The same way that would-be teen moms are egged on to get pregnant and often, because Hey, it just may turn out to be your lucky day!
(“Advocates” for the latter program will argue that it does not paint a pretty picture of teen pregnancy. The tabloids that put the kids-with-kids on covers and thus reward reckless sexual practices with any semblance of fame poke a hole in that argument the same way anxious young Kaitlyn maybe poked a hole in Brandon’s Trojan.)
I know I am at risk of coming off as elitist in this dissection of the “exploitainment TV” problem – which also folds in the likes of Hoarders or any show that divines entertainment from the lives (OK, usually the problems) of those who may not have the best faculty to sanction it. But tell me: Does it seem right that the same medium that gives us compelling scripted dramas such as Homeland, Game of Thrones and The Good Wife, or quality reality fare like The Amazing Race and Deadliest Catch, also can play host to that which only invites the viewer to point, laugh and shrug, “Hey, at least it’s not my jacked-up six-year-old”?
When well-trained actors are out there giving the performances of their lives, when schooled writers are working through many a night to tell you a good story, when highly skilled dancers and singers are laboring to dazzle us with their innate abilities, why must we so desperately go digging, deep and at times into muck, for other “stars”? Why is a populace that is so quick to carp about the lack of quality TV series (or condemn those that are derivative) just as ready to make a family of pretty sisters far more affluent than any 100 of our education system’s best teachers?
If we don’t at some point enforce some sort of filter and make our disapproval for unrewarding TV known, it’s scary to think how much lower programming executives will allow the bar to go.