A New Hampshire man has turned himself into the police after setting off 80 pounds of explosives as part of a ‘gender reveal’ party. NBC reports that the explosion, which was apparently caused by a legal explosive called Tannerite, led to fears of an earthquake and cracked the foundations of nearby homes. ‘Are you kidding me?’ said one local, ‘I’m all up for silliness and what not, but that was extreme.’
Extreme? Yes. Unique? No. ‘Gender reveal’ parties, for those who are unfamiliar, involve the announcement of whether a couple’s new child is a boy or a girl through the release of blue or pink smoke or other substances. Sounds innocent? Sure. But the elaborate risk-taking that goes into these events has escalated to frightening, fascinating levels.
It’s a creation of the internet, of course. ‘We can trace gender reveal videos first being uploaded to YouTube back to 2009,’ a YouTube spokeswoman told the Huffington Post: The trend of gender reveals accelerated and expanded. In 2017, YouTube saw a 60 percent increase in views for gender reveal videos compared to 2016.
At first, these videos were safe, cute and boring. Someone would cut into a cake to reveal colorful icing, or a box would release colorful balloons. It made for good material on lifestyle blogs. But as parents struggled to stand out from the crowd, the sophistication and scale of their ‘gender reveals’ mounted — so did the death toll.
This month, two people were killed when a plane releasing pink smoke crashed in Mexico. In February, a New York man was killed when a device he was building for his child’s gender reveal party exploded. Another explosion claimed the life of a grandmother when she was struck by shrapnel in Knoxville last year.
People die all the time. People die playing golf, or eating chips, or going for a walk. There are a lot of people in the world and a lot of chances for accidents to happen. But have playing golf, or eating chips, or going for a walk ever led to forest fires?
In 2020, a ‘smoke-generating pyrotechnic device’ let off at a Californian gender reveal party ignited a wildfire that burned homes and claimed the life of a firefighter. In 2017, a gender reveal party in Arizona set off another blaze.
The bizarre one-upmanship and creativity that goes into these events is hard to fathom. A Louisiana family placed a watermelon in an alligator’s mouth that exploded with a splash of blue jelly. A Texas family copied the stunt using a hippopotamus. Where are we going with this? Will we wake up one more morning to learn that a nuclear bomb has exploded in Death Valley, unleashing a pink or blue mushroom cloud?
Like bizarre public proposals, gender reveal parties are designed to be filmed and to explode in a shower of likes, shares and follows. This has some obnoxious implications. It turns parenting into a performance: the focus is not the child but the stunt. What is most important here? I’m sure men and women sincerely believe they are celebrating their progeny, but by turning pregnancy into a spectacle we encourage a creeping commodification of intimacy.
It’s partly narcissism, of course, but something else is happening here too. We live in a time when people are having fewer and fewer kids. Fertility is declining. People prioritize their careers, and their hobbies, but they are also worried about the risks involved: about not being able to provide for their families, about the environmental costs of having kids, and about losing their own free time and happiness. What if our children are born with serious mental or physical health conditions? What if we get mental or physical health conditions because of having them? Plus, we think about the sort of world our children will grow up in: about crime, and drugs, and war, and family breakdown and so on!
Having children seems like one hell of a risk. Elaborate gender reveal parties symbolize an acceptance of that risk. Prepared to have a kid? Hell, I’m prepared to let off explosives in doing so. They reject the stereotype of the airless, stifling bourgeois nuclear family and turn the process of child-bearing into a sensational and carefree affirmation of life.
It is an amusing reversal of roles. Now childless young people sit at home tutting at the wild, crazy antics of parents. Moms and dads these days — what are they thinking?
So all you expectant couples out there, go easy on the Tannerite. You don’t want your kid to grow up thinking that his parents are complete lunatics.