Celine Cooper BBC interview mishap and the perils of working from home

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“I think one of your children has just walked in …”

By now you may have seen it. In a recent BBC interview that has since gone viral, Robert Kelly, an associate professor of international relations at Pusan National University and an expert on East Asian affairs, was being interviewed live over Skype from his home office.

While he is on air talking about inter-Korean relations, his four-year-old daughter Marion cracks opens the door, comes strutting into the room and over to his side. She’s wearing pink glasses and a canary yellow sweater. The interviewer, the BBC’s James Menendez, acknowledges with a smile in his voice that it appears that one of Kelly’s children has “just walked in.” Kelly tries to stay focused while gently pushing her out of the screen shot with his arm. Moments later, an infant in a walker — his son James — wobbles into the room after his sister, bumping up against the furniture.

At this point his wife, Kim Jung-A, comes racing in, frantically rounds the kids up, crawls out of the room backwards and shuts the door. Kelly closes his eyes, pauses, apologizes and continues on with the interview.

The video has made the rounds on social media, and little wonder: it’s charming and human. In our oh-so curated media landscape, it’s refreshing to see what the blurring of work and family life — a daily reality for many of us — looks like in real time. In the wake of their newfound fame, the Kelly family has held a press conference and received hundreds of requests to appear on television to explain what happened. Marion, the little girl with the pink glasses and sassy attitude, has become an Internet hero.  

Yes, the video is funny. But it also exposes some of the behind-the-scenes work involved with producing those at-home (usually non-paid) interviews that you see on major news channels. For example, I know from experience that when you’re asked to do these short media interviews on Skype or FaceTime, it can be a scramble to find an acceptable backdrop, preferably one that crops out an unmade bed or a kitchen table littered with cereal boxes and half-emptied glasses of orange juice that the kids “forgot” to put in the dishwasher. (Sorry to ruin any illusions.) 

There’s a gendered element to this conversation, too. Just for fun, try and imagine what kind of reaction this video may have elicited if the expert being interviewed in this case was not a man but a woman, and it was her children walking into the room. Would we be laughing for the same reasons? Or would we be criticizing her for trying to push them out of the way while continuing on with the interview, and waiting for a husband to arrive and clear them out of the room? 

As it happens, a New Zealand comedy show called Jono and Ben recreated the interview, but with a female commentator played by Kate Wordsworth. 

In the parody version, the expert seamlessly continues speaking about the geopolitics of East Asia while bringing the child up onto her lap and feeding her a bottle of milk, then producing a toy for the baby who toddles over in the walker.  The interviewer suggests that she seems busy, and would she like to reschedule the interview? She ignores him and goes on with her commentary while producing a roast chicken, steam-ironing a shirt, cleaning a toilet and diffusing a bomb. 

The truth of what its like to work at home with kids — whether you’re a mom or a dad, whether on or off camera — is somewhere in the middle. You never know when someone is going to come barging in the door. At best, you learn to roll with it with as much grace, patience and humour as you can muster on any given day. 

celine.cooper@gmail.com

Twitter.com/CooperCeline

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