People watch Honey Boo Boo for the horror of it, the smugness of knowing that we are better than them. A friend of mine recently told me a episode made her nearly throw up, yet she kept watching.
But I think they also watch it because it seems very real and authenticity is something we crave. No way would someone act that way if they were thinking about the thousands of people watching and mocking them, right? They just seem so uncensored; like honest actual people. There’s even worry that they’re being taken advantage of by TLC, naive of what people are thinking of them.
And maybe TLC was taking advantage of them, financially. They clearly had a much weaker negotiating stance before the show was a success and have different standards of financial success. For people who eat roadkill, $50,000 is a fortune, even if TLC makes millions.
TLC also has the power to cut and edit, to frame stories to fit their needs, but somehow that doesn’t take away from the authenticity of their family – although they can take things away to imply, to tweak, it’s very difficult to create without something to start with. TLC can’t create a family breath-smelling contest out of nothing, even if they imagined such a thing.
But it seems unlikely that the family didn’t have some idea what they were getting into. They were already in two TLC shows – Extreme Couponers and Toddlers and Tiaras. We sell them extremely short to say after that they had no idea what was expected of them.* It seems likely that what we see on TV is their real behavior, but also a performance of that behavior for money. They know what they need to provide to keep TLC happy, it may be what they would do naturally, but I think there’s an awareness that we don’t want to recognize. We want to watch, to enjoy the real-life freak show with an emphasis on real-life.
* This is, of course, related to the feelings that we the viewers are smarter than the observed, that we would somehow know better and never do that on camera. However, this is also why we don’t get paid $4k for a couple days of our lives.