The Dissimilarities Between Honey Boo Boo and Malala Yousafzai

Almost exactly two years ago I wrote a piece for The Huffington Post about the ways in which Alana Thompson (aka "Honey Boo Boo") and Malala Yousafzai are similar. My, how times have changed. Malala is now a Nobel Peace Prize winner and Alana Thompson's show has been axed and her safety is in question as her mother dates a child molester, who shockingly was convicted of molesting one of Alana's older sisters while another older sister was in the room. Celebrity Sightings In Los Angeles - October 15 2012

In some ways, what I wrote in October 2012 still applies. For instance, "Alana's life, like Malala's, is no longer private. While Alana's fans don't hate her the way the Taliban hate Malala, Honey Boo Boo's safety is in question." Although I meant safety in a bigger sense since it always seemed like Alana was safe at home: "Clearly there are serious safety concerns about placing real children -- who are not characters, like child performers -- in the public eye. If we are complicit in these children's fame, and their compromised safety, by watching and reaching about their lives, we must be willing to change the underlying social problems that they represent."

Perhaps even more relevant and significant today is this line I wrote, "Honey Boo Boo reveals deep social inequality in American society that, while not as life-threatening as that in Pakistan, is quite serious." Unfortunately crime is one dimension of inequality today. Of course there were plenty of warning signs that something was amiss. First, June always refused to legally wed Honey Boo Boo's father, Sugar Bear. They had a commitment ceremony with camo dresses, but never sealed the deal. Now we know why-- Shannon was waiting for convicted felon McDaniel. That June, in her early thirties and already a grandmother, had four daughters from four different men might also raise some warning flags. But most significantly it was know that the eldest, Anna, who was pregnant during the first season, had basically been raised by her grandmother. Well, now we know the real reason why.

That said, while I was often disgusted by the family (I wrote in another Huffington Post piece that, "However, the failure of Eden's World to garner a large number of viewers, especially when compared to Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, indicates that it may indeed be much better to be your real self -- fat, flatulence, filth and all -- than to pretend to be something you aren't."), my impression was always that the family genuinely loved one another. That has now disintegrated.

I also have always given Shannon credit for protecting the children's money-- including her granddaughter-- especially because other reality show parents have made very different choices. While it's great that the five girls will get funds when they turn 21, the current situation makes me think she knew this could come out and at least she would have done something concrete to help the future of her offpsring. It was almost like they were milking it for all it was worth, not unlike families like the Robertsons or the Karsashians, but they also knew what could happen a la the Gosselins but much worse with the law involved.

There's no question the show is kaput and I'll be curious if TLC ever addresses the entrance of an America's Most Wanted Element to the reality soup of the family. The family will now take on a new kind of infamy. I just hope they can heal their private dynamics and stay safe.

I'm guessing we haven't heard the last word from Honey Boo Boo or Malala. Let's hope the latter can bring some peace to the life of the former...

Lil Poopy: The Male Honey Boo Boo? (Originally posted on The Huffington Post Entertainment)

Last week a diverse collection of Boston-area star made headlines. Ben was the Oscar winner. Tom was the superstar team player. And Lil Poopy was the music prodigy. Who is Lil Poopy? Read on... Lil Poopy, aka Luie Rivera Jr., is a 9-year-old resident of Brockton, Mass. The fourth grader, who earned his stage name due to some impressive diapers when he was a baby, is now an artist with Cocaine City Records. He raps about doing drugs and having sex with women. His videos show simulated sex acts for money, and he's paid thousands to appear in nightclubs and perform. Not surprisingly, the boy's father, Luie Rivera Sr., is being investigated for child abuse by the Department of Children and Families at the request of the Brockton Police Department.

"Lil Poopy" took to his Twitter page to rage against the investigation writing, "LOOK AT SANDY HOOK Y THEY OUT HERE HURTING CHILDREN IM JUST SINGING HOOKS IANT OUT HERE HURTING CHILDREN."

Lil Poopy in action

Some may wonder why Lil Poopy's father is investigated when no child protection agency (that we know of) has investigated the mothers who appear on Lifetime's Dance Moms. Every week the show features girls around Lil Poopy's age crying because of nasty comments made by a teacher who puts them in revealing costumes and choreographs often age-inappropriate dance routines for them (one memorable one involved them portraying "topless" Vegas showgirls). Similarly, child beauty pageant moms -- especially those featured on TLC's Toddlers & Tiaras -- are frequently accused of abusing their kids. One mom, who dressed her four-year-old daughter in a Dolly Parton outfit complete with fake breasts almost lost custody of her daughter to her formerly incarcerated ex-husband as a direct result of her daughter's pageant participation, as I discussed last year at Slate, though the two parents now share custody.

The difference between these stage moms and Lil Poopy's father is that while many of the moms clearly have questionable parenting habits (which very likely could do emotional harm that will haunt their daughters later in life) they are not doing anything illegal with their kids. Meanwhile, Lil Poopy is promoting activities that are not only illegal for kids, and but also for adults. One of his lyrics, "Coke ain't a bad word," speaks for itself.


A lawyer for the Riveras has suggested that this investigation is racist. The Riveras are originally from Puerto Rico and there are obvious racial undertones when Luie Jr. is criticized for rapping, an art form traditionally associated with African Americans.

But if we're going to think in terms of social categories the sociologist in me finds it more interesting that the first time a child's out-of-school activity has led to such a public criminal investigation is when it happens to a boy. Do we care more when a male is the subject of exploitation? For example, viewers have been particularly outraged that Lil Poopy's shirt is lifted up by an older woman who grinds up against him while dancing. But this type of thing happens all the time with young female performers.

It's possible to imagine a defense of Luie Sr. that says that child actors play roles that feature illegal activity all the time, and their parents aren't accused of abuse because of it. But the key difference here is that child actors are portraying a character and not themselves. Lil Poopy may be an alter ego of Luie Jr.'s, in the same way that Beyoncé invokes Sasha Fierce, but his Twitter feed and YouTube account exist in his name. (That it's actually against the rules for a 9-year-old to have his own Twitter account goes without saying, though it's not formally illegal.) This has also been an issue for children involved in reality television, who "play" themselves and not a character. As I have written about at USA Today, kids in reality TV are largely unprotected when it comes to work conditions and finances but, again, they usually are not promoting illegal activity.

So are the Riveras doing something that will mean Lil Poopy is removed from their home? Hopefully not, but we won't know for sure until the investigation concludes. Should this situation worry us? Absolutely. Lil Poopy is just the latest example of kids growing up too fast, trying to be famous, and creating online personas through social media to create a public personality that now needs to be over the top to get attention.

If the goal was to get attention for Lil Poopy, it obviously worked, though it may come at a severe cost to his family and future. Words you may never have thought before: Perhaps Honey Boo Boo's mother, June Shannon, can give some parenting lessons...

The Similarities Between Honey Boo Boo and Malala Yousafzai (originally posted on The Huffington Post World)

CLICK HERE TO SEE MY THOUGHTS ON THE CONSEQUENCES OF PLACING CHILDREN IN THE PUBLIC EYE, AS THEY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON THE HUFFINGTON POST! Alana Thompson and Malala Yousafzai are two seemingly vastly different young women who made headlines this past week. Yousafzai is a 15-year-old Pakistani activist who is recovering from an assassination attempt. Thompson is a seven-year-old American reality television star/child beauty pageant contestant featured on TLC's Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. But these girls are more alike than you think.

Malala Yousafzai started blogging for the BBC Urdu in 2008 when she was 11-years-old. The BBC was looking for a novel way to describe the growing influence of the Taliban in Pakistan. They came up with the idea of having a schoolgirl discuss her life, highlighting the fact that she could no longer pursue an education under Taliban rule. Given the danger of speaking out, the BBC knew the girl would need to remain anonymous -- but the girl's father allowed her to give speeches and Malala increasingly took on a public, activist role. On October 9 the BBC's worst fears were confirmed when Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban group while waiting at a bus stop.

Alana Thompson stepped into the spotlight this past January when she was featured on an episode of Toddlers & Tiaras. Viewers fell in love with the sassy, free-spirited, chubby girl. With her pregnant teenage sister, extreme couponing-mom, and blended family structure it seemed the Thompson-Shannon clan was tailor-made for TLC reality family stardom. "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" premiered in August and it quickly became must-see-TV. (Its fourth episode, which aired during the Republican National Convention, garnered more viewers on cable in the coveted 18-49 demographic).

Recently Alana and her mom, June Shannon, have been in Hollywood promoting their show. On the October 23 episode of Dr. Drew on HLN an exhausted-looking Alana appeared next to June. Alana was clearly fed up with all of their media appearances, pretending to sleep and snore, and swatting at Dr. Drew's face. The most disturbing part of her appearance is when she declares that she doesn't like being on television because "fans come up to me and I hate it!"

Alana's life, like Malala's, is no longer private. While Alana's fans don't hate her the way the Taliban hate Malala, Honey Boo Boo's safety is in question. It's been reported that the Thompson-Shannon family now has difficulty eating in restaurants and shopping. Other reality TV kids, like the Gosselins, have had to resort to hiring private security based on threats to their physical safety.

Clearly there are serious safety concerns about placing real children -- who are not characters, like child performers -- in the public eye. If we are complicit in these children's fame, and their compromised safety, by watching and reaching about their lives, we must be willing to change the underlying social problems that they represent.

Honey Boo Boo reveals deep social inequality in American society that, while not as life-threatening as that in Pakistan, is quite serious. There is a reason Mama June's dining room is filled with toilet paper she got through couponing; there is a reason she makes 'sketti (pasta made with microwaved ketchup and butter); there is a reason she calls the local dump their "department store" where they "buy" clothes. In America, particularly in rural areas like the Georgia county that the family calls home, children still go hungry and they receive an inferior education to that of their wealthier peers. No one is going to assassinate Alana for showing the reality of American families like hers, but in becoming the poster child for that inequality Alana's personal safety has been compromised.

If Alana reflects continued inequality in America, Malala reflects continued inequality in the world. The irony is that Alana and her family are now financially benefiting from their previously impoverished family life. It's been reported that they will now earn five-figures per episode.

Meanwhile Malala is recovering in a hospital in Birmingham, England. The hospital posts status updates about her condition on their website. Clearly we're still reading about and watching Malala and Alana. Hopefully both of their families will end up in better financial positions, but at what cost?