The Slap: a middle class morality tale

7 Oct

I haven’t read the book but I watched the show.

The first thing I thought was how absolutely awful that middle class marriage looked from the outside, and I thanked God I wasn’t in one. He’s drinking, smoking, snorting coke and considering an affair, all to escape the confines of a relationship that he looks to be pretty fed up with, and the responsibilities of fatherhood he seems to be pretty much over as well. I mean, telling your slightly plump young son to get off his fat arse isn’t loving, especially after you’ve yelled at him for eating potato chips and being sedentary into the bargain. Is it?

She’s harassed, feels she’s responsible for everything he doesn’t want to be responsible for and therefore is unfairly burdened, and on top of that she’s got highly manipulative in-laws he won’t stand up to, who want to ruin the only couple holiday they’ve planned in years by taking them all to Greece instead. He is not overly concerned with this interference, leading one to imagine he wasn’t that keen on the couple holiday in the first place.

Somehow we are meant to believe that the slap itself brought about a complete change of heart in him, and in the much younger woman he was planning to conjoin with as a temporary reprieve from his miserable life. The slap apparently shocked them both out of their  lustful fantasies, and caused them to within half an hour or so re-evaluate their lives and conclude they’re very lucky and they’d better not screw it up, so to speak.

I don’t find that instantaneous change of heart in a moment of shock entirely credible as a long-term prospect, but perhaps I’m a cynic.

An urgent post-slap marital root on the kitchen bench that seemed to afford passing satisfaction to him and little if any at all to her, acts as a temporary circuit breaker, and she grudgingly agrees to find ways to capitulate to her in laws’ travel plans.

An aside – I’ve never understood those sex scenes in which the woman is banged hard against some unyielding surface without any foreplay whatsoever, and likely very little skin on skin contact where it matters most, and apparently is left totally satisfied by the encounter. This doesn’t make a lot of sense when you think about it. Yet it is probably the most frequently employed portrayal of heterosexual sex in movies and on the telly. I get how it’s fine for the bloke, but…

Back to The Slap. You just know that the next morning or the next, however long it takes for the post-coital glow to subside, they’ll be back at it, him on his various drugs of choice, and her on her overburdened, aggrieved and resentful trip. This is the warp and woof of the marriage. Brief interludes of sex and drug induced relief punctuating vast expanses of chronic, unaddressed ill-feeling.

Mrs Chook, I’m sorry to say, slept through the slap, not the entire program but the actual swipe. Who did it, she muttered, rousing herself from her slumbers, who did the slap? Christ, I told her I can’t believe that of all the bits you could have happily slept through you chose the central event around which all else revolves. Shut up, she said. I’m tired, she said. I’ve been talking to phone people all day trying to get your bloody smart phone organized since you jacked up and said you were effing over it.

An aside: my daughter-in-law persuaded me onto Skype. I did it straight away before I could frighten myself out of it. It was so easy! Last night I talked to the new baby as he lurched about in a milk coma while his mother held him up to the camera and told him I’m his grandma. I still have to get the smart phone, but they’ve let me off Facebook. Compromise and negotiation: this is what gets you a happy family life.

Back to The Slap. I usually refuse to fill in bits people miss when they fall asleep on account of it gets tedious and they should just go to bed and let me record it for them. But I made an exception in this case, as it was pivotal. Mrs Chook said I was being uncharacteristically pleasant, but I let that pass on account of her generous attention to my smart phone difficulties.

It was not OK for that bloke to slap Hugo, nobody’s going to get an argument from me on that. At the same time I totally understand what led him to do it. Whenever somebody inflicts pain on us it’s instinctive to lash out, and the kid served up what must have been a very painful kick to the bloke’s shins. In what looked like a completely reflexive reaction, he delivered a hard retaliatory slap. Not premeditated. Totally reactive. Totally useless. Wrong. Understandable.

So what are the moral lessons we are to take from this first episode of what looks to be shaping up as a middle class morality tale? Well, there seems to be an inference that if you breast feed a child longer than the culture feels is necessary, you’ll end up with a brat everybody hates, and even if that isn’t why everybody hates him, it won’t help.

The second moral seems to be that an undisciplined child can wreak havoc far beyond his immediate family, and so middle class people have a moral obligation to properly discipline their children. Apart from anything else it’s just good manners as nobody wants their party ruined by a fractious, willfully disobedient, destructive escapee from South Park.

The third moral I took from the first episode was that it doesn’t matter how grubby your middle class marriage is, you have to find ways to make it tolerable for yourself because the alternative is too terrifying to contemplate. Even if that means having an affair, and everybody knows that marriages frequently survive affairs, and that affairs can often be, in the long-term, quite good for a marriage if not for the cast-off lovers who are dumped in favour of maintaining the institution.

The fourth moral I took was that human beings are frail and fragile, and we generally expect too much of them, whether it’s ourselves or somebody else.

I thought the acting was pretty good, the story interesting, and I’m not troubled by foul language. The smoking has copped a bit of criticism but people still smoke, and it does go to establishing character. The cigarettes were an important symbolic connection between Hector and the much younger woman he wanted to root, I think, and anyways, you can’t censor everything unsavoury and unhealthy out of stories or you’ll have no story left, unless it’s the Wiggles, or Mr Rabbit and Jemima Puddleduck.

I’m going to keep watching.

2 Responses to “The Slap: a middle class morality tale”

  1. gerard oosterman October 7, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    Talk about muddle class morality.
    Let’s also not forget that in Australian politics, the 14 year boy in Bali on drug charges warrants all the love and empathy of the whole nation. The mere idea of unaccompanied children exported to face Malaysia is just a bagatelle. Isn’t it?


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