TLC has made a business out of exploiting poor parenting, but the latest episode of ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo‘ (called ‘Time for Sketti!’) highlights a particularly disturbing aspect of the show. The episode is making the rounds thanks to Mama June‘s home cooking: She prepares meals for her family on a thrifty $80 a week, apparently serving road kill to her family when available, and when it’s not, serving what she calls “sketti”: spaghetti noodles covered in Country Crock margarine and ketchup.
From a producer’s standpoint, shots of Mama June and Honey Boo Boo microwaving ketchup and margarine are a reality TV treasure. The food looks disgusting, it’s clearly unhealthy, and–set to a slapstick soundtrack, interspersed with shots of Honey Boo Boo lamenting that “it’s been awhile since I done had road kill in my belly”–it’s the perfect fodder for judgement; the whole point of the show. And on cue, many viewers are grossed out just by the description of her recipe. Fitbie’s blog points out that, on $80 a week, it’s possible to buy wholesome ingredients with better nutrition than spaghetti, ketchup, and Country Crock.
But whether you’re laughing or scolding, exploiting the family’s diet for entertainment just rubs me the wrong way–mostly because I think it just reflects the attitude that many people have about obesity in general. Rachel Stein of Television Without Pity points out that the show’s classism can be hard to take:
At times, TLC is motioning us to laugh at and look down on the Shannon family, which quickly becomes exploitive and downright gross. It’s especially frustrating because these scenes are juxtaposed with Sugar Bear having a father-daughter day with Alana where they bond over arcade games and roller skating, which are actually really sweet, and honestly something that should be celebrated. I’ve heard people joke that this show is the destruction of the American family, but the Shannons are one of the strongest families I’ve seen on television (and the father isn’t even biologically related to three of his daughters, to boot).
Likewise, the way TLC exploits scenes of a mother feeding her family on the cheap just highlights the attitude many of us have towards nutrition and health: Mainly, that people are unhealthy because of their own ignorance, or worse, because of their culture.
Sadly, a lot of mothers and fathers are, like Mama June, focused on getting the most food (not nutrition) out of a small budget, and finding things that are easy to cook (because many don’t have time to do more than boil pasta and microwave sauce). But instead of recognizing that this is a problem for many Americans–because of a food system that doesn’t support healthier choices–the show (and everyone who likes to gawk at at it) makes the family’s diet out to be just a function of the family’s bad manners and trashy culture.
Unfortunately, our judgements aren’t limited to Honey Boo Boo and Mama June. We still treat obesity as if it’s a poor life choice, or a problem for people who aren’t smart enough to be better grocery shoppers. Our attitudes about sketty are the same attitudes that make us fail so miserably at addressing America’s problem with obesity; instead of pointing and laughing at families who eat unhealthy food, we need to stop and think about how we can help them.