Moms React to The Slap
NBC's eight-part miniseries, The Slap, premiered last night, and despite executive producer Walter F. Parkes insistence that the show is about more than just "the slap," for many viewers— particularly parents—that's all anyone can talk about. The Slap, based on 2008 novel by Christos Tsiolkas, centers around a groups of friends and extended family—each with their own personal issues. In the premiere episode, the gang gets together to celebrate the 40th birthday of Hector (Peter Sarsgaard). At the party, Harry (Zachary Quinto), Hector's hot-tempered cousin, ends up slapping a misbehaving child on the face. All hell breaks loose from there, and the miniseries focuses on the uncomfortable fallout from that incident.
The topic of disciplining other people's children has always been a hot button issue, and The Slap fuses it with another incendiary parenting topic: physical punishment. Combine the two and you have a recipe for one controversial, and much talked about show.
As a parent who doesn't agree with physical punishment, just watching the trailers for The Slap made me uncomfortable. While no adult wants to deal with an unruly little kid, especially one that is hostile and kicks (as little Hugo does to Harry in the premiere), in my book there is absolutely no excuse for an adult to respond with physical violence, and even more so to a child who is not theirs. Watching the entire scene when it aired? I was even more uneasy. From the moment we meet young Hugo and his parents, we're being set up to see the child as completely awful, rude, and frankly, like a problem child. His parents, who are equal parents permissive and too attached, are just as bad. It's no surprise, then, that my Twitter and Facebook feeds were littered with other parents agreeing with Hector's Greek mother who muttered, "The brat deserved it."
The Slap is definitely not shy about making you question yourself, your parenting, and what you might do in a similar situation. This was much less clear cut than I had thought before viewing the premiere. After speaking with other parents, I saw I wasn't alone in my discomfort.
"To me, what made the episode so uncomfortable to watch with how painfully plausible it all seemed," explained Holly Lebowitz Rossi, a mom to a 4-year-old son. "As easy as it would be to say, oh, Hugo's parents are permissive and weak, who among us hasn't phoned in a discipline moment from time to time? As easy as it would be to say Harry is a mean, aggressive alpha male, who among us hasn't had our buttons pushed by a child, to the point where we're struggling to contain our rage (though hopefully, unlike Harry, we win that struggle)?"
Lauren Apfel, a writer living in the UK who blogs at omnimom, read the book the miniseries is based on as well as watched the first episode. "The Slap, as an event and as a book/miniseries, caught me in an emotional bind," she said. "On the one hand, I consider physically disciplining somebody else's child an unambiguous wrong. On the other hand, the way the boy was being raised and his spoiled disregard for others made me far less sympathetic to his parents than I otherwise would have been. It also raises questions about what happens when a parent's failure to discipline his/her own kid in a public arena (or manage the kid's behavior) has knock-on consequences for other kids."
However, for some parents, just the thought of a show where the premise revolves around a child being slapped was too much. Mother of two and writer Aly Windsor did not watch yesterday's premiere, as the show hit a bit too close to home for her. "When I saw the ad for the series I cringed. Partly it was because I thought it was ridiculous to build a whole series around warring parents, partly because I was hit enough as a child and don't want to revisit those feelings, thanks, and partly because a few months ago another parent who was a stranger to me hit my 5-year-old son at Chuck E Cheese when he got away from me for a few minutes." Windsor confronted the adult, but nothing ever came of it. Wondering if she should have pushed the issue further, Windsor told me, "Friends later told me I should have gone to the manager or called the police but in the end I believe it was enough that I let my son know I believed him and that it wasn't right, and I confronted his bully. Would I have felt better if that woman was arrested? Not at all."
Clearly, even in real life this is a complicated issue with no definitive answers. It will be interesting to see how The Slap moves forward with this incident and if they'll keep viewers feeling uncertain, uncomfortable, and still wanting more. It certainly worked on Lebowitz Rossi. "Twitchy as the first episode may have left me, I do plan to tune in for more, because I appreciate how its drama is set in the world in which most of us really live."
Avital Norman Nathman is the editor of The Good Mother Myth and a freelance writer whose work has been featured in the New York Times, Cosmopolitan.com, The Frisky, Bitch Magazine, and more. Find her tweeting @TheMamafesto.