A ‘Hard Candy’ for ‘The Slap’

The Slap” on prime-time TV is getting cheers and jeers for its controversial slapping of a small child from an adult. The male adult caught doing the deed in question is not the child’s father.

NBC’s “The Slap,”  an eight episode series, has whipped up a frenzied debate about how children should be disciplined, who the children should be regulated by, and what is the alternative to curbing a child’s bad behavior. The polarizing effect of this TV series is similar to that of the 2005 movie “Hard Candy” that starred Ellen Page, and Patrick Wilson [more on “Hard Candy” versus “The Slap” later].

In case you missed it, “The Slap” is the all star cast mini-series that has Harry (Zachary Quinto) slapping a nine year old boy named Hugo (Dylan Schombing) in front of everyone. It is the slap that seemingly causes the entire tight nit family to unravel. Before the show even aired it started a firestorm of controversy about corporal punishment.

The cast also stars Thandie Newton and Peter Sarsgaard as the couple that seemingly has it all together: the beautiful kids, and great jobs; Melissa George (“Grey’s Anatomy” and “30 Days of Night”) and Thomas Sadoski (a Broadway actor, “Wild” and “The Newsroom) play the parents of Hugo; Uma Thurman (“Kill Bill” trilogy),  and Brian Cox (“Braveheart” and “Troy”) also star.

The crux of the argument is the punishing of children by slapping them; this kind of physical violence is a form of corporal punishment. While we should not condone that form of punishment in this day and age, some of us still hear, remember and tell stories of how they were disciplined by parents and adults by the hands, fists and other objects.

Let us explain briefly what is corporal punishment. It is a form of physical beating or deliberate infliction of pain as “retribution for an offence” in which the behavior is deemed wrong, and the physical abuse is meant to deter the person from committing the act again. This method is usually used in judicial, domestic, or educational settings. Corporal punishment has been divided into three categories, but for our argument we will stick to one: “Parental or domestic corporal punishment: within the family—typically, children punished by parents or guardians.”

This form of corporal punishment in “The Slap” has split viewers opinions. On some Twitter posts people are against the idea of slapping the child, while others would prefer to slap the child and the parents too. The effect has been polarizing.

In this instance, whom do you support? Was Harry justified in disciplining someone else’s child? Why did Hugo’s parents not do anything to curb their child’s behavior before it all escalated? Is it the parents’ alternative or non-traditional skills and lifestyle to blame? Who should the viewers be more angry at, the content of the story, the actors, or about the boy who got the slap?

Let us address the polarizing effect in terms of “Hard Candy” and “The Slap.” In the 2005 “Hard Candy” film, it was about a photographer Jeff Kohlver played by Wilson. Wilson’s Kohlver chatted and flirted online with a 14 year old girl named Hayley Stark; Hayley was played by Page. The pair met at a coffee house and agreed to go to Kohlver’s place to take their online relationship to the next level. Hayley flirted with him knowing the danger and age difference; but the situation got twisted when the pair shared a drink, and Kohlver, not Hayle, passed out and awakened to find himself tied up, and about to be tortured by Hayley. Hayley accuses Kohlver of pedophilia to which he denies. Then a cat and mouse game between the two of them began.

The movie and its effect left audiences rooting for either Kohlver [the suspected pedophile] or Hayley, or both, and it even left everyone polarized and confused about how they should feel.

Similarly, “The Slap” has had a similar effect. The show pushes the envelope about how we should feel about disciplining a child that gets out of control. And, how the adult characters in the show, who are seemingly likable, also compound the situation by their own individual behavior. The slap simply challenges a fragile family dynamic that tries to portray itself as perfect and well put together.

In disciplining a bad behaved child – whether it is your own or not – by giving them a ‘hard candy’ instead of a ‘slap’ as a disciplinary technique may not always have positive results. But communicating to the child and their parents that the child’s behavior is not acceptable is perhaps better than the alternative.

“The Slap” is based on an 2011 Australian mini-series of the same name. And the Australian and the U.S. versions are both based on a book of the same name. The 2015 version is written and created by Jon Robin Baitz (“Brothers & Sisters”), and executive produced by Walter F. Parkes, and Laurie MacDonald (“Gladiator” and the “Men in Black” franchise).