Introduction to “Redneckaissance: Honey Boo Boo, Tumblr, and the Stereotype of Poor White Trash”

As you may have noticed I have been somewhat absent from these parts of late, because I have been working on my dissertation proposal for my study of Honey Boo Boo and Tumblr.  I have finally finished the proposal and will defend it next week, at which point I will hopefully be cleared to write the second half, which is the actual independent research.  I thought I would share with you the opening of the dissertation.  As you may have guessed, working more than full time and writing a dissertation leaves little time for blogging, but I thought I’d take advantage of my week of breathing room and the fact that I have actually written something.  Enjoy.

Mama June on a waterslide honey boo boo

“Who knew television audiences would be completely enthralled with a Southern family acting out every stereotype of “redneck” on Here Comes Honey Boo Boo…” – Alison F. Slade[1]

My first realization that Here Comes Honey Boo Boo had become a complex discursive phenomenon came with the appearance of an image from the show in my social media feeds.  In this animated image, June Shannon, the overweight matriarch of the show, careens down a water slide in her bathing suit with joy on her face.  This image became popular on Tumblr, with hundreds of reblogs, and spread elsewhere online.[2]  Most of the previous discourse I had encountered around the show was negative and focused on how “trashy” the show was, but, in my social media feeds, people praised the show for fat acceptance of “real” bodies and embraced June’s joy.  There were still negative comments about the show but they were complicated by people claiming identity with her around one of the same signifiers, her weight, that was used to mock her and call her “white trash.”

This study seeks to explore how online content creators engage with television stereotypes online.  Specifically, this study seeks to understand the ways in which online content that is created using a reality television show as source material supports, undermines, and interacts with the tropes of the white trash stereotype.  It also seeks to discover how online content creators participate in the construction of meaning using the show.

In particular, this study will examine a selection of Tumblr posts about Here Comes Honey Boo Boo for the ways in which online content creators uphold, undermine, and “play with” white trash stereotypes. The goal is to gain insight into online content creators’ participation in television culture and its use of the white trash stereotype as well as into how they use Tumblr to communicate. This research uses discourse analysis to examine the Tumblr content created with, around, and about the show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

In seeking to explore this phenomenon, the study addresses the following research questions: How do Tumblr users use Here Comes Honey Boo Boo in discourse explicitly and implicity about race, class, gender, sexuality, and geography?  What are these discourses?  How do these discourses adopt, negotiate, or resist common U.S. stereotypes of “white trash” and “rednecks?” How does the online audience’s role as a secondary content creator change meaning and discourse around and about the show?  Honey Boo Boo represents a unique intersection of poor, white, fat, southern, LGBT-allied, and female-dominated social actors, positioning the show along the power axes respectively of class, race, weight, geography, sexuality, and gender.  This dissertation attempts to understand Tumblr discourse about the show through the framework of intersectional theory. Intersectional theory assumes that social categories of race, class, and gender are intertwined and together constitute identity and describe power relationships. How do these axes of power interact in online discourse?  The study is an attempt to understand the online content creator’s role in creating meaning around a show that relies heavily on negative stereotypes.

Although Here Comes Honey Boo Boo debuted only two years ago, it has already been the subject of scholarly interest.  As a popular reality television show dependent on stereotypes of rural Southerners, it has offered scholars rich ground to explore those stereotypes.  Bevie Tyo examined the redneck stereotype within the show, doing a cultural value analysis of the problematic representation of the main characters and noting that the show was constructed to use those stereotypes for entertainment.[3]  Similarly, Ariel Miller did a quantitative content analysis of the show, alongside Duck Dynasty and Buckwild, to explore the construction of Southern identity on reality television and the frequency with which the shows used stereotypes.[4]  Unsurprisingly, these studies showed heavy reliance on negative stereotypes about “rednecks” and “white trash.”

But scholarship on the show has not exclusively focused on the negatives.  Scholars like Geoffrey Parkes and May Friedman have pushed back against a simplistic understanding of the show as merely exploitative of Southern stereotypes, suggesting instead that it also serves as a site of resistance.[5]  The show includes radical acceptance of fat bodies, female empowerment, and queer individuals in addition to the stereotypes about rednecks.  The show also offers resistance to issues of class expectations and, in that way, serves, at least partially, as a site of resistance against the Southern stereotypes it uses.[6]

Closer to this study’s interest, Andre Cavalcante has done a discourse analysis of the Facebook fan page of the show.[7]  Reality television and social media have been intertwined over the past decade. For example, reality television is dependent on social media for generating interest and in voting on competition shows, and social media frequently focuses on television as a source of conversation topic.  Social media has allowed audiences to interact much more closely with television while reality television has encouraged a sense of intimacy for audiences. These two phenomena have led to the creation of fascinating sites of discourse around reality shows.[8]  The tension between the resistance that Parkes and Freidman note and the dependency on exploitative stereotypes that Tyo and Miller observe is revealed in the attitudes and language used by the commenters on the Facebook page.[9]  Audiences use “the Thompson family and their show as reasons to debate the ‘proper’ and moral parameters of self, family, society and nation.”[10]

This intersection between stereotypes, power structures, identity formation, mass media, social media, reality television, and queer intersectional feminism is exactly where I want to situate my research. These studies help problematize the idea of representation issues in television, especially the relationship between what is presented on screen as the reality of the people’s lives and “actual reality,” and add to the body of feminist and critical television studies.  Cavalcante even extends this research into online social media spaces, where there has been less analysis of stereotypes, by locating his discourse analysis in the medium of Facebook. This study wishes to add to that scholarship by focusing on an area of social media that has been under-studied—Tumblr and the image macro—and that offers new insights into the stereotypes and resistance to cultural expectations while also offering insight into the cutting edge of online communications.



[1] Alison F. Slade, Amber J. Narro, and Burton P. Buchanan, eds., Reality Television: Oddities of Culture (Lexington Books, 2014), vii.

[2] “Chasingapril,” accessed May 12, 2014, http://aprilloveslies.tumblr.com/post/38232075183/http-whrt-it-rjyqn0; “Community Post: 25 Crazy Mama June GIFs,” BuzzFeed Community, October 2, 2012, http://www.buzzfeed.com/hyvesredactie/25-crazy-mama-june-gifs-7j5s.

[3] Bevie Tyo, “Coming to Appreciate the Redneck Stereotype: A Value Analysis of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” (California Polytechnic State University, 2013), http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1144&context=comssp.

[4] Ariel Miller, “The Construction of Southern Identity Through Reality TV: A Content Analysis of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Duck Dynasty and Buckwild,” Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications 4, no. 2 (2013), http://www.studentpulse.com/articles/824/4/the-construction-of-southern-identity-through-reality-tv-a-content-analysis-of-here-comes-honey-boo-boo-duck-dynasty-and-buckwild.

[5] May Friedman, “Here Comes a Lot of Judgment: Honey Boo Boo as a Site of Reclamation and Resistance,” The Journal of Popular Television 2, no. 1 (April 1, 2014): 77–95, doi:10.1386/jptv.2.1.77_1; Geoff Parkes, “He’s Gonna Be a Little Gay: Redneckognising the Queer American Family in Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” in Proceedings of the 4th Annual International Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand Conference (PopCAANZ 2013) (University of Southern Queensland, 2013), 138–46, http://eprints.usq.edu.au/23932/.

[6] Friedman, “Here Comes a Lot of Judgment.”

[7] Andre Cavalcante, “You Better ‘Redneckognize’!: Deploying the Discourses of Realness, Social Defiance, and Happiness to Defend Here Comes Honey Boo Boo on Facebook,” in Reality Television: Oddities of Culture, ed. Alison F. Slade, Amber J. Narro, and Burton P. Buchanan (Lexington Books, 2014).

[8] Beverley Skeggs and Helen Wood, “The Labour of Transformation and Circuits of Value ‘around’reality Television,” Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 22, no. 4 (2008): 565.

[9] Cavalcante, “You Better ‘Redneckognize’!: Deploying the Discourses of Realness, Social Defiance, and Happiness to Defend Here Comes Honey Boo Boo on Facebook.”

[10] Ibid., 42.

I Get Racist and Sexist Hate Mail

donald sterlingIn case anyone thought that the amount of racist hate I was getting had died down since my last post about this, I am afraid I must dispel that notion.

For those catching up, Thanksgiving of 2012 my dad ceased contact with me because he found out I was dating a black guy.  Just under a year ago, I got DNA results from 23andme that said I was part Sub-Saharan African, which meant that my dad either was part black or had married my mother and she was part black, making his disowning of me more perfectly awful.  In February and March of 2014, my blog was linked to by a white supremacist website, so I shared that.

Here, then, are the kinds of messages I’ve been dealing with in response to old blog posts.  Some day, when I have free time, I think I’m going to analyze how many of these messages focus on me as a broodmare or sexual object.  I particularly like the one that accuses me of starting Atheism+, which I didn’t have anything to do with, and the one that suggests I got moist at discovering my Sub-Saharan DNA — is that meant to be a sexual comment?

 

This women ashley. Is now only good for someone to scoot their balls over her puckered lips. She is lost. No one will marry this worthless c*nt.

 

Ashley, your dad is right. You are a race-traitor. You’re gonna get beat up by your black boyfriend someday !

 

You disgust me. Your father cries his eyes out every day and you do not even understand why.

 

Your no hero, your an animal. Your father is a good man. My heart bleeds for him that he had such a worthless cu$t of a daughter.

 

Your hateful spiteful c*nt. Your shitting on thousands of years of your white ancestors.

 

He disowned her out of love. And he put himself at risk, and the outed him.

She is pure evil. Hateful and worthless POS. Set about destroying civilisation right down to her own ex familys DNA.

 

 Have all the sex with black men you want – nobody really cares. But if you think one nutcase Stormfront guy is a reason to start the ridiculous Stasi-esque organization that is Atheism+ then you’re a real quality fascist. All decent liberals hate fascists. You’re “damaged goods” because you’re a fascist, not because you had sex with a black man.

 

interracial mixers are the lowest of the low… you are a self loathing DEGENERATE… the HATE is all yours.

for anyone to suggest the only way to not be racist…is to condone or be willing to mix interracially IS HATE.

you dont want to be WHO you are, so you use racism to deflect from yourself. there is nothing more disgusting than a person with the kind of sense of worthlessness you must have in order to mix interracially. you couldnt denigrate yourself more if you tried.

 

you are the lowest a person can be.

 

this author is lowlife garbage… she absolutely is completely repulsive to the overwhelming majority of white men she will ever meet in her life. anyone…but any man or woman that does play into her mental illeness,

 

So why did your dad disown you? Because you completely messed up his genetic legacy. You put his genes at an evolutionary disadvantage by investing his genes in someone with low genetic stock value.

 

Black men and white women have the highest divorce rate in the country. Black men have the highest rate of HIV and STDs in the country. Black men are infamous for bailing on the woman after she gets pregnant. If he does that to you, and you’re a single mother with a black child, you will have zero value in the dating market. Good luck finding a decent man who will spend his hard-earned cash raising some other man’s black bastard child.

 

its not your belief systems…. its YOU. there is nothing more disgusting than you.

your “belief systems” simply point to the source of your own self hatred and willingness to have degraded yourself. now its just a matter of your living in denial, of just how truly disgusting you are.

its you.

 

Avoid this hideous turds blog site. Just an uber attention whore.

With emphasis on the word whore.

Right look, the reason i find it detestable what she is doing with her pet knee grow. Is this. Not only if she has offspring will she destroy her own family forever.

But also they will contaminate other White people.

 

When you have certain blue-eyed, blond haired types get all moist at the idea that they “are not 100% white” there is something deliciously ironic about racialists snapping back with celebrations of ‘white culture’.