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The Slap: Why the show’s depiction of family life is terrifying

NBC’s much-heralded new drama, The Slap, premiered last night, and it really succeeded in putting a massive dent into the positivity I once held about life’s possibilities.

By now, you’re no doubt aware of the central premise of The Slap: A man slaps a child who is not his at a family barbecue. However, the plot of this show, which was adapted from an Australian television series, which was itself adapted from a novel by Christos Tsiolkas, is far deeper and more grandiose than just the ramifications of corporal punishment.

Rather, The Slap is an exploration of individuals, family, fulfillment, parenting, general debauchery and restlessness, as told by giving viewers insight into the lives of each of the characters. I’m still on the fence about how well this adaptation achieves this exploration, but something it has done well after only its first episode is reinforce the feelings I had when I first read the book and watched the Australian adaptation: The kind of life most of the characters lead — getting married, having children, etc. — scares the living daylights out of me, and not for the reasons you might think.

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I first read The Slap, the novel, while I was in graduate school studying to become an editor, and the novel taught me a lesson of great value: Editing works of fiction is not for me because all I’ll ever want to do is amend the values and morals of the characters so that they fit my own. This guy is cheating on his wife? Nah, let’s amend that. All of the characters drop C-bombs like they’re going out of fashion? That seems unnecessary, so I reckon we’ll do away with that, too. A grown man is married and has children, but he’s doing drugs? Drugs are stupid, so let’s delete the parts where he does them; maybe he can have a sugar addiction instead.

NBC’s adaptation of The Slap, while a little watered down in terms of some of the behaviors of the characters in the book, has certainly bolstered my fears about family life and the lack of certainty that accompanies it, even though getting married and having children, on the surface, seems like a very stable thing to do.

The Slap‘s characters are all inherently unlikable. Seriously, I wanted to punch slap all of them because they all seem to belong in a moral wasteland. They all appear to lack courtesy, common decency and a general ability to take a moment to consider someone other than themselves. They are not only self-absorbed, but they are downright narcissists. Even the kid who cops the slap presents internal conflict because he was being a right-royal miscreant. Did he deserve to be slapped? No, I’m of the belief that no child ever does, but he was in some serious need of discipline and non-physical punishment. His own parents, however, didn’t seem to think so.

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While the above-mentioned abundant character flaws no doubt pre-date each character’s decision to get married and have children, The Slap doesn’t present a rosy picture of what happens when these kinds of people choose to wed themselves to someone else and procreate with them. The part that scares me? People are actually very good at hiding the parts of themselves that they don’t want others to see — the parts of themselves that are narcissistic, the parts of themselves that are completely unsatisfied and unhappy, the parts of themselves that are looking for something or someone else that can’t be provided by you and isn’t you.

When people get married, they certainly don’t do so thinking that it’s all going to end in tears in a couple of years, that they’ll eventually realize the person they married is an asshole and that their husband or wife will cheat on them and do any number of things they wouldn’t condone or approve of. No, everyone thinks it’s until death do you part, that you’ll never fall out of love with that person, and they will always be able to fill every part of you.

When people decide to have kids, they certainly don’t do so under the assumption that the kids will be ratbags who are difficult to control and who serve as a contraceptive incentive all by themselves. No, everyone thinks their child will be perfect and that the relationship they have with their child will be similarly perfect.

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With just one episode, The Slap has, once again, made me paranoid about what my marriage will look like, should I ever marry, and what my kids might be like, should I ever choose to have them. An argument of nature vs. nurture can be applied to both marriage and children, but The Slap has certainly rammed home some of the unavoidable realities of both.

My marriage may appear as though it’s wonderful to me, but how can I ever be certain that my husband is as fulfilled as I am, that the things we value really are the same and that he’s not seeking validation from elsewhere (i.e. by having an affair, by doing drugs or through any other number of things I wouldn’t be cool with)? And while bad parenting is definitely a component of The Slap, it still makes me wonder how I can ever be assured that my child will be a positive contributor to society — as opposed to a little demon — even if I do everything right as a parent.

The answer to both of these concerns is that you can never really be certain of anything, and the only thing you can control is your own behavior. If nothing else, The Slap certainly illuminated and then rammed home that message for me, making getting married and having a family something I am far more wary of than I was before. And while it hasn’t deterred me, it’s certainly given me cause to reevaluate what both of those things might look like in reality, as opposed to the fairy tale I’ve always imagined they will be.

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