Yes, the way producers construct the show implores its audience to laugh and cringe at the Thompson/Shannon family’s life: hoarding toiletries, renaming foods with fewer syllables (spaghetti = sketti), and mud bathing at the annual Redneck Games. Mama June, Alana, and her three older sisters, Chubs, Pumpkin and Chickadee, reside in a small house beside railroad tracks where they clip coupons, rehearse pageant routines and occasionally voyage to Macon, the “big city”—where I grew up—to shop and dine. Cameras fixate on shooting the women from unflattering angles; sound effects repeatedly magnify their farts and burps.
But if the show were only about bodily functions and beauty pageants, audiences would partake briefly, then speed past to other empty-calorie fare. Rather, the program—which averaged some 2.4 million viewers per episode, and is renewed for a second season beginning in July—features among the most real, relatable, unpretentious Americans on television. Viewers return because at its heart, here is a loving, American family that adheres to its own standards. In the words of Mama June: “You like us or you don’t like… we just don’t care.”
That spirit is refreshing, even radical, in the universe of reality TV. The Thompson/Shannons are the anti-Kardashians—an unprivileged and guileless family that gets along. Their antics offer a counterweight to the jealousy, striving, and backstabbing of the Housewives. And they defy the tropes assigned to their many female reality-show peers: the slut, the fame-seeker, the betrayer.