This summer has seen senseless destruction, on an idiotic scale. I’m talking about gender reveal parties.
These gatherings started several years back with parents-to-be cutting cakes to expose either a pink or blue colour inside. Then came the extravaganzas. Last week, a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device used at one party triggered the El Dorado fire in California – 8,600 burning acres and counting.
Past gender reveal parties have ignited worse. In one in Arizona in 2017, an expectant father shot a rifle at a target packed with a highly explosive substance called Tannerite. The target, marked with the words “boy” and “girl”, was supposed to spray out a blue or pink cloud. Instead it sparked a 47,000-acre wildfire. The dad, on off-duty U.S. Border Patrol agent, was fined more than $8 million to cover the costs of the damage.
Sometimes, vehicles get in on the action. Last year, a gender reveal party in Australia went awry when a car was supposed to discharge clouds of blue smoke. It did that, but then burst into flame. The driver and guests had to run for safety. The smoke, like the mood of the party, had turned black.
Also in 2019, a pilot in Texas was part of a gender reveal for a friend. He dumped 350 gallons of pink water from the plane. The problem: the low-flying plane was too slow, stalled and crashed. The pilot was okay, but a passenger suffered injuries. Minor, fortunately.
That’s not always the case. Another 2019 gender reveal party in Iowa featured this homemade contraption – a stand with a fuse, gunpowder, metal tubing and a wood cover. The idea was to light the device and launch blue or pink powder into the air. The family’s mistake was that they had actually created a pipe bomb. It exploded, sending a piece of shrapnel into the head of a 56-year old party-goer who was standing 45 feet away. She died. The metal continued to travel another 400 feet.
I find these parties inane – and the accidents and damage they cause is the least of it. As with most everything, it comes down to communication and perception.
Start with perspective. I heard once that in the movie of life, we all see ourselves as the star. Yet to others, we’re in a supporting role at best, and more likely we’re background players.
Do we have to tell everyone everything? And make an occasion of it? I know, dumb question in a Facebookified world. Odds are, no one outside your immediate family (and maybe some of those within it) spares a thought about your baby’s gender.
Even the woman credited (or blamed) for starting the gender reveal trend, blogger Jenna Karvunidis, says it’s time to curb the enthusiasm.
“Stop having these stupid parties. For the love of God, stop burning things down to tell everyone about your kid’s penis. No one cares but you,” wrote Karvunidis after the latest California fires.
That’s only part of the reason why enough is enough. One could object to these parties too on the grounds that they centre too much around gender, norms and stereotypes – and that they make all of those expectations public. What are we communicating to others (and ultimately to the baby) with that focus?
Such parties are a sign of something else that’s troubling. When it comes to news, information and entertainment, people are growing increasingly impatient. Whatever happened to finding out in due course?
I suspect technology is partly to blame. The faster things work, the more we become accustomed to instant gratification, and the less patient we become about everything.
A British survey found that the average person grows frustrated after waiting 16 seconds for a webpage to load. It takes 22 seconds for people to start swearing at their computer or TV if a show doesn’t stream correctly.
That impatience seeps into other aspects of our lives. The same survey found that Brits expect to pick up their luggage post-flight within 13 minutes, and wait in line for just 30 seconds. They get antsy after waiting 25 seconds for traffic signal to change, 20 seconds for ink to dry on a greeting card, and 28 seconds for a kettle to boil. Their blood will boil first.
I’m surprised it takes even that long.
You can sense impatience too in way trailers are made for movies now. They often give away the story, which must be what market research says the audience wants. Many people actively seek spoilers or plot summaries before (or while) watching a movie or show. Why?
Judith Rosenbaum, a professor of mass communications at Albany State University, conducted research to find out. She and a colleague had students take part in two studies, which were reported in Psychology of Popular Media Culture.
In one, the students read different summaries of stories. Some included spoilers. The students also took personality tests. Then they were asked what type of stories they liked.
The students who disliked the spoiler summaries tended to enjoy thinking about complex, abstract problems and analyzing what they learned. Students who didn’t mind the spoilers generally didn’t like abstract thinking and made judgements based on superficial details.
For a second study, the participants people read previews of two stories. Some had spoilers, some didn’t. The students then read the stories in full, and answered questions about their feelings about it. Again, the students also shared their personality traits.
In this experiment, the students with a high need for emotional experiences didn’t want to know the ending to the story. The ones who didn’t care one way or the other showed a low need for emotional engagement.
“People who don’t necessarily like to think a lot prefer spoiled stories,” said Rosenbaum. “Spoilers can make sense of who did what.”
Maybe that’s okay when it comes to watching an episode of Law & Order: SVU. But when it comes to life?
Don’t skip ahead. Wait for the story to play out. Gender reveal parties are spoilers. Be patient. I can guarantee you’ll know the ending in nine months or less. It’s not too hard to make sense of it. Even for those who don’t necessarily like to think a lot.
Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxman, connect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at foxmancommunications.com. I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, information, motivation, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, learning, etc.