The hixsploitation of Honey Boo Boo

First aired on Day 6 (11/01/13)


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"You better redneck-ognize." So goes the catchphrase of six-year-old Alana "Honey Boo Boo," the pint-sized star of TLC's Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. The show follows the mundane life of Alana and her Southern family. Episodes show them participating in the local redneck games or buying a new pet chicken, Nugget.

It has taken its fair share of negative criticism. A Forbes article accuses TLC of trying to portray the family "as a horde of lice-picking, lard-eating, nose thumbing hooligans."

But, the ratings were sky high, and the show earned a surprising second season. In light of its success, other Southern-focused reality television shows are popping up.

"Television is the sincerest form of imitation, as they say, and so a show that does well is going to spawn a lot of imitators," Eric Deggans, a culture and TV critic for the Tampa Bay Times, told CBC's Day 6.

This year, MTV is unveiling Buckwild. Imagine Jersey Shore in West Virginia. There's also Bayou Billionaires, which follows a Southern family that went from rags to riches overnight - and purchased their daughter new teeth. My Big Redneck Vacation tracks a Southern family vacationing in the ritzy Hamptons.

Are these shows exploiting Southern families in what some critics have deemed hixsploitation?

Professor Karen Cox, author of Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture, grew up in West Virginia and said she doesn't relate to Buckwild's depiction of the South. While she said the trailers and hollers feel familiar, most of her family are hardworking, college-educated people. "We don't get our kicks from rolling around in the mud," she said.

Cox takes issue with this genre of reality television because it is too one-dimensional, representing a region from one point of view. "We're getting one note, and it's being ... struck over and over again."

Though, both Cox and Deggans say the shows -- dubbed reality television -- are quite contrived.

"There is not a second that occurs on a reality show - a modern reality show - that is not planned," said Deggans, pointing out that few people - maybe Jay-Z or the American president -- have lives interesting enough to simply roll the cameras and create 22 episodes.

So, the producers create entertaining situations for the cast, he said, and in the case of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, those situations encourage the viewer to feel superior. "The show itself has a disdainful attitude towards the people who are the stars of it," he said.

Professor James Cobb, author of Away Down South: A History of Southern Identity, points to some positive redneck associations, like not being bound by middle-class social values. "So, along with disgust, disdain and relief ... that these people are not you or you're not there people, I think there is a real sense of envy that is behind all of this as well."

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