The week’s most disturbing scene on TV was not the cat business in ‘Love/Hate’
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I can’t believe it’s not butter: Maria Schneider and Marlon Brando in ‘Last Tango in Paris’. Photograph: AP
This week we’re talking about controversial images on television. I know what you’re thinking. Last Sunday, Irish viewers were subjected to an unexpected double-whammy of violent provocation. You can truss up hoodlums and dump them bloodily in the nearest sewer. You can depict the worst class of domestic atrocity. But heaven help the film-maker who, in a fictional show, fictionally depicts fictional cruelty to fictional animals. Considering the level of fury generated, the makers of Love/Hate may as well have actually machine-gunned an actual cat to actual death.
Their brows mopped and their armpits fanned, distressed viewers moved from the overproof spirit that is Love/Hate to the comforting amontillado of Downton Abbey. There was little chance of any domestic pets being massacred in Julian Fellowes’s cosy period drama. Right? As it transpired, worse happened. “Viewers took to Twitter” (the most vacuous phrase in contemporary journalism) in their something-or-others to complain about the fictional rape of a fictional head housemaid by a fictional valet. What next? Would Mary Berry take up a chainsaw and massacre the contestants on Great British Bake Off?
This column does not intend to consider the rights and wrongs of either controversy. After all, having seen no more than a passing second of Love/Hate or Downton Abbey, I am in no position to express any sort of opinion. (Yeah, and I haven’t seen Breaking Bad either. What are you going to do about it?)
Our topic is, instead, one of the strangest semi-cultural phenomena to pass across the mainstream gaze in the current century. I refer, of course, to the current television advertisement for a “buttery” product from the good people at Flora. The animated commercial follows a young boy named Josh as he explains how he and his sibling made breakfast for his parents on their anniversary. There’s a great deal of grim “funny things kids say” humour as the heroes spill orange juice, toast bread and ladle on Unilever’s blend of sunflower oil and buttermilk. (He says “animaversary” rather than “anniversary” and so on.) So, they take the food up to the bedroom and open the door to discover their parents rutting noisily like beasts of the field.
The children then scream hysterically, flee back to the kitchen and douse their eyes with bleach in a desperate – but tragically futile – attempt to erase the horrifying image from their tender brains. The commercial ends with Josh, now withered, deranged and middle-aged, explaining this primal trauma to an uninterested psychotherapist.