Reality TV's "queen of all :" genre, transgression, and hierarchy in Here Comes Honey Boo Boo
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This thesis examines the reality television (RTV) series Here Comes Honey Boo Boo (HCHBB) as a rhetorical text in and through which the cultural significance of race, class, and gender stereotypes—and the meanings they hold for different individuals and groups—are actively contested and negotiated. I argue that recurrent themes of symbolic transgression of hierarchical structures in HCHBB operate as a modality through which cast and audience(s) alike might make or interpret potentially subversive/resistant meanings. This focus on the RTV series as a dynamic site for making and contesting meaning—rather than a static text encoded/decoded by members of the discrete categories of producers and consumers—enables critical attention to the discursive and affective elements at work in HCHBB without forsaking analysis of the political and material frames in which they circulate. These frames are explored throughout a brief history of the RTV genre and an overview of the scholarship that has engaged it. Ultimately, I argue that while HCHBB and the genre of RTV may potentially provide the opportunity to challenge class antagonism and discrimination, it also perpetuates structural, material inequality. By linking themes of symbolic transgression as they operate in and through the text with Kenneth Burke’s (1969) analysis of hierarchy and mystification of class relations, I show how HCHBB doubly participates in the stratification of economic class when symbolic transgression is offered as an affront to social class morality rather than pervasive structural, material inequality. Despite an ethos of rebellion against bourgeois norms, HCHBB displaces rather than cultivates critical class consciousness by encouraging performances of redneck identity which also consign the Shannon/Thompson family to their fate as working class celebrities.