Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Living Off the Avails of Honey Boo Boo

Lauren "Boo Boo" Lexton
This isn't going be a rant about how awful a show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is, or how icky Boo Boo and her clan are. My sermon today is about the real stars of the show: Lauren Lexton, Tom Rogan and David M. Zaslav. The first two are the co-founders of Authentic Entertainment, the production company that shoots the show. Zaslav is President and CEO of Discovery Communications, the parent company of TLC, the network that broadcasts Honey Boo Boo. One thing all three of these people have in common is that they're highly educated members of the American upper-classes. Lexton graduated cum laude from NYU; Rogan got his degree at Emerson College in Boston; and Zaslav graduated with honors from Boston University's law school. The most important thing the trio share is that they make their coin by exploiting and demonizing America's working classes. In this regard they are part of a larger broadcasting trend that sees networks and production companies owned or controlled by the upper-classes producing what amounts to propaganda designed to portray the American proletariat as venal, coarse, stupid and ugly.

David "The Situation" Zaslav
Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Southie Rules, Jersey Shore, Buckwild,  any show with the word "Gypsy" in the title, and a dozen similar shows all share the same basic format: find a group of people who can be easily identified as "redneck" or "white trash" and encourage them to act badly, or at least in a manner that will make middle-class audiences cringe. But why the appetite for this kind of show? For the bourgeoisie it provides a chance to feel fortunate and superior. And for both the upper-classes making the shows, and the middle-classes watching them, this kind of show is a documentary argument against any type of social welfare program. If your view of the working classes has been formed by the antics of Snooki and Co., it's a fair bet that you'll squeal with rage at the idea of any portion of your tax money helping people at the bottom end of the socio-economic ladder. So as a tool of social control, a way of ensuring that the "lower classes" are seen as nothing but feckless and feral, these shows have a definite political utility: they work as a Greek chorus to the arguments of right-wing politicians and commentators that social welfare programs are wasteful, immoral and counter-productive.

It's not going too far to call these class-based reality shows a kind of hate literature in video form. The litmus test for this is that if one of these programs revolved around a group of African Americans it would justifiably be called racist. In fact, it's interesting that there are no blacks being featured in any programs of this type. By any and all economic and educational indicators African Americans are at the bottom of the heap in the US, so it would seem they would be the first choice for any producer looking to find the next group of loud, grotesque losers to follow around with a camera. But producers aren't dumb. If they were to present a black family as egregious as the Boo Boo clan, what's passed off now as silly fun or a guilty pleasure would be described, accurately, as an attack on a particular group. Look at it this way; if the Ku Klux Klan was in the TV business they'd be falling all over themselves to produce a black version of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

Further proof of the class propaganda being fed to TV audiences is that the only show on which plutocrats make an appearance is Undercover Boss, a program in which the upper classes take the role of fairy godfathers/mothers, showering benefits on employees who've shown their worth by working like faithful and uncomplaining dogs. My piece on that odious show is here. So on one end of the spectrum we get shows about squalling, uneducated, witless white people, and at the other end we're presented with CEOs seen as beneficent guardian angels. And people still think there's no class system in America? Lexton, Rogan, Zaslav and the others who peddle this muck are certainly eager to profit from the class system, but it's equally certain that they wouldn't want the Boo Boo family as neighbors.

Owen Jones wrote a superb book on this topic from a British perspective called Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. I've got a review of it here.

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