I must admit that I am more than a little anxious to watch tonight's TLC's premiere of "Make Way for Honey Boo Boo." The trailer features the most precocious girl I have ever seen with a wide face, blonde curls, and loud southern drawl. Her sister states for the camera, "We aren't rednecks. We have all our teeth." Every time I see it, I can't help but smile.
But yesterday, on the same channel, I saw another trailer for a show about conjoined twin girls. I hate to admit this, but I was both fascinated and shocked. I didn't know whether to hide my eyes or stare as the two-headed teenage girl(s) interacted with friends. At first I wasn't sure if it was a real show or a joke.
It is real.
The show follows a whole list of other shows, aired on TLC, that seem to satisfy America's curiousity for the obscure, the odd, the spectacle. The concept is not a new one. Following the lead of renowned American circus entrepreneur P.T. Barnum who took human oddities and made them the subject side shows, TLC seems to know that people will tune in to watch shows about unusual people.
We watch shows about little people, shows about hoarders, shows about families with extreme numbers of kids or shows about men with too many wives. We watch them because we are curious, repulsed, and (yes) even fascinated.
While watching one particular "Hoarders" episode, I was struck by the fact that this person's deep psychological problems were being addressed, on camera, to fit in between commercials. The realization made me slightly ashamed, and I turned off the show.
TLC stands for The Learning Channel, but it doesn't seem like there is a lot of learning going on. The shows, from "Toddlers to Tiaras" to "Sister Wives" seem to aim for the sensational - grabbing ratings and making money out of people's difficult and sometimes dysfunctional situations.
Some of the shows seem to be just for fun, but others address serious situations in much the same reality-show format. When compiled together into one glut of attention-seeking programming - the channel seems to reduce individual human stories to a circus sideshow.
I am sure that they propose the shows to their subjects by saying this will give society a better understanding of their unique situations.
But, I'm not sure I'm learning.
I'm just gaping, wide-eyed, in amazement.