The week’s most disturbing scene on TV was not the cat business in ‘Love/Hate’

Opinion: We have come to accept that sex is natural, wholesome, beautiful and all that baloney

I can’t believe it’s not butter: Maria Schneider and Marlon Brando in ‘Last Tango in Paris’. Photograph: AP

I can’t believe it’s not butter: Maria Schneider and Marlon Brando in ‘Last Tango in Paris’. Photograph: AP

Sat, Oct 12, 2013, 00:01

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?)

Mainstream gaze
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.

Okay, that isn’t quite what happens. In the commercial, Josh notes that: “Mummy won’t let us watch wrestling on TV. But she seemed quite good at it with Daddy. After all that wrestling, it was just as well we made so much tasty toast.”

Tousled mummy
The boy does not explain which wrestler was pinning which to the floor. Nor does he mention if his parents made the same use of Buttery Flora that Marlon Brando made of buttery butter in Last Tango in Paris. The camera offers us Josh’s shocked face as he places a hand over his sibling’s eyes. We then cut downstairs to find the family scoffing an impressively enormous pile of breakfast foods. A tousled mummy sniggers as her husband whispers something obscene (we must assume) in her recently nibbled ear.

Seriously, what in the name of bejesus is going on here? I am aware that it is as misguided to start a sentence with “I’m not a prude, but . . .” as it is to start a sentence with “I’m not a racist, but . . .” Say either and you confirm any lingering suspicions that you are one or the other. You do not, however, have to be some sort of Bible-thumping blue-hair to find this commercial profoundly disturbing.

Obviously, in the years since Woodstock, we have come to gradually accept that sex is natural, wholesome, beautiful and all that baloney. But nobody – or nobody without inclinations towards serial murder – enjoys considering the notion of their parents having sex.

There is a place for depictions of young people encountering their folks in flagrante delicto. That place is in bleak neo-realist Austrian films that end with the whole family immolating one another in the same concrete-lined bunker. It is not in cute animations screened to unsuspecting viewers between shots of weeping Brummies on The X Factor.

What can the good people at Red-Frame, Boggins and Bowtie Advertising have been thinking? They may as well have associated their client’s product with mouth ulcers or root-canal surgery. Can any good come of this?

Hang on a moment. Aren’t you currently reading a facetious column in a national newspaper that makes references to Flora’s current spread over and over again. I’m such a fool. I’m such a fool.

But I’m not a prude. (Other spreads are available.)

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