Robert E. Kelly is a respected political science professor and international security analyst. He’s also — as much of the internet has now learned, thanks to a new viral video — a dad.
On Friday, Kelly’s two kids barged into his sedate home office in Busan, South Korea, while Kelly was being interviewed by the BBC about the impeachment of the South Korean president. First, his daughter let herself in and danced behind him while Kelly tried to continue talking — and then a baby in a walker rolled through the door, followed by a flustered woman who dragged them out of the room in a near-farcical rush.
The entire incident lasted a little more than a minute, and Kelly calmly apologized and finished his interview. But the video quickly went viral, racking up 15 million views on BBC One’s Facebook within a few hours and generating a wealth of media attention and public commentary.
What’s surprising about the response to this adorable office invasion isn’t that it went viral — it that there’s so much to discuss regarding a single viral video.
Kids + the element of surprise + live video = instant virality
On the surface, the reasons for the video’s popularity are obvious: Cute kids and impromptu moments on live TV are two things everyone loves. The internet abounds with lists of the best live broadcasting bloopers, because unexpected moments captured on air have the quality of spontaneous theater and are usually funny, and who doesn’t enjoy a good laugh? Throw in the unapologetic hijinks of a couple innocent youngsters and you have a recipe for success.
Kelly’s daughter in particular easily stole the show.
Kelly seemed to anticipate the reaction, tweeting a confused, “Is this kinda thing that goes 'viral' and gets weird?” to the BBC when a producer asked for permission to rebroadcast the clip. But whether he officially allowed it or not, the clip was soon everywhere.
(Kelly has not responded to a Vox email requesting comment.)
The video drew a wide range of responses, including some critical ones
Cute kids and live TV are typically a pretty harmless combination. But the video also involved parenting — making it an easy target for unsolicited judgment — while also feeling very relatable to many parents who’ve tried to work from home while their kids are present. The result was a broad range of responses from the public regarding just about every aspect of the video: Kelly’s response, his work-from-home environment, even the woman in the background.
Here’s a brief rundown of what people have said about it online:
- The video is “comedy gold,” full of great moments, and “the most entertaining interview ever to be broadcast on the subject of South Korean impeachment.”
- Kelly’s experience is something everyone who’s ever worked or done live broadcasting from home has experienced at some point or other. Moneyish used the video as inspiration to publish a series of anecdotes from parents who’d experienced similar moments with their kids.
- Kelly should have locked the door!
- Everyone who assumed the woman who herded the children away was the “nanny” (she appears to be Kelly’s wife) is evincing casual racism.
- Kelly behaved like a true pro, “handling the situation calmly and professionally,” even though he was clearly startled and unsure of what to do.
- Kelly should have reacted differently when the kids came in — namely by not pushing his daughter away and possibly by picking up the kids and playing with them as he continued the interview.
Those last two responses in particular have led to a contentious divide that’s only extended the video’s virality. As some of the most upvoted comments on the BBC’s Facebook post about the incident illustrate, many people fall into one of two camps.
“It's not funny to me, it's sad,” reads one comment with more than 16,000 likes. “So the kids are there, what, you can't have a serious opinion about something and be an expert and be a loving parent at the same time?”
Meanwhile: “He was live on BBC and was nervous and embarrassed and is a regular human,” reads the most popular counterpoint.
We have a cultural tendency to make viral videos into larger social statements
Whether it’s weighing the cultural impact of an entire social media platform like Vine or deconstructing the “white privilege” of Chewbacca Mom, today’s online discourse is prone to placing viral videos in the context of larger cultural conversations.
In this case, a single video has, within a relatively short time, already entered part of larger cultural conversations about how we treat work-from-home professionals, how we treat working parents, how we treat children, and even how we treat Asian women in interracial relationships.
"oh *you're* her mom?" "oh I wouldn't have put you two together" "oh I had no idea she was Asian" "oh, I thought you were the babysitter"— Nicole Chung (@nicole_soojung) March 10, 2017
It might seem a bit dizzying that such a seemingly harmless video clip could have that much cultural relevance, but Kelly’s dilemma fits nicely within a Venn diagram of challenges encountered by many parents and employees in an increasingly globalized, increasingly digitally connected society. Communication across different time zones, working environments, and cultural norms is increasingly common.
All of these factors converged to create a perfect storm of commentary fodder. Kelly’s kids hilariously crashing his interview may have been all the video needed to go viral. But the temptation to apply a narrative beyond what’s in the video took its virality to the next level, as people used it to make a variety of social statements about parenting, work-life balance, and more.
And to at least one journalist, the video carried a different significance. As NPR host Linda Holmes wrote on Twitter, it’s a sign of the many ways media has responded to a changing global landscape:
So on this topic, this is great -- and there's actually a serious point here, and it's not only about work-life balance. https://t.co/Cg7iRbBmJQ— Linda Holmes (@nprmonkeysee) March 10, 2017
When you decide whom to use as sources, you make a profound decision. The more perfect, predictable, the more IDEAL the setup must be --— Linda Holmes (@nprmonkeysee) March 10, 2017
the fewer people will be able to do it. Can you get to a radio studio? Do you have a radio-quality phone line? Can we get a producer to you?— Linda Holmes (@nprmonkeysee) March 10, 2017
All these things affect what breadth of humans you can talk to. Being open to stuff like people in home studios where kids might bust in --— Linda Holmes (@nprmonkeysee) March 10, 2017
is a thing that, to me, is important as part of not requiring everything to be super-perfect if the trade-off is the right guest. /fin— Linda Holmes (@nprmonkeysee) March 10, 2017
So my point is: Video chatting is weird. And magical. And sometimes you kind of have to sneak up on it or bribe it or something.— Linda Holmes (@nprmonkeysee) March 10, 2017
If the BBC wants to have the best Korea analysts on hand to provide commentary, it might need to talk to someone who’s at home in a different time zone with their kids. That could mean sacrificing the ideal interview environment and redefining the idea of “professionalism.”
And if Kelly’s kids can help shed light on one of the most bizarre political scandals in recent memory, so much the better.