It happens only occasionally. But sometimes, political candidates reject endorsements from certain supporters. (Or at the very least, choose to not trumpet them.) The cost is greater than the gain, they figure, in publicly aligning with an individual whose reputation is controversial, or unsavory, or feels “off brand.” On that note, I’d like to announce my personal repudiation of an endorsement that has already been accepted by one of the LGBT community’s most influential advocacy groups.
I’d like to say “thanks, but no thanks” to Honey Boo Boo.
Allow me to explain. This month GLAAD implemented its first annual “Spirit Day.” The idea was to wear purple to show support for LGBT youth and raise awareness of anti-gay bullying. It also raised my awareness that I don’t have any purple clothes. However, it turns out that if there’s ever a “Slight to Moderate Enthusiasm Day” that calls for earth tones of beige and olive, I’m prepared to lead the parade. So there’s that.
To show the great diversity of participants, GLAAD collected on its website tweets and photos from pro-LGBT celebrities. Most of them were unsurprising; a few were surprisingly awesome. There was Fran Drescher. (Duh.) Ricky Martin (Double-duh.) Henry Winkler. (The Fonz cares about gay rights? Ayyy!) Oh, and Honey Boo Boo.
Wait, Honey Boo Boo? Yes, Honey Boo Boo: aka Alana Thompson, the pintsized diva-dervish of child beauty pageants who rose to fame on TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras, and now regularly graces us with a spin-off show about her and her family, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. ApparentlyGLAAD found it cause to celebrate that the LGBT community has an ally in the seven year-old star of TV’s latest low-water mark. (The organization more fawningly referred to her on its website as a “breakout reality star.” “And she’ll be joined by [her gay] Uncle Poodle!” it continued, maybe a touch too thrilled.)
On “Spirit Day,” this left me feeling mildly embarrassed.
As Obama would say (and quite a lot, as I realized while devising drinking game rules for debate-watching): Let me be clear. I applaud the work of GLAAD. In a world where public opinion is largely shaped by what people see on TV, hear in music, and read on the Internet, it’s important to have an LGBT media watchdog group promoting positive images and correcting misinformation.
And lest I be accused of bullying a little girl, allow me to clarify that I have nothing but love for miss Boo Boo herself. She’s a cute kid with a kind, sweet heart, I am sure. It’s certainly not her fault that her family, I suppose unconvinced that raising a child like a show pony was sufficiently degrading, has decided to unabashedly fart all over TV in exchange for fast money and fame. (I hope Boo Boo doesn’t give a boo when she grows up, starts dating, and discovers that her most embarrassing moments forever cling to YouTube like the crusty snot she wiped on her taffeta dress.)
I even thought it was pretty cool when, a few weeks ago, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo introduced us to “Uncle Poodle.” Mainstream media rarely portrays gay men as anything other than impeccably groomed, affluent urbanites (when single) or, but only recently, neutered embodiments of Norman Rockwell suburbia who painfully portray their Just Like Everybody Else-ness by fretting over PTA meetings and shopping for waffle irons in V-neck sweaters. (When coupled.) Uncle Poodle is a redneck, and introducing America to a gay man who would rather watch a Monster Truck Rally than the Tony Awards is actually an important step toward representing our community in its true totality. Poodle recently shared his struggles battling homophobia in a video for GLAAD, and the Boo Boo clan has released a line of t-shirts benefiting anti-bullying initiatives. Both efforts are totally commendable.
It all seems so sweet. So why did it bother me that GLAAD embraced the Boo Boo cast’s endorsement? Two reasons.
First, it’s ironic to see GLAAD - an organization that stumps for a responsible, egalitarian media - celebrate a show that is totally classist at best and brutally exploitive at worst. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is white trash minstrelsy. It cultivates caricatures of low-income southerners, and goads audiences into rubbernecking at the train wreck that takes place when those with little opportunity are baited by major publicity. (First casualty: Dignity.) Yes, I know some argue that Honey Boo Boo – if you really watch it, like, really – actually promotes self-acceptance and teaches tolerance of other families. That’s the kind of bullshit textual analysis that happens when smart people over-intellectualize stupid TV so they don’t have to feel quite so bad about watching another episode of Wacky, Fat, Poor People Do the Grossest Things!
In fact, it’s worth pointing out that, in exchange for the privilege of being laughed at, TLC reportedly rewarded the Honey Boo Boo cast with $2000 to $4000 per episode: about $40,000 for the season, for a family of six. For reality show context: Snooki of Jersey Shore made $150,000 per episode. Many of the Real Housewives, who are already rich enough to be breaking Veuve Cliquet bottles on each other’s heads, make over half-a-million per season. Still think Boo Boo isn’t being exploited?
And then, of course, there’s the issue of association. Maybe it’s because I am of a generation that’s more used to receiving pro-LGBT messages (though certainly not enough), but I feel at least a little entitled to cultivate the company I keep. I understand the value in broadcasting news of supportive celebrities; and I know some think we can’t afford to pick and choose the allies we celebrate. I disagree. I think, for the sake of preserving our pride in an increasingly undignified media environment, we can no longer afford not to.
A PEW poll released this summer showed that for the first time a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. When broken down by age, the poll showed that members of my generation supported same-sex marriage by a strong-and-growing 63 percent majority. That’s great news. And you know what it means? That we’ve reached a point in our culture where we can honor those who support us without appearing as though we’ll bow and scrape (at the bottom of the proverbial barrel, or in Boo Boo’s case, between the crumb-filled couch cushions) for validation from any ally, any at all. It’s a testament to progress when we can be discerning in which allies we publicly venerate. Personally, I find it difficult to project pride while enthusiastically curtsying a “thank you!” to Honey Boo Boo. And it’s not just about her. It seems like over the past decade, as the age of unearned celebrity has flourished, members of my generation have awarded nouveau gay icon status to a dubious lot who have done very little to actually build up the LGBT community, but much to dumb down American culture. Whether it comes from Paris Hilton or Big Ang, it seems like now even the faintest pro-gay lip service is rewarded with excited tweets, reverential Facebook updates, and toadying blog posts declaring newfound appreciation for folks that are actually just as obnoxious and unlikable as they were before. Really.
So, Honey Boo Boo loves the gays: that’s nice. If tomorrow Sugar Bear went on a homophobic tirade, I probably wouldn’t care. (And I likely wouldn’t demand a public apology, either.) Why? Because for me anyway, the greater injury to my dignity and self-worth as a gay man is the suggestion that the opinions of even the most vulgar and irrelevant of celebrities have an impact – good or bad - on my dignity and self-worth.
We have a President on our side. We have most of America on our side. Do I still need a thumbs-up from Honey Boo Boo to feel more spirited?