(The Root) — If a minstrel show airs on prime time, will anyone notice? That's the existential question I asked myself before sitting down to watch TLC's new show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, a reality show about a white 6-year-old from Georgia named Alana Thompson. She is nicknamed Honey Boo Boo Child because of her oh-so-cute "angry black woman" routine at the kiddie beauty pageants documented on the network's hit Toddlers and Tiaras.
"Ain't no one bringing home the crown but me, Honey Boo Boo Child," declares Alana, as if possessed by Sheneneh Jenkins, played by Martin Lawrence, or Cita, BET's long-defunct digital veejay.
Sort of like how you get a 2-year-old to say a curse word and then laugh hysterically afterward, Alana's "no she di'n't" finger-waving, eye-rolling and neck-twisting isn't hers by rights. All of that belongs to a caricature on a '90s sketch-comedy show.
"Honey Boo Boo Child is completely dead in the eyes when she tosses out the finger-snapping, 'angry black woman' lines branded into her, like 'A dolla makes me hollllaaa!' " wrote Julia Bricklin in a review for Forbes magazine.
Alana's occasional bursts of "ghetto" are a weird appropriation of stale, decades-old stereotypes and Southern redneck colloquialisms, like when she drops her squeaky girl's voice a few octaves down to happily announce, "I like to get in the mud because I like to get dirty like a pig" — a childlike proclamation that's nonsensically wrapped in racial subterfuge too utterly ridiculous to be authentic.
No big surprise that I wanted to hate this show. The entire premise is based on the conventional wisdom that a little white girl acting like a "black woman" is funny. Of course, "black woman" is subjective here, seeing as how they haven't been depicted as so infuriatingly absurd in a long while. Violent and baller-crazed, yes, but all the racial steam went out of "Oh, no she di'n't" as soon as someone put it on a T-shirt.
With that in mind, Alana and the rest of her "crazy" family's redneck Ebonics takes on a different tone. If phrases like "booty call" and "deuces" have made their way around the world and landed in East Dublin, Ga., then can black people still claim them? Do they even want to?
Sass is the name of the game in the pageant world that tangentially strings the story lines of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo together. When Mama June says she wants to see "the attitude," Alana dutifully snaps her fingers harder than Blaine Edwards ever could. So the origin of Alana's Frankestein-ian speech pattern is pretty clear. She gets praise and laughs when she's "popping it like it's hot."
But the pretense drops when the 6-year-old is truly happy and being herself. Like when her designer teacup pig Glitz shows up. "She gonna be my best friiii-eend," squeals Alana with only a hint of something pre-packaged at the end.
The thing is, the entire Honey Boo Boo clan talks this way, hence the subtitles running at the bottom of the screen throughout the show like a CNN ticker of foolishness. Mama June announces at the Redneck Game, which, according to her is "similar to the Olympics but with a lot of missing teeth and a lot of butt cracks showing," that some women's skimpy sartorial choices weren't up to snuff. "All that vajiggle jaggle is not beautimous."
At 17-year-old daughter Anna's ultrasound visit, Mama June and the rest of the gang get their dance on to the new baby's heartbeat. It's so unreal it almost can't be fake.
And that's sort of the beauty inside Honey Boo Boo — minus the pageants and the pre-packaged ghetto-isms — some authenticity can be found even as the Thompson's native language is riddled with inauthentic "black talk." It doesn't really make sense, but somehow it works.
Perhaps it's the fact that the sassy black woman trope might finally be laid to rest in the backwoods of Georgia. That as the show gains in popularity (last week's debut won its time slot and demo) the origin of all Honey Boo Boo's "honey boo boos" will be pointless, as Alana and clan take ownership of them. And would that really be a bad thing, boo?