It is Wednesday at 10 p.m. Like clockwork, in the common room on the ninth floor of a building at the corner of N. Charles Street and 33rd, I close my Shakespeare anthology and position myself in front of an anachronistic wood-paneled spectacle of a television. Tonight is no night to burn the midnight oil and scour the seventeenth century sonnets of some guy who is long dead. No — tonight, I will set my work aside in favor of some well-deserved relaxation, because tonight brings this week’s episode of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.”
If you have not already seen the show, I sure hope you have access to basic cable, or at least a Sidereel account. “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” which airs at 10 p.m. ET on TLC, has truly broken new ground in reality television. Following a young pageant queen named Alana, who initially rose to fame on another TLC reality creation called “Toddlers & Tiaras,” the spinoff show chronicles the daily lives of the Thompson family in the small town of McIntyre, Ga. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the premiere episode reeled in 2.2 million viewers.
If you have seen it, then I don’t have to tell you that the show offers little (actually, zero) in the way of intellectual exercise. It includes a whole lot of burping and farting, along with the often indecipherable ramblings of the heavily southern-accented Thompson family, who “revel in being rednecks,” as one Jezebel blogger appropriately pointed out.
When I tell friends and family that I am a fan of the show which A.V. Club deems a “horror story” and a “train wreck” (though affectionately, I’m sure), I might as well tell them that I am a fan of littering or dogfighting. The expressions of condemnation that flood their faces suggest that I am indulging in something outright morally deplorable.
These common responses from others are enough to make me question why a student at a respectable university like Hopkins — studying the plays of Shakespeare, the poems of William Butler Yeats and the theories of Freud — finds so much enjoyment in watching a girl nicknamed “Pumpkin” eating cheese balls off the floor.
When it comes to “bad TV,” I wear my proclivities on my sleeve. The pleasure I find in watching “HCHBB” is anything but “guilty;” I am pretty outspoken on the joy it brings me. In fact, I find the show so stress-relieving that I am eager to share my discovery with anyone who will cast aside his or her immediate judgments and entertain my gushing.
I wish my love of Honey Boo Boo could be explained by the simple fact that we share a name, but it is far more complex, and perhaps unexpected. How is it that we as students can go so seamlessly from Shakespeare to sloth? Is it the challenge of the former that pushes us to indulge in the latter? Or is it just inherently entertaining to watch (and laugh) at others who are voluntarily putting their lives on display for such a purpose? It is worth establishing that all reality TV is not homogenous in nature. Competition introduces another layer of spectator involvement when it comes to “bad TV” — shows like “Project Runway,” “The Voice” and “The Bachelor” encourage us to “take a side” and become not only viewers, but also fans.
Whatever the reason, I am here to say that a little drivel now and then is necessary — especially in an environment as stressful as that of Hopkins. Too often I enter the library’s stairwell to encounter the lingering smell of someone who hasn’t even stopped studying to shower, only emerging from D-level to obtain some sustenance to smuggle in. It is easy to get caught up with the scholarly seriousness of an institution like ours, where we find ourselves sitting in classes taught by some of the brightest professors in the world and studying alongside students set on becoming the leading minds of the future.
But while I might spend my Wednesday nights glued in front of a television with a bag of M&M’s, there’s no denying that I spend far more time with my head in a book. Most of the time, I can be found in a chair or on a bench, combing through an author’s words with an eagerness generated from lofty academic aspirations of my own — each page challenging, eye-opening, influential.
Thomas Merton said, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” Now, while I understand this is not the forum in which to delve into why reality TV indeed qualifies as “art,” I will state that I believe there is a benefit in losing yourself. Maybe your “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” equivalent is “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” “Storage Wars” or “Fifty Shades of Grey,” or even Pinterest or tweeting at Justin Bieber, but all of these diversions reinforce our natural human tendency toward escapism.
Maybe it is emotional involvement in something that promises to have no consequence on our own lives, or maybe it’s the confidence that comes with downward social comparison (but I won’t try my hand at any sociological explanation). But the mindless drivel that is reality TV does indeed offer us something. Escapism isn’t bad — hell, it’s probably healthy, even for us Hopkins students who pride ourselves on the hours we spend slaving over archaic texts and configuring organic molecules. As long as you’re not escaping too far, or for too long, everyone’s mind stands to benefit from a little mindlessness.
Alana Farr is a sophomore English major from Northfield, N.J.