As reality shows go, I have my favourites; those which I can watch with my brain switched off to relax and escape in the full knowledge that I do not need to tax my mental faculties too much.
The Kardashians and the Real Housewives top the list – they live decadent OTT lifestyles which are so outrageous and so completely removed from my own, that I just sit there, with my face cupped in my hand, completely fascinated that these vapid, superficial women can obsess over such inconsequential things. After a couple of episodes, I can sigh with relief that my self-worth does not depend on the length of my eyelashes and just how much botox I can inject into my face, and turn back to my busy, albeit ordinary life.
But then there are reality shows which I really cannot stomach, and these are the ones which usually involve children. Toddlers and Tiaras makes me want to stuff a tiara in the mouth of every one of the super ambitious, stage manager mothers.
Dance Moms makes me want to force their self-proclaimed teacher Abby to do the splits and perform triple pirouettes in front of a large audience, while someone barks criticism at her, and see how she likes it.
But the reality show which really made me lose faith in humanity has got to be Here comes Honey Boo Boo, which has now been mercifully cancelled due to allegations that the mother was dating a convicted child molester.
Where do I begin with this awful show? It is a glorification of all that is ignorant in America’s white trash sub-culture. It is the kind of show which makes other nationalities pigeon-hole Americans as being stupid and completely uncultured; backward hicks with a southern drawl who only care about how much junk food they can stuff into their mouths as they grew more and more morbidly obese. June Shannon, a stay-at-home mother, has four children from four different fathers. The Honey Boo Boo in the title is Alana, the youngest child in the family, who became (of course) a star, when the cynical producers realized that they could push her to the forefront of the show because she was so precocious. She always came up with quick repartees delivered in a confident voice and was a TV natural.
It will not surprise you to learn that Honey Boo Boo was a child pageant contest who first came to the producers’ attention during Toddlers and Tiaras, which was what gave them the bright idea to give this family their own reality show.
In the US, the show became a hit with the 18-49 year old demographic, despite heavy criticism by critics that the entire concept was a blatant exploitation of this dysfunctional family, particularly the youngest child. But the show definitely had an audience of people who seemed to enjoy watching it in order to laugh and mock the hillbilly lifestyle which was revealed for all to see.
The problem is that when you are dealing with children you have no way of realizing just what kind of an impact this bizarre kind of fame is doing to their heads. Honey Boo Boo was six years old when the show started being taped, but it seemed to only occur to people that the cute, dimpled little girl had turned into a “monster” when she was interviewed on Jimmy Fallon last year, aged nine.
It is sad to watch this little girl being made to do her little “act” like a performing monkey on cue. According to one audience member who was there when the show was being taped, there were many awkward, hostile moments between the child and Jimmy Fallon which were cut out, making her wonder just how much is cut out during the “reality show”. Well, to use the obvious expression, duh. Despite its name, reality TV is an edited, very carefully controlled version of what goes on in real life, and we only see what the producers want us to see. I think sometimes people forget just how easy it is to manipulate what we see on our small screens.
The working class “redneck” family has now been taken abruptly off the air, which makes me wonder what lies in store for Alana who has suddenly had her claim to fame taken away from her. How much damage has been done to this child who was applauded (and paid well) for her antics, but will have to now go back to living a “normal life”.
And finally, we have to ask just how far TV producers are willing to go to in the reality TV genre, in order to provide what passes for “entertainment” for the masses?