ALEXANDRIA, La. – “We aren’t in an information age,” said Tony Robbins, “we are in an entertainment age.” Almost all indications confirm the motivational speaker’s observation. And when a culture eschews much needed information for empty entertainment, it is not a good sign.
Couple that with the quality of entertainment currently consumed by Americans and it is an indication that we are a nation in decline.
Reality programming dominates television these days. Low budgets and audience interest have caused the genre to explode. Some reality programs focus on difficult jobs and do possess a modicum of value which includes highlighting entrepreneurship and stressing work ethic.
However, much of reality television is nothing more than dysfunction on parade. A prime example is one of the newest programs, “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” The program airs on TLC and observes the life of 7-year-old Alana Thompson (a.k.a. Honey Boo Boo) and her family. Thompson came to fame in another reality program, “Toddlers and Tiaras”
“Toddlers and Tiaras,” rife with dysfunction, follows the antics of stage moms and their darling daughters as they travel the country seeking to win various children’s beauty pageants.
“Honey Boo Boo” is as inane as the title. The family indulges the antics of their darling daughter and conducts their rather routine, normal lives before an adoring and seemingly loyal audience.
The Thompsons are not the first to exploit their child while selling the soul of their family for financial gain. They are only the most recent in a long line of folks willing to put their lives on display like a circus sideshow.
In the short term, Honey Boo Boo and her family may bask in the lime-light of their 15 minutes of fame. However, what happens when the show slides in the ratings and is canceled? What happens to the precocious child when the masses no longer care for her antics?
It is only a matter of time until reality turns into rejection for Honey Boo Boo. “What the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish, “ wrote W. H. Auden his book of essays, “The Dyer’s Hand.”
Those who take pleasure in watching the obvious dysfunction bear responsibility for the genre’s success. If no one watched, the programming would fade to black.
However, people are watching. A recent episode of “Honey Boo Boo” drew more viewers than each of the broadcast networks’ Republican National Convention coverage during the same time slot. The next week, the Thompson clan tied with President Bill Clinton’s speech on CNN during the Democratic National Convention among the 18-49 demographic.
With the most significant election in decades looming large, millions choose to watch a self-absorbed family cheer on the antics of a child rather than watch those who could determine the destiny of their country? One can only hope those who chose “Honey Boo Boo” over the RNC and DNC are citizens who also choose not to vote.
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?” asked the writer of Proverbs 1 in the Bible. Reality television as characterized by “Honey Boo Boo” is the epitome of the simple. Many, it seems, in American pop culture crave the simplistic and spurn the significant.
“People are sheep. TV is the shepherd,” opined author Jess C. Scott. If true, then reality programming is leading American society away from the significant and toward the superficial – and off a cultural cliff into irrelevancy. The people’s willingness to follow makes it all the more tragic.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)