By Maria Puente, USA TODAY
America is embracing Honey Boo Boo. No, America is horrified by Honey Boo Boo. Whatever. America is watching Honey Boo Boo.
Judging from the buzz in social and dinosaur media alike, TLC's Here Comes Honey Boo Boo (Wednesdays, 10 ET/PT) is either the end of civilization as we know it, or a loving picture of joyous redneck family values.
"And TLC wins again with another show I am hooked on:)," country singer Miranda Lambert burbled in a tweet last week; "a dolla makes me holla honey boo boo!"
Another, more-sour Twitter reaction: "SMH (shaking my head) at this nasty show. If go & act all crazy like I have no manners will they give me a TV show too?"
The latest entry in the reality sweepstakes, the half-hour show (which has drawn more than 2 million viewers a week in its first two weeks, TLC's top-rated show) follows the adventures of a self-described "crazy redneck" Georgia family , and their chubby little beauty-pageant princess, Alana Thompson, known to her familiars as Honey Boo Boo. She is 6.
She first appeared in TLC's Toddlers & Tiaras as a pageant contestant and made such an impression as a vivacious charmer, the network snapped up the whole family from rural McIntyre, Ga. - 300+-pound mama June, short-and-silent dad "Sugar Bear" Mike, and sisters Lauryn (Pumpkin), 12; Jessica (Chubbs), 15; and Anna (Chickadee), 17 and pregnant - for 10 episodes.
The show follows the family's wacky lifestyle in and out of pageants. Cameras watch them engage in all manner of offbeat antics - extreme couponing, eating roadkill, playing in mud, eating off the floor, toilet-papering the house, sneezing, nose-blowing and passing gas. At one point, HBB's pet piglet Glitzy is allowed to defecate on the kitchen table while they all roar with laughter.
"This family is 100% authentic, they are who they are, take it or leave it, but you couldn't make this stuff up," says Amy Winter, general manager of TLC. "It's completely unfiltered, a picture of their everyday life in rural Georgia."
"My family is crazy. ... We're not boring," June told CNN last week. (The family was unavailable for this story.)
Maybe crazy like a fox. Tom McFloyd, who lived next door to them, told WMAZ-TV in Macon, "What they're doing on that show is not a put on." But Pamela Roberts, the city clerk who works across the street from them, thinks they're definitely "putting on a little bit. A lot of a little bit, put it that way."
Now they're hotter than hoarders on TLC and moving up the charts, according to Trendrr.tv, which tracks mentions in social media. After it premiered Aug. 8, Honey Boo Boo reached No. 4 (behind three of Discovery's Shark Week shows), even though the majority of comments (58%) Trendrr logged were considered negative, an unusual situation.
It's true that lots of people watch because of the "train-wreck aspect," says Rich Juzwiak, a staff writer for snarky Gawker.com who covers reality TV. He loves HBB because, he says, he's attracted to "unsightly" pop culture. "It's 2012. We mock what we love and we love what we mock. Get with the program," he wrote in a recent column defending the show.
"I don't see anything wrong with incredibly honest people being themselves and having a great time," Juzwiak says in an interview. "It's far better ... than pretending that people don't live this way. It shows our underside, but sweeping parts of our culture under the rug is far worse."
But could Honey herself eventually be regretful, or even damaged? "Without a doubt ... I think it's a form of abuse," says Mike Brody, a child psychiatrist who has written with alarm about parents putting kids on reality TV. He says most young children can't clearly discern the boundary between reality and make-believe.
"We don't have to wonder - we already have a whole literature on child stars and what happens to them. It's not a pretty picture," he says. "Don't we have enough information about Liza and Michael and Elizabeth and other former child stars? You don't have to be a child psychiatrist to figure out this doesn't make sense."