They both talked a great game during this election cycle, but forget Ann Romney and Michelle Obama. Anyone looking for a woman who understands the struggle to make ends meet, an aspirational figure to identify with in stressful times, look no further than Mama June, the mother of pageant queen aspirant Alana Thompson, a k a TLC Network star Honey Boo Boo.
For those who watched, the fun of first catching young Alana on TLC’s reality series Toddlers and Tiaras was that the then-5-year-old pageant contestant was the ultimate long-shot. Chubby and moon-faced, with a manic energy that was the opposite of her too-perfect opponents’, “Honey Boo Boo Child” was appealing because her confidence seemed so utterly unreasonable, given her humble background and lack of polish. The chasm between Ms. Thompson’s princess dreams and her apparent reality was double-wide, but her childlike, un-Vaselined smile was wider still.
And her fairy tale may be just beginning.
Aided by her fairy godmothers at TLC, Ms. Thompson, now the star of her own show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, landed higher ratings among the key 18-to-49 demographic than any cable or broadcast network’s coverage of Paul Ryan’s address to the RNC. The third-highest-rated show on the network, it’s become popular enough to get its own Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas specials, as well as to earn a South Park parody (a coveted sign of cultural touchstone-dom). And the family that once subsisted on a chalk miner’s salary is now rolling in it, comparatively speaking: According to TMZ, a recent raise brought their take per episode—of which there will be many more—to between $15,000 and $20,000. And there’ll be many more episodes. Though we need her right now, Ms. Thompson’s show ended its season just over a month ago. “We want to make sure there’s her school,” said the President of TLC and Discovery Networks Eileen O’Neill of her pint-sized star. “We need to make certain we manage audience expectations as series comes back in the spring.”
For those who’ll be jumping into the series then, the Thompson clan lives in rural Georgia. In addition to Alana and her mother, they include dad Mike “Sugar Bear” Thompson, a pet piglet named Glitzy, and three older girls. “Pumpkin is the craziest,” as Alana puts it. “Anna is the pregnantest. And Jessica is my favorite—like my BFF.” The family gathers for a portrait in the credits sequence of each episode, rather like the Kardashians of cable network E!, who brazenly pretended to be famous until they made it. But, skewering any hint of pretension, someone in the family (Mama gets the blame) then passes gas. The Thompsons may be crass, yes. But have you ever even seen a Kardashian sweat? (Outside an unauthorized sex tape, that is?)
In an exhausting era in which the ego reigns supreme for every would-be star (which is, basically, everyone), it’s refreshing to see people so comfortable with themselves. It’s not the class distinction that separates the Thompson family from the rest of us; it’s their self-belief and lack of shame. New York neurotics, hammered by economic uncertainty and lashed by storm waves, have a lot to learn from Mama June and company.
Between Alana’s mugging, her generosity of spirit (Glitzy can be gay “if he wants,” she declared in one episode) and her unorthodox cuisine (heavily caffeinated “Go-Go Juice,” and spaghetti in a ketchup-and-margarine sauce), she’s sui generis. Her catchphrase, “You better redneck-ognize!” could not be more apt.
We do redneck-ognize, Alana. We do.
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