South Africa and America are linked by history in numerous ways: both our countries are marked by a history of racial segregation, and both inherited much from the British Empire even while having a strong identity outside of it. We both also like the occasional riot and we both are complex, crazy and diverse nations.
It’s perhaps for this reason that South Africa often seems to adopt almost every idea that comes out of the United States (apart from pulling down statues, in which we proved ourselves to be the leader) whether it be liberation theology from the early 20th century, black liberation iconography in the 70s and 80s, or our most recent import, wokeness, which has provided a fresh injection to black racial nationalism and has helped update it for the modern era.
Thankfully we seem to have escaped one trend, that of the ‘gender reveal party’. What is a gender reveal party? Well, it’s quite simply what it sounds like; parents who want to announce to their family and friends what the gender of their unborn child is will host a party where, at the climax of the festivities, by some technical stunt, they reveal the baby’s gender.
American media reports suggest the trend began in around 2008 with fairly simple stunts, where, for example, parents would cut into a cake and the colour of the frosting inside – blue for boys, pink for girls – would reveal the gender of the yet-to-be-born child. Usually the whole affair gets recorded. The exciting, wholesome and creative nature of the whole thing, as well as the infectious delight of the family, meant that gender-reveal videos were soon going viral across social media.
But the shiny new generation of social media parents, being the ambitious people that they are, couldn’t leave it at that, and if you wanted to really trend on Instagram, people had to start thinking bigger.
Since 2008, an arms race of sorts has played out across social media, where, in the eternal quest to harvest Instagram and Facebook likes, parents have begun upping the ante at every turn. Gender reveal parties have begun to include special effects, pyrotechnics, wild animals, speeding cars, aircraft, explosives and confetti cannons in a headlong dash to reach ever greater heights of spectacle and decadence.
As sure as a social media race row follows a bad ANC news cycle, things began to go wrong, sometimes in spectacular ways. Searching ‘gender reveal fails’ on YouTube will net you hours of content which involve every type of calamity, from crying children to people injuring themselves.
In Louisiana, a gender reveal party involved a live alligator eating a watermelon … and someone almost losing an arm in the process. In Ohio, the use of a cannon full of confetti sparked a physical fight between a restaurant and the partygoers. Another couple used a rifle and some explosives in their reveal which prompted noise complaints almost five kilometres away. There are also innumerable videos of couples using fireworks that went wrong.
Much darker stories
If only it ended there. As with any trend that involves fireworks and explosives, there have been much darker stories. In Arizona, 47 000 acres of land was burned in a fire started by fireworks from a gender reveal party; in Iowa, a 56-year-old woman was killed in a gender reveal party that had accidentally built a ‘pipe bomb’; and, in the latest disaster, a ‘smoke-generating pyrotechnic device’ used in a party has been blamed for the huge wildfire in California which is experiencing a heatwave at the moment.
Further afield …
One could probably fill pages and pages about what gender reveal parties say about middle class life in the 21st century – how we live in a society where millions chase 5 minutes’ fame through social media, how gender reveals seem the textbook definition of decadence, why these videos are so popular, or indeed how the wealth of millions across the globe means that ordinary people have the time and money to throw parties like these. I, for one, will leave that to philosophers and greater thinkers.
But as I watch EFF red shirts harassing old ladies in shopping centres, our GDP collapsing and wokeness marching through all of our institutions, I’m thankful that, so far at least, I don’t have to worry about being killed in a gender reveal explosion.
[Picture: Izabela Janachowska, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84484633]