Mama June Has Rebranded Herself After Reuniting With a Convicted Child Molester

Photo Illustration by Elena Scotti/Jezebel/GMG, photos
via Getty Images

We’re living in an era of “scandal”
, in which networks, publications and podcasts are
revisiting decades-old salacious headlines that already took up
a huge chunk of our time and attention. In recent years, we’ve
seen new media about old news narratives that shocked our
nation over the course of weeks and sometimes months produced
about the hazy facts surrounding the true crimes involving
Jonbenet Ramsey, Amanda Knox, Jodi Arias, and Tonya Harding.
Only occasionally do these yield anything beyond a means to
occupy ourselves all over again.
O.J.: Made in America
, for example,
offered useful perspective on the history of race relations in
our country that didn’t merely explain the divided public
reaction to his acquittal, it thoroughly examined the current
state of racial unrest, how little progress has been made in
the past 20 or so years. It felt like the story needed that
much time to breathe to completely interrogate its impact and

she’s back in the same venue
in which she made her name, reality TV, commanding more or less
the same amount of attention. It’s as though nothing

Given this precedent of revisiting viral misdoings, it’s ironic
that a relatively recent public outcry involving a sex crime
whose lingering shadow might actually be useful has, for
practical purposes, gone forgotten. In 2014, “Mama” June
Shannon, the matriarch of the family profiled in the 2012-2014
TLC series Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, got back in touch
with a man convicted of molesting one of her daughters after he
was released from prison for doing so. Just days after the
story broke, TMZ posted a photograph of her hanging out with
him around another one of her kids.

That prompted immediate cancellation of Honey Boo Boo,
banished Shannon to the tabloid netherworlds of Dr.
and Entertainment Tonight and, at the time,
seemed to ensure that her once-hot family was pushed out of the
mainstream, like the farts they so proudly dusted over America.
But she didn’t go away for long—she’s back in the same venue in
which she made her name, reality TV, on a similar show,
commanding more or less the same amount of attention. It’s as
though nothing happened.

Even without the reunion with a child predator and its ensuing
outrage, it seemed unlikely that June and her clan would stick
around pop culture for long. That’s just
not how these reality franchises work. Even Shannon, a woman
whose shtick involved taking pride in her ignorance by
mispronouncing words and making what at the time seemed
endearingly questionable parenting decisions, knew this. When I
interviewed her for Gawker on 2012,
she told me
, “Reality TV don’t last more than three years.
People have a good run for about three years. Some people
fizzle out within a couple of weeks. We’ve had about 10 weeks
and if it stays for the next three years, great.”

Almost five years later, Shannon as well as the reality star
formerly known as Honey Boo Boo (her daughter Alana), and
various other members of her family, endure. The second season
of the WE tv series
Mama June: From Not to Hot
premiered Friday. The
first, which aired last year, was very much a continuation of
Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. The emphasis shifted
slightly to Shannon, who in losing 300 lbs., shed her former
self a few times over and in multiple ways—physically but also
narratively, as her fraught past seemed to melt away like fat.
(Relegated to supporting roles are her daughters Alana and
Pumpkin. Previous Honey Boo Boo regular Jessica is
nowhere to be found, and the molester controversy severed
Shannon’s relationship with her eldest daughter Anna.) It was a
weight loss so dramatic, reality TV must have seemed like the
perfect host venue for it.

We can assume that the
majority of the family’s audience either forgot about Shannon
reuniting with a convicted child molester or simply didn’t

A press release issued by FerenComm on behalf of WE tv claimed
that the first season of From Not to Hot averaged
“more than 2 million viewers throughout”—on
par with Honey Boo Boo’s third and fourth seasons
By the Numbers reported
Friday’s premiere number were down
to 904,000.) We can assume that the majority of the family’s
audience either forgot about Shannon reuniting with a convicted
child molester that threatened to banish them from pop culture
or simply didn’t care.

Nor did anyone much seem to care that one of the show’s
regulars, Michael “Big Mike” Mclarty, has a tattoo featuring
swastikas on his left forearm. Some viewers noticed and
discussed it on Twitter during the show’s premiere,
some outlets reported it
, and then it evaporated. Emails
from Jezebel to WE tv, FerenComm, and Mclarty’s manager on this
subject have all gone unanswered.

To be charitable, it might have been easy to forget how gross
the situation with Shannon and her ex was, because its details
are practically unbelievable in the first place: In October
TMZ reported that Shannon was dating a man who molested her
. Soon after, news broke that the relative in
question was Shannon’s own daughter, Anna “Chickadee” Cardwell,
whom Mark McDaniel was convicted of molesting in 2004, when she
was eight. He was Shannon’s boyfriend at the time, and spent 10
years in prison.

That Shannon would reunite with the man who repeatedly molested
her eight-year-old daughter was shocking. That Shannon would
then bring the man who repeatedly molested her
eight-year-old daughter in 2004 around her eight-year-old
daughter in 2014 (that’d be Alana),
as photo on TMZ proved
, was despicable.

Regardless of her other, potentially questionable public
parenting decisions (promoting a diet of junk food; allowing
her children to appear on television in the first place),
Here Comes Honey Boo Boo emphasized the family’s
harmony, a rarity in reality TV, and focused on what seemed
like the immense amount of love within. But now, the facade on
their perfectly imperfect family was shattered.

Shannon initially denied
meeting with McDaniel until pictures surfaced proving

Shannon did a terrible job at defending her terrible decisions
in interviews.
TMZ reported
that Shannon initially denied meeting with
McDaniel until pictures surfaced proving otherwise. She then
changed tactics and described her first meeting with McDaniel
after his release from prison “a coincidence,” and claimed
they’d only met one other time after. “It’s not like I’m seeing
him everyday,” she said in an interview with
Entertainment Tonight

Also in that interview, she revealed she had not read the court
documents relating to her daughter’s case, and then refused to
sit through a reading of the incident report—so
heinous, Radar wouldn’t even publish the full details
. “The
reason I don’t want to is because it’s like reliving another
she said

Cardwell, meanwhile,
told Dr. Phil
that Shannon didn’t believe her when she
first reported her molestation. Sandra Hale, Shannon’s mother,

, “June was in denial, she wasn’t horrified by it. It
didn’t seem like it affected her too much. She went about her
business.” Lee Thompson, better known as Uncle Poodle (the
brother of Alana’s father, Mike “Sugar Bear” Thompson),

told Dr. Phil in a halting, perhaps dubious interview
, that
he saw McDaniel, Shannon, and Alana in bed together during a
trip he attended with them. Also revealed during this news
cycle was that the father of Shannon’s children Pumpkin and
Jessica is Michael Anthony Ford,
another convicted sex offender
(though his conviction
occurred in 2005, after her daughters with him were born).

The molestation case is
barely subtext on From Not to Hot

About a year later, Shannon and Sugar Bear appeared on WE tv’s

Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars
. On the show,

she passed a lie detector test
indicating she did not cheat
on Sugar Bear with McDaniel. That was beside the point of the
outcry, but it seemed to absolve Shannon as far as WE tv was
concerned. About a year after that season of Marriage Boot
, Mama June: From Not to Hot debuted.

The molestation case is barely subtext on From Not to
. Besides the weight-loss process, most of the drama is
derived from the contentious relationship between Shannon and
Jennifer Lamb, Sugar Bear’s eventual wife (they married at the
end of the season). Throughout the season, Lamb berated Shannon
for being an inept mother. “My opinion of Mama June being a
mother to Alana?” she said early on. “Very poor. Very poor
parenting.” The tension, though, was perverted by their
conflicts often involving Alana’s sugar consumption—Lamb seemed
to imply that Shannon’s attempt to have her daughter eat
healthier was a disservice to the child. She assumed the moral
high ground in her own head by plying the child with sweets.
It’s a perfect example of how reality TV can twist all sense of
right by playing like a series of images bouncing between two
funhouse mirrors facing each other. (After the season ended,
Daily Mail reported
that Lamb’s ex-husband,
Raymond Lamb, Jr., was in prison after being convicted of child
molestation in 2013. The Mail reported that “it is
believed” Jennifer divorced him in 2014.)

Skinny, in this case, has
trumped child endangerment.

Just as the show glossed over the Shannon-McDaniel reunion, so
has the ensuing press coverage.
People recently posted a 10-minute package about
Shannon’s past year
, featuring multiple speaking
credulously, passionately even about the reality star’s new
lease on life.
It was People that published the “EXCLUSIVE FIRST
PHOTO” of ‘Skinny’ Mama June Shannon
, last March—the site
has covered Shannon and her family breathlessly over the past
year, with over 35 posts since their exclusive reveal. Of
course, People
. As did E!, which went on to publish an assessment of
Shannon’s rise and fall and rise in August, “How
Mama June Managed to Bring Her Family’s Here Comes Honey Boo
Boo Fame Back From the Brink After Scandal
.” “This family
never wore out its 15 minutes because millions of people
apparently agreed that Mama June wasn’t the ghoul that her
critics painted her to be,” went a chunk of its analysis.

Shannon may owe her endurance to the simple fact that it’s
easier to watch than it is to remember. It’s easier to sit
through someone’s weight loss journey than it is to process
what directing your time there is effectively
condoning. For all our strides toward
empathy and defeating existing power structures, when it comes
to pop culture figures, we continue to prioritize appearance
over the content of character. Skinny, in this case, has
trumped child endangerment.

It’s easier to sit through
someone’s weight loss journey than it is to process what
directing your time there is effectively condoning.

In an academic (but accessible) piece for Buzzfeed last year,
Joanna Arcieri argued that “Mama
June’s Makeover Was Actually Damage Control
.” Arcieri wrote
that Shannon “has achieved the ultimate rehabilitation of the
female grotesque,” and further, “From Not to Hot gives
audiences permission to ignore June’s failings as a woman and
parent, for the sake of entertainment.” The female grotesque,
per Arcieri’s piece, was:

As explained by Kathleen Rowe in The Unruly Woman: Gender
and the Genres of Laughter
, “the grotesque body
exaggerates its processes, bulges, and orifices, whereas the
static, monumental classical body conceals them.” Most often,
the grotesque woman is perceived to be lower-class and
socially unacceptable

Perhaps, then, there’s an extra layer to Shannon’s resurgence
that goes beyond the ease of perception over recall. Having
shed the lingering and most obvious vestige of her
status—obesity—“Mama” June Shannon is a living example of the
rebound from economic downturn that poor whites expect from
Trump. Her narrative is the mythical American dream writ…
formerly large, and a low-key comeback story for a culture that
loves those kind of stories but whose bombarded attention span
makes them unable or uninterested in grappling with what
exactly she’s coming back from.

a low-key comeback story for
a culture whose bombarded attention span makes them unable or
uninterested in grappling with what exactly she’s coming back

In that light, the only thing less surprising than her friend
Michael “Big Mike” Mclarty appearing on the premiere episode of
From Not to Hot openly rocking a white supremacist
tattoo on his forearm is that it didn’t provoke any lasting
outcry, or affect the show’s ongoing success. Mclarty’s
Facebook, too, contains over a dozen posts to back up the
apparent racist sentiment on his arm:



, including
one that says
“This does not offend me” over a confederate
flag, and then “This bullshit does,” over a photograph taken
from behind two people wearing
sagging pants
—the subject of frequent criticism when worn
by young black men. There’s an illustration of a faceless
Klansman holding a noose in front of a Confederate flag, which
Mclarty captioned, “Keep it pure and stay true.”
A post from July 21, 2015, on Mclarty’s Facebook reads

People really with all the shit going on in the world,we
gonna start this black white shit again.we got kids dieing in
the streets and now here we go again with this slavery
shit.what about the white slaves.If u don’t want to be here
go back to the fucking mother land I’m tired of all this
nigger shit

WE tv apparently has devised a solution to Mclarty’s racist
tattoos: long sleeves. Mclarty appeared on second season
premiere—sweating his way through an outdoor scene presumably
shot in warm weather given the prevalence of tank tops and
T-shirts worn by Pumpkin, Alana, and Shannon’s sister Doe Doe.

Covering up, it seems is this show’s m.o., and its audience, it
seems, is fine with that.

In her singular, seemingly inadvertent way throughout her
five-plus years in the public eye, “Mama” June Shannon has
orbited around the zeitgeist, teasing out the truths lingering
just under the surface of what’s considered socially
acceptable. While this may have once seemed refreshing in the
realm of representation and in terms of poking at the construct
of politeness, it’s taken a dark turn. Nevertheless, it remains
100 percent American made.

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