This post was originally published on Medium. Yes, I wish this site had existed then.
I’m sure there are plenty of videos that have gone viral faster, but given that my Twitter feed is a mix of journalists, tech analysts, and NBA folks, there seemed to be a special resonance to this clip of a father in South Korea commenting on the removal of once-President Park Geun-hye, only to be interrupted on live TV by his kids breaking into his home office.
If I might say so myself, I am uniquely qualified to break this video down: I’ve been on TV from a home office, I have children, and, crucially, I am a man (who like Robert E Kelly, our protagonist, lives in Asia). As you will see, that is the key to understanding how this went down.
The most important thing to notice about this quite nice home office, particularly for Asia (it’s really big!), is the stack of books on the bed over Kelly’s left shoulder. As should be rather obvious, those books aren’t there by accident! Kelly almost certainly placed them there for this interview; sadly, given the terrible compression applied to Twitter video, I have no idea what books they are, but rest assured they are very befitting Kelly’s position as Professor of Political Science at Pusan National University and BBC expert on South Korea.
The map on the wall is also a nice touch: this is a man who almost certainly knows his way around the globe, but a blank wall just doesn’t play well on TV.
There are two flaws, though, in Kelly’s premeditated presentation: one, the door is ajar. Obviously that will figure prominently. Two, on the left hand side of the screen something is intruding into the picture. I have no idea what it is; it’s just an excuse to explain that these interviews are done using the webcam in computer displays. It’s true! There is no cameraperson there; indeed, often you are looking into the camera and seeing nothing on your own screen. It’s really disorienting and honestly one of the reasons I don’t like doing these kinds of TV hits.
Robert E Kelly is a handsome man! He’s also dressed up for the occasion: as we will soon find out he is obviously at home, so why is he wearing a suit and tie? Because he’s going to be on the BBC, that’s why.
Kelly is an academic: according to LinkedIn he has his Ph.D. in Political Science from The Ohio State University. Being an academic is a very weird enterprise: Kelly went to Miami University in Ohio and The Ohio State University for a combined 12 years. After he received his Ph.D. he worked as a lecturer for The Ohio State University for two years, a fairly miserable existence that requires years of schooling yet earns the salary of a Starbucks barista (approximately). Then, somehow, Kelly hears the siren song of Asia and takes an associate professorship at Pusan National University in Busan, Korea (fun fact: Pusan and Busan are the same word; welcome to the wonderful world of romanizing eastern script languages).
The real payoff of all that education, though, is that Kelly is an expert. He contributes to the Economist, Newsweek, The Diplomat. And, of course, he appears on the BBC. Like a boss.
The Elder Daughter
We will get to the elder daughter’s dance in a moment; it’s absolutely delightful in a way that can only be truly appreciated by those of us that have daughters.
For now, the entrance:
- I told you that open door was a problem
- The yellow shirt: not a single person watching this clip can miss her entrance
- The obliviousness: dad has absolutely no idea
This clip has no where to go but up.
I love her.
This is the point where Kelly becomes aware that his progeny is standing approximately 3 inches away from him. Horrifically, at least from his perspective, he is informed by the BBC anchor.
This is where Kelly is getting the most grief on social media. The prevailing wisdom from folks who have never been on worldwide-TV-as-a-means-of-validating-12-years-of-academia is that Kelly should have gracefully placed his daughter on his lap and continued on with the interview as if nothing had happened.
Let’s back up.
What you may not know about these TV spots is that you don’t get paid a dime. Why, then, does the BBC, or CNN, or MSNBC, or all of the other channels have an endless array of experts who are willing to not just call-in from their home office but will also go to the trouble of putting on a suit-and-tie and arrange books just so? BECAUSE YOU’RE ON TV!
Here’s the deal: the male ego is both remarkably fragile and remarkably easy to satiate. Tell said ego he will be featured as an expert in front of a national or global audience and he will do whatever it takes — including 12 years of academia and wearing a suit at home—to ensure it is so.
The flipside of said ego-soothing, though, is a potential level of embarassment that is hard to fathom. In this case Kelly is fulfilling his self-selected destiny: he is appearing as an expert across the world on the BBC. But it’s not going well! His daughter has appeared, and while he certainly loves her, he must, MUST, keep up appearances. Thus the hand, and not the overt affection.
Ignore the baby in the doorway, which is the most hilarious moment in one’s first viewing (but not necessarily on subsequent viewings; there’s just too much good stuff here to compete). I love Kelly’s smile here.
Look, I just explained in the last section that he is utterly mortified. Worse, the very foundation of his ego is at stake — he is appearing as an expert on the BBC and his kids are screwing it up. And yet, in this smile, you can see a father’s unadulterated love for his first-born — a daughter no less. That increases said love twofold. He knows the interview is already a mess, but he loves her, and I love Professor Kelly for it.
Also, his daughter DGAF. She just got the hand and reacted not with shock but by playing with her pen. She is awesome.
We don’t know if the second-born is a boy or girl. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. All that we know is that after valiantly fighting off his first-born, who he loves, all of Kelly’s efforts are undone by the second-born that he probably doesn’t pay enough attention to, mimicking her older sister. It’s basically The Royal Tenenbaums brought to life.*
*That’s not exactly true, but The Royal Tenenbaums is both my favorite movie and the best-ever examination of first/middle/youngest dynamics, so I wanted to include it. Sue me.
The first time I watched this video (Disclosure: I’m up to 37x), this moment absolutely slayed me.
This is the moment where this clip enters the pantheon of Internet viral videos. As usual, it’s the woman — in this case the mom—who makes it legendary.
But wait, was it the mom, or was it a nanny? This has been a point of contention on social media, but I’m pretty sure it’s the mom.
- I have white American/Asian mixed kids, so I’m kind of a subject-matter expert, and these look like mixed kids
- Most maids in Korea, like Taiwan, where I live, are foreign (often from Indonesia or the Philippines). This mom, though, absolutely looks east Asian — Korean, in fact. And, given that Kelly is paid in expertise, he probably can’t afford a Korean maid.
- The desperation with which she enters the room is a desperation born of love, not duty. You can’t deny it! She wants her husband to look good; that’s why she flies in and, frankly, takes too long to get the kids out of there because she’s trying so hard. She cares too much.
Above everyone else, I feel for the mom (I’m assuming it was the mom from here on out). Yes, she was probably responsible for the kids during said call, but moms have a lot to do! And seriously, dad should have closed the damn door. She is going to feel absolutely awful for having upset his call, and you know what? I feel bad for her for her feeling this way. It was almost certainly an honest mistake.
Also, her pants may not be completely pulled up (as opposed to Kelly, who honestly, may not be wearing any at all).
Look, for all the sympathy I just gave mom, she deserves some kudos as well: she just moved into the room, grabbed both kids, and then beat a retreat while barely showing her face. It’s impressive stuff.
Meanwhile, dad is apologizing for the love of his life interfering with his ego. MEN.
I feel bad saying this, but this is probably the single most hilarious frame of the video. Dad has just apologized multiple times for the interruption, while mom is desperately trying to let him shine. It really is the reach, though, that makes it so spectacular.
SportsPickle nailed it:
This is why I’m all-in on mom: nannies don’t lay it out like this. She loves her man, she’s proud of his expertise, and she’s going to do everything she can to make him look good.
I tweeted today, “There but for the Grace of God Go I”. You know what though? Being Professor Kelly seems like a pretty good gig: a nice house, a nice look, an irrepressible daughter, a shockingly mobile baby, and a wife that will do anything to help him succeed.
Plus he gets to be on the BBC.