Honey Boo Boo: The New Grotesques

I’ve never been much for short stories but I always loved Flannery O’Connor’s works, especially “Good Country People.” I still can’t talk about Joy/Hulga stomping around on her wooden leg without giggling. For those of you who didn’t benefit from my excellent liberal arts education here’s a little background:

Mary Flannery O’Connor (March 25, 1925 – August 3, 1964) was an Americanwriter and essayist. An important voice in American literature, O’Connor wrote two novels and 32 short stories, as well as a number of reviews and commentaries. She was a Southern writer who often wrote in aSouthern Gothic style and relied heavily on regional settings and grotesque characters. O’Connor’s writing also reflected her own Roman Catholic faith, and frequently examined questions of morality and ethics.

If you’re a big Honey Boo Boo fan you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with a zoftig pageant princess and her unintelligible mother. Well, after sitting down and watching the first couple of episodes I couldn’t help but start thinking about the grotesqueness of it all. And I mean grotesque in the most literary of ways:

In fiction, characters are usually considered grotesque if they induce both empathy and disgust. (A character who inspires disgust alone is simply a villain or a monster.) Obvious examples would include the physically deformed and the mentally deficient, but people with cringe-worthy social traits are also included. The reader becomes piqued by the grotesque’s positive side, and continues reading to see if the character can conquer their darker side.

If the stars of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo aren’t grotesque, then I don’t know what is.

On the one hand, I can’t help but think — as I do whenever I see a cast member from The Jersey Shore — that I am watching the epitome of what is wrong with America. The difference is, I still kind of like the Honey Boo Boo clan. As for the Jersey Shorers… well, thanks to them, every time I see their particular shade of orange violent feelings well up inside me.

Part of this is because I have actually been wanting to attend the Redneck Games for a few years now — and Honey Boo Boo and family go in the first episode — but it’s also because they actually seem to be in on the joke, and like each other. That’s rare in reality television. Most people — like the aforementioned Jersey Shorers — seem to think they are the height of cool. And while the family from Here Comes Honey Boo Boo doesn’t seem to have plans to change anytime soon, they also don’t seem to have any delusions about who and what they are. I mean, they’re quite aware that buying expired cereal at auctions isn’t what sophisticated people do. (Though, I do applaud that kind of frugality. As all my friends know, I pay no mind to expiration dates.)

I do wish the family would take its health a bit more seriously… but I have no doubt that if I was passing through McIntyre, GA the Honey Boo Boo clan would offer me some cheese balls and go-go juice. I’m afraid to even go near the Jersey Shore out of fear of being attacked by a juicehead gorilla.

I won’t go as far to say the producers of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo are the new Flannery O’Connor, but I do think the show’s subjects just might be our new grotesques.

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