Critics of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” have stepped up their calls for TLC to yank the high-rated reality show off the air and free its titular toddler from what they see as childhood exploitation.
The ramped-up condemnation began this month after 7-year-old Alana Thompson (aka Honey Boo Boo Child) and her mother, June, set off on a press tour of West Coast talk shows. Viewers and critics alike were not blind to the fact that Alana, who shifted around in her seat and pretended to sleep during her interviews, did not appear to be reveling in the spotlight as she once did. In fact, she seemed downright exhausted and irritated. At one point, when asked whether or not being on TV is difficult on "Dr. Drew," she answered tellingly, “Fans come up to me, and I hate it.”
It was a far cry from the attention-hungry hamlet who became famous for singing “a dolla makes me holla” on TLC’s pageant spectacle “Toddlers & Tiaras.” It was also validation for the chorus of “Honey Boo Boo” detractors who have been warning that the child’s surreal reality TV world can only end one way: by turning her into a radically underdeveloped and maladjusted adult.
Leading the charge against the show is the Hollywood Reporter’s chief television critic, Tim Goodman, who wrote a scathing review of the show when it premiered back in August. “It’s exploitation squared,” Goodman wrote, taking TLC to task for “dehumanization and incremental tearing down of the social fabric.”
On Tuesday, THR’s Allison Keene joined in, characterizing the Honey Boo Boo press tour as a guilty pleasure gone “horribly wrong.” Keene refers to one segment in which Alana and June were asked to recite dialogue from the movies of Colin Ferrell, Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken. They clumsily stumble their way through dialogue and ultimately become frustrated by the difficult task of reading.
“The attempt illustrated more than ever the gap between the quirky family and the media world they think they are taking by storm, exposing the truth that they are truly out of their depth,” Keene wrote.
Don Kaplan, TV editor for the New York Daily News, also had harsh words for Alana’s mother and the show’s adult producers, stating to the effect that Alana herself is simply too young to consent to the show’s inevitable consequences. “All little Alana Thompson knows is that she’s getting lots of attention, something every 7-year-old craves almost as much as sugar,” he wrote.
“Honey Boo Boo” has attracted criticism from child-welfare advocates since it premiered. In a Sept. 20 feature story on the International Business Times, media psychiatrist Michael Brody likened Alana’s brand of stardom to a form of child abuse. “You wonder what these parents are thinking,” he said. “To subject your kid to all this attention obviously isn’t healthy. You have a situation where the kid is calling the shots. There are no boundaries. It’s very damaging developmentally.”
A typical episode of the hit TLC show will attract some 3 million viewers, many of whom are laughing at the rural Georgia family and not with them. Defenders of the show say the Thompsons know exactly what they’re getting into, with some fans pointing to reports that the cast members are getting a huge raise to $10,000 per episode next season.
But as child-labor advocates point out, Alana herself could conceivably end up with nothing. Although June has indicated in interviews that she will set up a trust fund for her daughter, she is not legally obligated to do so under Georgia state law.
Such a scenario would make Alana’s inescapable fall to Earth that much more challenging when the rug gets pulled out from under her. And judging from the shelf-life of a typical reality TV gimmick, she doesn’t have much time left.