A Review of The Slap, and the Perils of Modern Parenting

What Women Really Think
Feb. 15 2012 10:43 AM

The Perils of Modern Parenting, Australian Edition

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It’s unfortunate that only DirecTV viewers get to watch The Slap, an eight-part Australian series that premieres tonight. The acclaimed series, which aired in Australia in the fall and is based on a novel by Australian author Christos Tsiolkas, deserves a wider American audience. The plot revolves around the repercussions of a man slapping someone else’s child—a spoiled, unruly toddler who would be the bane of any playground.

The slap itself is a brief event; a moment of violence at an afternoon barbecue in which everyone, from slapper to slappee to slappee’s hysterical parents, is rendered unsympathetic. But it proves a deeply destructive force in the lives of three best friends whose lives and families are intertwined. Each episode is told from another point of view—there’s the ambitious son of Greek immigrants, the writer with a dying mother, the husband eyeing his children’s babysitter—and we see how differently this single event appears to each character. We also see how difficult it is to choose sides in a complicated web of friendships, family, and race.

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The Slap takes place on the other side of the world, but aside from the accents and the unfamiliar slang, it feels familiar. On the surface, all is multicultural suburban bliss, but here and there are whispers of racism and domestic violence kept quiet from the neighbors. There are subtle class snobberies and the clash of immigrants against the born-heres. There are the dilemmas of modern parenting: too much television, too much food, too much stuff. In one scene, a lengthy conversation takes place entirely without eye contact as a father and son sit side by side, staring at a screen, battling each other in a video game.

And, too, there’s the done-to-death parenting wars, the only weak point in the plot (as I write this, I’m three episodes in). The mother of the slapped child is a caricature of all that’s wrong with modern parenting—finding her son blameless in everything, still nursing him literally and figuratively even though he’s practically pre-school age. She reads as a rant against parents these days, one that’s nauseatingly familiar to just about every American mother and father. I plan on watching this series to the end, and I'm hoping she will be rendered more three-dimensional as the story advances. Australian parents are surely just as worthy of nuance as American ones are.  

Libby Copeland is a writer in New York and a regular Slate contributor. She was previously a Washington Post reporter and editor for 11 years. She can be reached at libbycopeland@gmail.com.