Television historians will look back on summer 2012 as a watershed, the moment when the game had changed for good.
It was either the beginning or the end of something — we’re too close to it to fully understand how the event will play out — or maybe it was both. Ether way, the viewing public sat up and took notice on Aug. 2, 2012.
That was the day that the Learning Channel, having long since abbreviated its name to TLC and enacted a significant shift in mission, aired a new series featuring a breakout star from another hit show.
This sort of thing happens all the time in television — it’s how George Jefferson got his de-luxe apartment in the sky, why Laverne DeFazio put up with Shirley Feeney for so many seasons, why there are so many incarnations of “CSI” and Law & Order.”
But this time it was different. TLC spun a new reality show off its successful 2009 series “Toddlers & Tiaras,” which gave a farcical inside look at the world of child beauty pageants and the culture it creates. But when naming a subject for the spin-off, out of the entire panel of dysfunction from which they had to choose, they went not for the cutest, smartest or most talented child. No, TLC picked 6-year-old Alana Thompson and her family, of McIntyre, Ga., population 650.
That Thompson’s nickname is “Honey Boo Boo Child” — a moniker she apparently bestowed on herself, that her unmarried mother has four children from different men and keeps a toiletpaper hoard in the dining room of her house, that the family ran through 10 cases of barbecue sauce in six months, that the show is riddled with negative stereotypes of Southern, rural Americans all do much to suggest that the Thompson family is what some of us might refer to as “rednecks.”
If there is any confusion about this interpretation of their lifestyle, little Alana reinforces it with her now-famous catchphrase:
“You better redneckogize!” which she blurts with Tourette-ian frequency.
For whatever reason, the catchphrase has resonated with segements of the population, and it appears it is now a thing: People say it to each other both ironically and sincerely; you can buy “redneckognize T-shirts and iPhone cases and beer koozies and hoodies; the word has its own Twitter hashtag. The provenance of this word is widely attributed to the young Ms. Thompson, who calls her favorite food “sketti” and sometimes talks to the cameras via her belly.
This late in the game it’s difficult to contribute anything original to the veritable canon that has sprung up around the character and her show. But I have reason to believe that the phrase “redneckognize” did not originate with the young pageant queen, but instead is the intellectual property of a Triad woman who coined the term in 2007.
That’s the year Angela Martin wrote her book, How to Ruin Your Ex-Husband’s Life One Day at a Time. It’s more philosophical than the title implies.
“It was about empowerment,” Martin, of Greensboro, says, a sort-of how-to guide for the recently divorced woman that takes on subjects like dating, children and moving on.
Chapter 8, titled “Learn to Redneckognize ®” — Martin put the trademark symbol there herself — deals with ways to keep a positive attitude through a divorce.
“Every time a dreadful thought involving your failed relationship rears its ugly head,” she writes, “learn to redneckognize it, and turn it into something positive.
The book came out in 2008 and hit big. Martin plugged it on the “CBS Early Show,” a slate of live book events and media moments. Later that year, through a serendipitous chain of events, Martin was invited to put her book into the gift bags at the Emmy Awards.
More than 150 books went out that day, into the hands of producers, directors and television executives at the ceremony. Among the attendees were representatives of a company called “Endemol USA,” a British concern that made US adaptations of BBC shows. Endemol was there because the host of one of its shows, Howie Mandel from “Deal or No Deal,” was nominated for Outstanding Host for a Reality Show or Competition.
That same month, a division of Endemol, Authentic Entertainment, would air the pilot episode of a new show — yep, “Toddlers & Tiaras.” Authentic was also behind “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.”
While this chain does not alone prove causation, it gives Martin the strong suspicion that her word for divorcee empowerment had been misappropriated, and is now being used to generate revenue for Honey Boo Boo, TLC and Authentic Entertainment.
“I don’t watch the show because it makes me nauseous,” she says. “It’s something so obviously stolen. They use it like 20 times an episode!” She wouldn’t mind going after the show for a cut of the action, but, she says, it would be an expensive fight.
“The attorneys I’ve talked to said I had a great case, but they want money up front.” Martin, a single mother, doesn’t have that kind of cash.
But more than the lost money and opportunity, Martin bemoans the distortion of the word’s message.
“This was a term about healing,” she says. “You better redneckognize! You need to pick yourself up! It was a positive thing. It was meant to be classy.
“I mean, I get it,” she continues. “I have family members who could be on ‘Honey Boo Boo’ and they wouldn’t have to fake it. But I’m not that kind of a redneck.”
Still, she wouldn’t mind getting a check.
Find out more about Angela Martin and her book at ruinyourex.com