There can’t be many people who haven’t seen the unfortunate chap trying to give a serious interview on live TV while his children invade his home office and a woman in the background does one of the best unscripted comedy extractions ever seen. The interviewee was political scientist Prof Robert Kelly, an expert on North Korea, and Mission Impossible Woman was his wife. At almost the same time as the ‘comedy gold’ took off, the internet laid into Kelly with judgments ranging from accusations of abuse (he’s a controlling, authoritarian man of whom his children and his wife are clearly terrified) to assumptions that the woman was the nanny based on her Asian appearance. The latter was quickly denounced when the actual evidence emerged and a new storm on the matter of racism began.
The abusive control freak, though? Watch the video – yes he pushes his daughter away while staying focused on the interviewer, and yes he tries to keep a straight face. But this was live TV remember? His daughter sits down nearby, not at all cowed by being held away from the screen; and the straight face only barely holds. Kelly’s parents said it was hilarious and that the kids probably thought it was one of their grandparent Skype sessions.
Another perspective, understood by parents working from home whose credibility is frequently threatened by unplanned domestic intrusions, felt his pain: ‘Oh Robert Kelly. We’ve all been there. All of us, and many of us more than once’. It’s 2017 and that’s how it works.
But beyond making judgments for which we have no evidence, I think there’s a really important thing we can learn from this and that’s to change our image of credibility. If Kelly had felt able to draw his daughter in instead of pushing her away and was accustomed to doing so in such situations as this, and if the rest of us could bring ourselves to understand him as an expert with a small child snuggled under his arm, this flak-storm could never have arisen. Surely credibility comes from knowledge and communication, not from pretending that experts don’t have a domestic life, a position that’s surely a leftover from times when men ‘went to work’ and women looked after all the noisy, messy stuff at home, out of the way.
For me it’s animals – cats marching across the keyboard or chin-rubbing the camera, dogs barking at doorbells, or neighbours, having not received an answer at the front, coming through the garage to hammer on the utility room door just in case I’d rather open that one where I can’t see who’s there. I’ve never done live TV but I promise I’ve discreetly shoved and quietly hissed my way through conference calls and the occasional professional presentation. Kelly has my admiration, as does this weather man who was more dignified than either of us.
Update 19th March 2017: This video appeared recently, spoofing the original by showing how a multi-tasking woman would have managed. A cheap shot at men? Well yes. Funny? Very. Also though inadvertently but exactly illustrating the revised image of expertise I suggested above. I might have requested a hair-and-makeup break when the bomb came in though …