On Honey Boo Boo and the ethics of self exploitation

I’ve noticed a few things lately. I’ve noticed that scripted television isn’t around much anymore. I think there are still writers out there (or did I miss something? Are professional television writers banned?). Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but none seem to be busy writing for prime time TV.

I have noticed that there are a whole lot of “reality TV” shows flooding my Time Warner cable.

I’m not necessarily complaining about reality TV. I actually like some of these shows. I admit I can’t do without my RuPaul’s Drag Race, Project Runway, Chopped, Face-Off, or My Cat From Hell. Although I enjoy watching the overly dramatic (and thoroughly edited) lives of reality TV stars and their shows, I’ve noticed that despite the tremendous entertainment value of reality TV, the genre has been the object of an equal amount of criticism. As of late, the criticism seems to be focused on one reality TV show in particular.

This one:

This is the cast of The Learning Channel’s Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

In case you’ve been living under a rock (or just somewhere where there is life beyond television), Here Comes Honey Boo Boo follows the lives and antics of seven-year old pageant kid, Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson, her parents, June “Mama” Shannon and Mike “Sugar Bear” Thompson, and Alana’s three older sisters, Anna (aka “Chickadee”), Jessica (aka “Chubbs”), and Lauryn (aka “Pumpkin”), while giving the rest of America a glimpse into life in rural McIntyre, Georgia.

Might I add that the family recently added Baby Kaitlyn, the daughter of Alana’s eldest sister Anna.

…And for a while the family owned a pig named “Glitzy”.

Now, on the surface, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is no different from its watching-real-people-as-entertainment predecessors. PBS’ An American Family, which aired in the 1970s, established the tradition of broadcasting one’s private tribulations for the world to see (I think one can clearly mark the start of the decline of reality television from the moment PBS aired Pat Loud asking her husband Bill for a divorce). The problem with Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, some say, has to do with the fact that the Family Boo Boo has done something one might have thought was impossible to do in reality television: show has actually crossed the line of good taste. A critique of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo in The Hollywood Reporter read:

“You know this show is exploitation. TLC knows it. Maybe even Mama and HBB know it, deep down in their rotund bodies. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is a car crash, and everybody rubber-necks at a car crash, right? It’s human nature. Yes, except that if you play that card, you also have to realize that human nature comes with the capacity to draw a line, to hold fast against the dehumanization and incremental tearing down of the social fabric … “

The Hollywood Reporter called the show “horrifying”.

The Guardian wrote:

“none of the women or girls who participate in the show seems to hate themselves for their poverty, their weight, their less-than-urbane lifestyle, or the ways in which they diverge from the socially-acceptable beauty standard.”

In addition, The Guardian accused TLC of  portraying Honey Boo Boo and her family as something to “point and snicker at”.

But what exactly are we pointing and snickering at? As much as we might want to keep the reality of rural America a secret, the Thompson/Shannon family is no different from many families in the U.S. Thirty-seven percent of Americans live in the South. At last count, a clear majority of the American public (like Honey Boo Boo’s family) is overweight. And like June Shannon’s family, many American families include children fathered by different men.

So what’s the problem?

If The Guardian is correct and TLC is offering Here Comes Honey Boo Boo as something to “point and snicker at”, then we should consider what exactly the network is up to in airing the series. If the show is on merely for the purpose of laughing at the Thompson/Shannon family, we may have an ethical problem on our hands. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (via the Second Formulation of his Categorical Imperative) argues that we are not to use others as mere means to our ends. Kant writes:

“Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.” — Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals

This means, if we want something (e.g. we want to be entertained) we must make sure that no one is exploited by our act. THAT means if we watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo for the sole purpose of laughing at Honey Boo Boo and her family, we are using them as mere means to our ends. There are other, less harmful ways we can be entertained (like reading philosophy). And our entertainment should not come at the of the degradation of others.

But is the TV show truly exploitive? Well, lets start by asking what is truly exploitive about the show? We know that low-income, not-too-educated, rural, self-professed “rednecks” exist — whether they are on TV or not — and Alana Thompson’s parents were entering their daughter into kiddie pageants long before the show aired. Watching a family like Honey Boo Boo’s isn’t necessarily exploitive, even if we are entertained by what we see.

It is possible that some people are watching the show for educational reasons.

Hey — It’s possible!!!

I guess we’re left to ask, does the fact that a camera is present automatically mean that anyone is being exploited?

Watch it and make the call for yourself:



* it is worth noting that The Learning Channel (TLC) was created as a joint project between NASA and the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, in 1972, for the purpose of providing “real education” via television. So, the claim that one is watching Here Comes Honey Boo Boo for its educative value is not so far-fetched as it seems.

Why the death of Gore Vidal is worse than you think

When people ask me what I do I often pause before I speak. I know that everyone thinks, but I always feel strange telling people that I’m a professional thinker. I find it hard to admit that I am a philosopher. Sometimes I think that people would rather hear that I’m on parole for armed robbery, sell kidnapped house pets to laboratories for medical research or run a Right-wing, anti-government militia group rather than to hear that I’ve made a career out of thinking.

Although given obvious factors it might be a little difficult convincing people that I’m a member of a Right-wing militia.

But now, I’m declaring this loudly and proudly: I like to think for a living. I am a philosopher.

Dare I call myself an intellectual.

I’m not trying to brag on myself or anything. I’m really not all that smart. I say this because we lost a brilliantly philosophical mind this year when Gore Vidal died.

Gore Vidal (1925-2012)

* If you haven’t read any of Gore Vidal’s stuff, I suggest that you stop reading this blog post right now and hustle your butt to a bookstore… or your could hustle your fingers to Amazon (or Wikipedia)… or better yet, just go to YouTube and type “Gore Vidal” in the search bar.

Don’t forget to come back and finish reading this post, though.

I suppose everyone has their first time stories about everything (get your mind out of the gutter!), and I certainly remember the first time I realized that there were people out there who liked to think.

Here’s what happened:

My radio had lost the signal from the local urban/hip-hop station I usually listened to every morning, and so I had to search the dial for something to listen to while I brushed my teeth (you see, there’s a Spanish radio station that has a signal that obliterates every other radio signal within a 1000 mile radius). It was the first time I had journeyed to the far left of the radio dial. That morning I stumbled on to Amy Goodman interviewing Gore Vidal on her radio show Democracy Now!.  This discovery was pretty amazing to me. I was convinced that the only people who got on TV or the radio had to be on MTV or on the cover of People magazine or good-looking — they certainly weren’t old or thought deep thinkers like Gore Vidal. And none of the people on MTV seemed to have a clue who Gore Vidal was.

Maybe Chris Hardwick did. He studied philosophy at UCLA.

You don’t have to think too hard to know that there’s something wrong with this. There was a time, long ago, in a galaxy far, far, away when people (called public intellectuals) did appear on daytime television.

This is a picture of the philosopher/logician Bertrand Russell being interviewed on British television in 1959


This is a picture of Barbara Walters interviewing the Kardashians in 2012. Need I remind you that Barbara Walters is an award winning journalist.


With a mainstream media that would rather cover celebrities like Kim Kardashian or Dina Lohan than to interview public intellectuals like Noam Chomsky or Peter van Inwagen, to say that the quality of participants the public discourse has declined is a bit of an understatement. Here is television host Bill Maher on why Americans are stupid:

The public complains that the American people are “stupid” and “uninformed”, yet we state that this is so knowing full well that an informed public requires an informed leadership.

Listen: Our Founding Father and 3rd president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, knew that a successfully democratic government requires an informed public. Jefferson wrote, “. . . whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government…” and “that democracy cannot long exist without enlightenment. ” Of course, in Jefferson’s time the town crier shouted the day’s news in the streets — but the fact that no one physically stands in the public square does not mean that the public square is vacant, nor does it mean that the public does not need to be informed.

We tend to think that we have a choice between two extremes: brains or looks.* Ask anyone which they prefer. If you’re not anywhere near a philosophy class, the answer you’re sure to get is that people, on whole, prefer looks. In our celebrity-driven age, the choice is amplified: being smart is well and good, but what you really want is to be super hot. We aren’t shown people who are famous for being smart (or worse yet, intellectual). What we are shown is people who are famous for being famous or famous for their external qualities alone.

Valuing a person merely for one’s looks may be beneficial to the individual who is being valued for their looks, but it does nothing for the public as a whole. Being aware that Halle Berry is “super hot” does not enhance my capacity for rational thought. Nor does the fact that Channing Tatum has washboard abs make it any easier to understand modus ponens. The fact that intellectuals like Gore Vidal, Edward Said, and Howard Zinn are dying off after spending many years not on network television makes the fact that professional thinkers are no longer welcome invited even worse — once our aging public intellectuals are dead they will be replaced by Snooki, the Richards sisters from Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and girls from The Bad Girls’ Club.

I’m going to guess right now that unless the topic of conversation is getting drunk or fighting, the level of intellectual thought won’t be very high.

I mean, really. For Pete’s sakes people, Noam Chomsky is 83 years old for goodness sakes! He hasn’t much time left!

Get that man on Watch What Happens Live right now!


* Ok, I’m not suggesting that a person cannot be both hot and intelligent. These qualities are not mutually exclusive. What I am saying, however, is that as a culture, we tend to value one quality over the other; which explains why a fellow like Bertrand Russell would not be chosen as one of Barbara Walters’ Most Fascinating People, and why the Kardashian family was.

There. I said it. Thomas Jefferson was an a**hole.

The presidential election is next month.

I’m not so sure who I’m going to vote for, if I’m even going to vote this time.

…. something to do with voting for the lesser of two evils.

That’s not saying much for my sense of patriotism.

Thinking about the upcoming election and the fact that the country celebrated its 236th birthday this year, I had intended, as a sign of my patriotic love for God and country, to write something in honor of our nation’s 236th birthday.

That would have been on the Fourth of July.

I ended up watching the Will Smith movie Independence Day on AMC instead.

And then I watched Jaws on DVD.

That movie takes place over Labor Day weekend, not the Fourth of July.

Quint’s USS Indianapolis monologue gets me every time.

I’m not going to post the clip. It’s something you’ve got to hunt down see for yourself.

….but let the picture below give you an idea of what I’m talking about).

check out the knife quint is holding. the was badass ’til the end

Anyhow, between watching Randy Quaid doing an absolutely bang-up job of chewing scenery as a UFO abductee-turned-nutty hero, and grousing at my neighbors, who despite a city-wide ban on firecrackers, insisted on lighting an arsenal’s worth of incendiary devices as close to my woefully dehydrated (and as dry as the sand dunes of Tatooine) front lawn as possible, I did take the time to contemplate a bit about what it means (to me) to be an American.

Wait, before I get to what I thought, I’ll tell you what scene got me going: it was the scene in Independence Day when Randy Quaid (I’m certain his character had a name but for the life of me I didn’t bother to remember what it was) flies his plane into the belly of the alien mother ship while shouting, “Remember me, boys?!?” I’m no professional film critic, but that scene is just about the best example of overacting (?) I’ve seen outside of a Nicholas Cage film.

But I digress…

This is what being an American made me think:

I thought that being an American and the nation’s founding (is nation supposed to be capitalized?), I realized that this is the image that every American is supposed to think of when we think of Independence Day:

the signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4th, 1776

You know, I actually do think of the signing of the Declaration of Independence every Fourth of July (I’m not kidding, I do). I consider myself a patriotic American; I stand for the National Anthem (and more importantly, I know the words), I can find the United States on a world map, and I’ve memorized the Preamble of the Constitution.

By the way, it’s estimated that nearly 37% of Americans can’t find the U.S. on a world map — in case you might be thinking finding your current location on a map is not an impressive accomplishment.

But here’s the thing about thinking about one’s homeland: when you think about all the good things (hot dogs, baseball, guns and the constitutionally protected right to own them), you inevitably end up thinking about so many things that are bad. When I thought about the Founding Fathers signing the Declaration of Independence, the document that not only proclaimed that all men are created equal, but that every person is guaranteed (via the Creator) the rights to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”.

Don’t get me wrong, these are great things. Let me repeat — these are GREAT things. But, contemplating Thomas Jefferson’s immortal words tends to dredge up one, nagging detail about Mr. Jefferson — namely, Thomas Jefferson was a bit of a hypocrite.

In case you didn’t know, Thomas Jefferson, second president of the United States, and author of the Declaration of Independence, owned slaves.

In short, Thomas Jefferson believed that all men were created equal… except for the ones in the fields tending crops.

… and Sally Hemmings.

But that’s another story.

Now, I know this has all been said before. And there’s nothing wrong with maintaining that the Fourth of July shouldn’t be about dwelling on Jefferson’s (and a few other Founding Fathers) contradictions. But, if we want to appreciate what makes the greatest nation on earth the greatest nation God ever created (read appropriate amount of snark here), we must see things as they are — hypocritical warts and all.

Listen: The Founding Fathers were brilliant men. They were truly visionary in creating a constitutional republic based on the notion that a nation is to be by and for the people. But they were merely men. They were men who were influenced and shaped by the time, circumstances, and ideas by which they lived.

Some folks out there say that Jefferson was a bad guy for writing that all men are created equal and guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness while he personally did not believe what he wrote. They ask how a man who believed in natural rights can not be a hypocrite when he was most assuredly aware that 95% of his fellow Americans were restricted from participating in the newly-minted American democracy. How could Thomas Jefferson simultaneously believe that some men possessed God-given rights while others were the property of other people?

This is why:

Jefferson, as well as many other Enlightenment thinkers, believed that nature (oops, Nature) was the basis of all rights. That is, men are born with certain (inalienable) rights and no man or government can take those rights away from him. This argument sounds good, especially when you’re petitioning the British Crown for independence. To declare to an oppressive monarch that every man has natural, God-given rights that even the King of England must respect is laying down the law pretty firmly, but there’s a problem when you claim that all rights are grounded in the natural law — nature often is an unfair bitch.

If you haven’t noticed, in nature, some animals are at the top of their food chain while other animals are merely prey to the dominant species. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle observed in The Politics:

For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient: from the hour of birth. Some are marked out for subjugation others for rule.

Aristotle also wrote:

So it is naturally with the male and the female; the one is superior, the other inferior; the one governs, the other is governed; and the same rule must necessarily hold good with respect to all mankind.


The generality of men are naturally apt to be swayed by fear rather than reverence, and to refrain from evil rather because of the punishment that it brings than because of its own foulness.

Aristotle believed that in nature, weaker animals were subject to the will of dominant animals, and likewise among humans, weaker humans are subject to the will of dominant humans. Aristotle believed that weaker people were “natural” slaves, and that, as nature intends, natural slaves are meant to serve the will of their masters.

So what does this mean?

What this means is that, though we tell ourselves (and believe) that the United States is grounded upon principles of universal equality among men, a glimpse into the philosophy behind America’s Founding philosophers shows this is not the case. Our nation’s Founders were not inclined to (truly) believe that all men are created equal. Make no mistake; slavery (and the disenfranchisement of a large percentage of free white men) was no accident. Like Aristotle, Alexander Hamilton (who co-wrote The Federalist Papers, which, in turn, informed the Constitution) believed that some people are naturally fit to lead while others are fit to be governed. Some people, according to the Founders, simply lack the mental capacity to successfully govern themselves. Hamilton wrote, Men are rather reasoning than reasonable animals, for the most part governed by the impulse of passion. This is why Hamilton wrote that Men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation and men with characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue should be in charge of electing the president.

… and why it took the 17th Amendment to allow for the direct election of U.S. senators.

… and why we still have the Electoral College.

So what’s the point of all of this?

You see, if you haven’t realized it before… I mean, if you think that you’re a Founding Father type of person, ask yourself a couple of questions: do I own a toga? do I own a powdered wig? No?

Well then, when you vote don’t forget — it’s the lesser of two evils.






All terrorists and swans are white

I’m not so good with logic. I’m not sure exactly why. Maybe it has something to do with the kind of  precise thinking that’s required to be a master logician. I’ll admit I’m not terribly good with thinking with formality and precision. My brain just isn’t rigged to that kind of thinking. If you think about what logic is (philosophically speaking) it seems that it should be easy to master. Logic is defined as:

 a theory of reasoning: the branch of philosophy that deals with the theory of deductive and inductive arguments and aims to distinguish good from bad reasoning.

 I’ll also admit that a lack of precision is not terribly helpful when thinking philosophically.

Anyway, despite the fact that I’m not logically inclined, every-so-often the few logic cells I have in my brain are struck by something so not logical that even I feel the need to speak up.

This is what I saw:

Now, I’m not a person who is inclined to argue with a meme (as the act of arguing with a meme suggests that you’ve already lost the argument), but there’s something kind of fishy about what this particular image says; namely, the image infers that all Muslims are terrorists.

Lets look at this statement from a logical point of view:

The picture is stating two things: 1) not all Muslims are terrorists, and 2) all terrorists are Muslims.

statement 1: not all Muslims are terrorists is true. In fact, the majority of the world’s billion Muslims are not terrorists or inclined to perform acts of violence towards others — for any reason. However, statement 2) but why all terrorists are Muslims is troubling; not only because many people believe it is true (hence the picture), but because the statement is just so false.

I know, some people out there are not convinced that statement 2 is false. They believe that terrorism is a product of anti-American Islamic sentiments towards the West, and that Islam, despite the arguments that it is a “religion of peace”, teaches its adherents that violence is the only means of dealing with those who do not adhere to the teachings of the prophet Mohammed.

There is no doubt that some terrorists are Muslims. The attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon, and United Flight 93 were carried out by Islamic terrorists. Al-Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and Abu Sayyaf are all classified as Islamic terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department. And one need only watch the evening news to see reports of terrorist attacks by Muslims against the U.S. and other western interests. It’s quite easy to see how someone would conclude that all terrorists are Muslims. But here’s the thing: that conclusion is based on what philosophers (and logicians) call inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning (aka induction) is:

is a kind of reasoning that constructs or evaluates general propositions that are derived from specific examples. (wikipedia)

It’s a fair bet to say that most of our every day knowledge about the world is based on inductive reasoning. I use induction when I assume that the sun will rise tomorrow or that all swans are white. I construct a general statement: the sun will rise tomorrow, from specific examples of the sun rising. Usually induction works (just as a scientist to see if it does). But there’s a problem: induction doesn’t always work. In fact, sometimes induction gets us to answers that are just plain wrong.

* This is the famous problem of induction (see: David Hume,  An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding).

Our problem with induction is that we just can’t verify every claim that we make. Using our experience or observations to make statement about the way things are or will be works only if nature does not change (nature is uniform). If our claims are based on observation, we must realize that our observation is limited — we, unlike God, can’t see all things. We can’t see all swans. We cannot certainly know that the sun will come up tomorrow. Every terrorist we see on TV may be a Muslim, but we cannot see every terrorist in the world. If we look around, we would see some terrorists look like this:

and like this…

and like this…

and like this:

 We can name dozens of examples of terrorists who are not Muslim. The 1995 serin gas subway attack in Tokyo, Japan was carried out by the doomsday cult, Aum Shinrikyo. The Ku Klux Klan, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Ugandan Lords Resistance Army leader, Joesph Kony are all Christian terrorists. By just naming a few examples we can already see that not all terrorists are Muslims. In fact, based on the prevalence of non-Muslim terrorist activity, we may be hard pressed even to argue that a terrorist is more likely to be a Muslim than not.

But then again, the internet wouldn’t say that all terrorists are Muslims if it wasn’t true, right?