I resisted watching this video for a couple of months.  Really, the first few moments of music made me want to hunker down with a glass of wine to go with the cheese.  I caved in only because a class of high school girls wanted to dissect it.  And, as I watched, the overly cute morphed into creepy.

You may have seen it — this video was all over my Facebook feed earlier this year.

“Slap Her.”  The one in Italian with boys ages 7 to 11.  An off-camera interviewer asks them a few preliminary questions, to prove they’re just regular joes (but smaller, and cute).  Name and age.  What do you want to be when you grow up, and why?  (Firefighter, baker, pizza maker — because they want to help people, make messes, like pizza.  Regular li’l joes.)

Next they are introduced to a girl.  Martina bounds into the frame.  Taller than the boys, looking more like a tween than little girl, Martina may be 11 or 13 years old.  A bit of makeup is balanced by the braces on her teeth. 

One more question is directed to the boys:  What do you like about her?  Various answers, all on appearance (well, they don’t know anything else about her since she hasn’t said or done anything, what else could they say? other than uhhhhh . . .).  Her hands, eyes, shoes, hair, . . . everything.  She is a pretty girl.

Enough with the questions.  On to commands.  The voice behind the camera tells them to caress her.  Then to make funny faces at her.  The boys comply, with varying degrees of awkwardness.

The final command: to slap her.  The cheesy music stops.  They boys look at the camera.  They seem not sure they really heard correctly.  They look at her, look at the camera, look at the camera some more.  They refuse.  And the cheesy music resumes, with the addition of a string orchestra swelling in the background.

The boys give various reasons.  Because we’re not supposed to hit girls (not even with a flower).  Because she’s pretty.  Because hitting is bad.  Because Jesus said so.  Because he’s against violence.  Because he’s a man.

Fade to text scrolling on the screen:  In the kids’ world women don’t get hit.

I really wanted to get sucked into the cuteness.  But I could not, even when accompanied by a glass of red rhone.  The “creepy” factor just overtook the “cute.”  Let’s count the ways:

  1. Martina doesn’t talk.  She giggles, behind her hand, at some point.  She is portrayed more as a Disney automaton (an object) than a real person. 
  2. Martina is an object labeled “girl.”  The boys are asked what they like about her after having first met her.  What can they say, really?  Is the interviewer leading the boys to believe that the only parts worth assessing are what’s visible?  That’s annoying.
  3. The really creepy part for me began when the interviewer told the boys to caress her.  Huh?  How about ASKING HER?  With all the media coverage these past months about “consent,” this stands out in an out-of-touch way.
  4. So by the time it got to “slap her,” I was past annoyed.  The cheese was spread thick, and no wine was cutting through that stinky layer.

But we all know that in the real world, women and girls (and boys and men, and transgender and questioning) do get hit.  Is the question we’re left to ponder how that happens?  What transpires between the magic of childhood and the mundanity of adulthood to make violence okay?  I think the structure of the video makes that clear:  both boys and girls got pigeonholed in very hetero-normative boxes, where girls are pretty objects (for boys) and not to be hit, and boys are active agents. 

The whole point of learning self-defense skills is NOT to beat up others, nor to lock yourself in an apartment cell to keep harm at bay, nor even to set up invisible impenetrable boundaries.  You learn self-defense so you can go out and meet others and travel and study and go to parties and gatherings and meet other people and make friends.  You get to pick your wine as well as the cheese, or decide whether or not you want either.  You learn skills so you can be happy and successful and expand the scope of your activities.

So you are an active agent in your life.  Anything less is cheating on yourself.

Postscripts: 

While this has the look and feel of a PSA, it is not.  This video refers viewers to Fanpage.it, is an Italian news company (too bad I don’t know if this news company is more like the New York Times or the National Enquirer).  No references to domestic or dating violence resources are provided at the end, which diminishes the value of the video.

Here are a few other YouTube comments on this viral video.
    •    Sad that the NFL has become so susceptible to parody:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNPfT0-Ss3g
    •    Kids React had these American children watch and comment:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ar20hv0rpBM (Lucas’ reaction to why abuse happens:  They are dumb)  These kids were also asked would girls hit boys, and some believed yes.
    •    While in India, girls were asked to slap boys:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Np4xpXYV1rE

CBS, what WERE you thinking?

You had a real opportunity, and you blew it. Big time.

Perhaps you didn’t realize that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. You had an opportunity during the October 16, 2009 episode of The Ghost Whisperer to say something intelligent about dating, relationships, and abuse. But you blew it.

Lots of things about The Ghost Whisperer I don’t understand. Like whether Melinda’s husband is dead or alive, or both. Like how she suddenly has a five-year-old son and I never ever realized she was pregnant. Or like how merely sad ghosts can’t pick up material objects, while the violent ones throw things.

But I do understand the warning signs, or “red flags,” of potential abuse.

Melinda’s sidekick Delia decides to stop dating Roger for screaming at the maitre’d in a restaurant. OK, the maitre’d insisted on opening a “special” bottle of wine for them even after they declined, and then spilled it all over Delia. Roger jumped to his feet, and let loose a verbal barrage (fortunately appropriate in language for prime time TV). As her mother told her, don’t date a man who’s mean to the waiter, and Delia saw a mean side she that just didn’t appeal to her. So she does not return his phone calls.

Then strange things begin to happen. On a show about talking to ghosts, that’s to be expected. But these strange goings-on were from a live person. Rose petals and roses on Delia’s car. A shower of violet flowers. A mime sent to pantomime love. Delia suspects Roger is trying to woo her back.

Melissa encourages her to reconsider: “Are you sure you don’t want to give Roger a second chance? But it proves he has a romantic side, and besides you told me that that maitre’d was obnoxious and had spilled things on you before! So, maybe, Roger was just, I don’t know, protecting you.”

Melinda had this GREAT opportunity to affirm Delia’s intuition. She could have said something like, “Delia, he’s still really interested in you and wants a second chance. If you do go out with him again, just look out for controlling behavior, it could foreshadow an abusive relationship.” I’m sure you have at least a couple of scriptwriters clever enough to turn some of the behaviors of potential abuse into scintillating TV dialog. (If you want to know what they are, download this Signs of Batterers list and Campus DV Safety flyer. Or read Domestic Violence for Beginners, by Alisa Del Tufo.)

But no, she made excuses for a man she did not know, evoking romance.

Sure romance is sexier than domestic violence. But when all rates of violence in this country are at 40 year lows EXCEPT for domestic violence, when domestic violence is the #1 lifetime hazard facing women today, and when in all of my self-defense classes for teen girls most already know of friends who’ve been in abusive relationships, popular TV shows have just got to do a better job of making at least a discussion of abuse more mainstream. Abuse is not romantic, to either the living or the dead.

[To watch this episode, paste this URL in your browser: http://www.cbs.com/primetime/ghost_whisperer/video/?pid=fVzaCoSHqUzAFBWSWl5NfT_DYYVFwRmt]

October. The leaves turn brilliant reds, yellows and orange, shrivel and curl, and drift off their tree limbs. The touch of October air is chilly and crisp. Halloween is almost here, one evening of ghosts and ghouls, spirits and specters. The next morning it’s November, time for harvest and Thanksgiving, and Halloween slithers back into the abyss . . . til the next year.

October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We all know that domestic violence isn’t limited to October, nor should we be aware only these 31 days. Domestic violence is a wraith that walks the earth always. Abuse victims can be haunted for a long time afterwards: they are three times as likely to engage in risky sex and 70 percent more likely to drink heavily than other women; they are also twice as likely to report that their activities are limited by physical, mental or emotional problems and 50 percent more likely to use a cane, wheelchair or other disability equipment, a recent CDC survey found.

If you know a college-age woman in an abusive relationship, please download this flyer on dating violence and send it to her. Send it to her friends also. In fact, send it to any college-age girl you know. It may save her from this nightmare later. Do your part to exorcise this demon now.