The real Honey Boo Boo: What reality TV did to the pint-size pageant queen

I was at the recent "Tonight Show" taping where Fallon interviewed Honey Boo Boo, and I couldn't believe what I saw VIDEO

Topics: Video, Honey Boo Boo, tonight show, fallon, Reality TV, Editor's Picks, the tonight show with Jimmy Fallon,

The real Honey Boo Boo: What reality TV did to the pint-size pageant queenHoney Boo Boo (Credit: TLC/Chris Fraticelli)

A few nights ago,  “Toddlers & Tiaras” legend and walking meme Honey Boo Boo graced the stage of studio 6B in Rockefeller Center. Nine-year-old reality TV star Alana Thompson wore an elegantly understated rhinestone leopard print top paired with a matching leopard print skirt. After a quick handshake with host Jimmy Fallon, she chided him for having cold hands. When he asked for a friendship bracelet, she denied him. When he playfully showed off his muscles, she told him, “That’s nothing.” They shared some laughs, and the interview ended with Alana teaching Jimmy a few cheerleading moves. Pretty standard.

If you were watching at home, Honey Boo Boo’s “Tonight Show” appearance was most likely just what you have come to expect from the pint-size pageant queen. She was bubbly, brazen and bouncy. Sure, there were points where she was toeing that fine line between cute and annoying. Overall, though, I imagine her publicist was pleased.

But for the record, what aired on NBC was only part of the madness that went down last Wednesday at “The Tonight Show.” I know this because I was there, and from where I was sitting, Honey Boo Boo — let’s not mince words — was a tiny, dimpled monster.

I ended up at the taping because a friend scored me a last-minute ticket. Even though I tend to have a general distaste for the whole process of live tapings (full disclosure: I used to work in the audience department of a daytime talk show), attending felt like an obvious choice when I saw the lineup: Honey Boo Boo, her mother, Mama June, and none other than legendary broadcast journalist Barbara Walters. There was something intriguing to me about this combination, like dipping a macaron into Cheeto dust. I couldn’t resist.

When I arrived at Rockefeller Center, they placed us in lines, herded us around like sheep being led to the slaughter, and sorted us discreetly in order of how attractive we were. (It’s the way the business works.)

Once we were seated, the warm-up comic did some engaging crowd work, the Roots began to play, Jimmy Fallon delivered his monologue, and later chatted with Barbara Walters, who was just wonderful. Suddenly, despite my jaded experience with live tapings, I found myself swept away in the magic of it all. There I was watching “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon on a show that had once been home to the likes of Steve Allen, Jack Paar, and Johnny Carson. In that moment, I remembered that television could be a thing of great depth, heritage and meaning.



And then Honey Boo Boo entered. When she first walked out onto the stage, my immediate thought was – of course. Of course she is swinging her arms like that and wearing that leopard print outfit. Of course.

Suddenly I found myself a little bit star-struck. There, before my very eyes, stood Honey Boo Boo – the star of almost all of my favorite GIFs (such as this onethis one and this one). It was one thing to watch this girl strut around on her reality show, “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” but it was another thing entirely to see her strut in-person. It was almost like watching a cartoon come to life.

It should be noted that a good portion of the interview was cut down for the broadcast, mostly, I’m sure, for the sake of time. Still, the interview I watched on television that evening felt nothing like it had in the studio. Many of the major beats were there — Alana telling Fallon that he wasn’t so big and bad, the point where she refused to give him a friendship bracelet — but the broadcast left out all of the eerie tension.

For example, the friendship bracelet moment seems cute and quick on TV, but in person, it was actually kind of agonizing. It didn’t just happen once, but several times, and the more it was discussed, the more openly hostile Boo Boo became. And in addition to the friendship bracelet crisis, the episode left out some deeply uncomfortable spats between Mama June and Alana. You see it a bit in the broadcast, but Mama June was continually either answering questions on behalf of Boo Boo or mumbling answers to her. The quick wit we’ve come to expect from Honey Boo Boo was nowhere to be seen, but instead it was fed to her by her pageant mom. The scene reminded me of the cringe-worthy “Today” show interview with Kate Gosselin and her twin daughters, Mady and Cara – the one where the 13-year-old girls fell silent when asked if they were doing OK.

But the most notable moment to be left out of Honey Boo Boo’s appearance on “The Tonight Show” was when she became so fed up that she actually struck Mama June. Up until this point, Fallon had been doing a great job of navigating Alana’s weird behavior, but it was at this moment when he became positively awesome. “NEVER hit your mother!” he exclaimed, in a voice that was serious with just a hint of a joke, and the studio audience erupted in applause. Finally, we thought, someone is addressing this child’s attitude.

But really, it’s television, so instead of getting a timeout for hitting her mom, Alana was handed pompoms and asked to lead the audience in a cheer. We reluctantly played along for Jimmy’s sake, but it felt strange, like we were giving her some kind of reward for her behavior.

When I watched the episode that night and I saw how much had been cut out, it made me wonder how much of Alana’s life is itself left on the cutting-room floor. Where do the producers of “Toddlers & Tiaras” or “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” have to draw the line? There must come a point where they say: This is not good TV, it’s just sad. Let’s cut it.

So this edited version of Honey Boo Boo becomes what we celebrate. We laugh at this kid with the funny catchphrases, the quirky dances, the affinity for go-go juice, but I suspect that she might not actually exist. The Honey Boo Boo we know is a compilation of shticky moments in what has clearly been a strange, tough childhood. The Alana I saw on “The Tonight Show” set was visibly troubled: disrespectful, defiant, entitled. Of course, with a bit of editing, “disrespectful” becomes “precocious,” “defiant” becomes “sassy,” and “entitled” becomes “confident.”

And these are the words Alana hears people using to describe her. Surely, she watches the fictional version of herself on television, and like any child, she is able to suspend her disbelief and imagine that she really is the spritely cutie on the screen. The truth is, she’s growing up, about to enter puberty, one of the most confusing periods of human existence. She is not the spunky little cherub running around in pink dresses anymore, or at least she shouldn’t be. But this is what we’ve come to expect from her, and the reality-TV-industrial-complex wants her to keep on delivering it.

The version of Honey Boo Boo who America fell for is not completely fabricated. There is certainly a well of creativity, exuberance, and talent in that child. But watching that “Tonight Show” taping, I couldn’t help wishing she had the chance to develop these traits without the whole world waiting for her to turn to the camera and say:

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...