Panem et circenses: Honey Boo-Boo

I’m home visiting family, which for me means that I spend some of my time helping out with my nana, who, all things considered, is in very good shape for someone who is over 90. But she still has health issues from time to time and has appointments with various doctors regularly. Generally it falls to my mom, who is the only child/grandchild in the same city (and province for that matter) who isn’t employed/in school full time, to drive her around, take her to appointments, gether groceries, etc, etc. This can be, as one might imagine, somewhat exhausting after a time. I lived closer and was able to be home a lot more last year (see: un/underemployed), now it seems that we will only be able to get in every 6 months or so. Point being, when I’m here, I try to alleviate some of the work for my mom so she can do her own thing sometimes too (her own thing, for the record, is being a pretty kick-ass artist).

Ok, so yesterday I took nana to the drs, and then to the drugstore, and then home for tea. Tea with nana = philosophical/political discussions and tea. And probably biscuits or chocolates or something. So sometimes (a lot of times) tea with nana = awesome. Nana is also slowly losing her sight, which is sad because she was a voracious reader up until 2 or 3 years ago, reading 2-3 books a week and several newspapers every day. The love of literature thing runs in the family around here. So whereas often our conversations would have centered around something she had read recently, now they often come from something that she heard/watched on radio or tv. Yesterday she brought up Honey Boo-Boo. Full disclosure: I have never watched a full episode of Honey Boo-Boo, but I have seen clips and I did mention it in a lecture last year. Apparently, however, there was a Honey Boo-Boo marathon on tv on New Year’s Day and nana happened to catch an episode or two.

The conversation went something like this (I’m editing the times I had to repeat since nana is also a little hard of hearing):

Nana: Why would the US want to broadcast something like that?
Me: I don’t know… entertainment purposes?
Nana: But do people find it entertaining? It just seemed a little… silly.
Me: Well, it is a narrative. They’re poor, uneducated… maybe it’s what they want people to see.
Nana: But do they really want the rest of the world to think that they’re all like that?
Me: … (thinking) Maybe they do. The political argument in the US is that if you are uneducated you’re poor because you didn’t work hard. So that’s the narrative they want to project. A TV show that followed around super-educated but poor people wouldn’t be as funny because it would be a harsh look at reality. Take the salary I was offered [and eventually walked away from] last year: $2300 per class to teach 2 classes with no guarantee of work in the Spring. $4600 (minus taxes and other deductions) for 4 months of work. With a PhD. Would anyone want to watch that “reality”?

There was further discussion about whether some of the audience could relate or whether most viewers were just watching for the laughs, but the point that echoes in my mind is that Honey Boo-Boo (and it’s ilk) is, in a way, suppressing the revolution. No one cares how they live because they “deserve” it (note: I’m not actually saying that they do or don’t, again I haven’t watched the show, I’m just riffing on the idea that circulates in US politics that everyone gets what they work for) and it is entertaining. Watching someone that has been in school for over a decade, working hard at something they are passionate about, only to be paid to educate your children for far below minimum wage would be far too difficult.

Until we get it out there, until we force people to see the reality that adjuncts live in (and not just other academics, I think most of us/them are painfully aware now… although there are a few hangers on that still need convincing) the myth of the ivory tower will continue to blot out any truth we try to speak.

So, anyone up for their own reality show?

3 thoughts on “Panem et circenses: Honey Boo-Boo

  1. I haven’t watch that show, either (but have seem promo clips for it). I agree with you that the idea that if you work hard, then you will be rewarded with financial success is a gross oversimplification. It ignores a lot of systemic barriers faced by many people. At the same time, the idea that success (or failure) is mostly, if not entirely, due to privilege (or to systemic barriers) is also a gross oversimplification. As a result, you have conservative arguing that one’s lot in life is due to individual choices and you have progressives arguing that one’s lot in life is due to the system we live in. In fact, it’s almost certainly a blend of both influences.

    As to hard work guaranteeing success? It won’t. Luck (in its many forms) also plays a significant role in outcomes. But I can say this: A person will almost certainly fail to achieve success without hard work.

    • Loren, thanks for your comment and please accept my apologies for the late reply… am currently visiting family.

      I agree, it is a combination of the system, luck, and, of course, hard work. There are people who inherit corporations and large sums of money but they are few and far between and I think we’d know if we were one of them by now (I, for example, am pretty sure I am not).

      I think my biggest concern (which I might have failed to specify in the post itself) is that our current academic system is so flawed that almost no amount of luck will get even the most hard-working of us a “real job”. When 75% of faculty are adjunct or contingent and the rest are sitting on TT jobs they got 30+ years ago, it isn’t even a numbers game anymore.

  2. Not being in academia, it hasn’t been until recently (when I stumbled across a piece by @pankisseskafka in Slate) that I was even aware of the issues facing adjuncts.

    Coincidentally, I recently wrote a note to a former professor of mine (I took a class from her 30 years ago) to tell her that she was one of the two most influential teachers I ever had, at any level of schooling. Both of them taught in the Humanities (literature and history). I told her how she had opened a world of ideas to me to which I had not been previously exposed and how I still benefit, from my experience with her (studying with her most certainly affects the scope of my reading choices today). I received a lovely note back from her. As an aside, and why this story is relevant to our conversation here, she said that she will be retiring after this spring semester and that she hoped that would then open up a tenure position for a current adjunct. The role of adjuncts is an all-consuming topic on college campuses today.

    Erin, I’m not afraid to admit that I’m not an intellectual, which I consider someone who comes up with new and insightful ways of looking at things, but I sure do enjoy reading what many of them have to write and listening to what many of them have to say. So, thanks for engaging in conversation with me.

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