Entertainment or exploitation? Experts disagree about 'Honey Boo Boo'

Alana Thompson, better known to the world as Honey Boo Boo, went from being one of the many precocious pageant tots on "Toddlers & Tiaras" to being the sassy star of her very own show -- well, almost her very own show.

In "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo," Alana shares the screen with mother June, father "Sugar Bear," and her sisters (from "craziest" to "pregnantest"). All together, the family offers a look inside their "redneckonize" lifestyle and a seemingly endless supply of wacky, oh-so-quotable comments that leave viewers laughing.

But is the audience laughing with the family as the group tucks into a dinner of road kill or adds a pig to Alana's pageant routine, or are they laughing at them? Does it even matter?

"I think a lot of people relate to them," Los Angeles Times contributor Ada Calhoun told TODAY. "I mean, they're a poor family, but they're having a great time. (But) I think that a lot of people are making fun of them, saying June is not the best mother in the world. And they're sort of enjoying feeling superior, which I don't think is so healthy."

According to TLC, the network behind both "Toddlers & Tiaras" and "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo," the family is OK with that.

"They don't care what people think about them; because at the end of the day, they are having a good time and know exactly who they are," TLC general manager Amy Winter said in a statement to TODAY. "Not everyone is going to appreciate that, but an awful lot of people are enjoying them."

But according to one critic, it's doesn't matter if the family is fine with the show, because at least one member of the family is too young to know what it really means.

"I don't think it's going to end well with this little girl," Lisa Belkin of the Huffington Post told TODAY. "And that's why I can't watch it. It's upsetting to watch and think that she didn't sign on for this. She doesn't know what the future is with this being her reputation through life. So yeah, I think it's exploitive."

And Belkin believes it's also a case of bad parenting.

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"I would like to see less bad parenting on television as entertainment," she explained. "With more and more reality shows, there's more and more bad parenting. And it shouldn't be fun to watch. I'm not quite sure how we got there."

Calhoun, who's met with Alana's mother, doesn't agree that there's a parenting problem at all.

"I don't think (June's) a bad parent," she insisted. "I think she loves her kid. She's giving her kid everything she needs."

And even if Alana's "needs" don't really include a reality TV career, that doesn't mean she shouldn't have one.

"These shows are really designed in many ways for us to feel superior as we make fun of the people on them, but I'm not sure these people should be disallowed from doing it," Robert Thompson, professor of TV and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, told TODAY. After all, "By the time you've completed an entire episode, this seems to be a happy family that kind of has a lot of fun."

"Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on TLC.

What do you think? Is "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" simply another example of reality TV entertainment or does it exploit the star of the show? Take our poll below and then share your thoughts on our Facebook page.


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