(NEXSTAR) – In February alone, two people died after explosions during or in preparation of baby gender reveal parties.
During the first incident, a 26-year-old bystander died in Michigan after a small cannon device was fired during a baby shower. The cannon blew up, spraying shrapnel that struck the unidentified Hartland man who was standing nearby.
In the second instance, a father-to-be in New York was killed when a device he was building for a gender reveal party exploded. Christopher Pekny was 28 when he succumbed from his injuries. His brother, Michael Pekny, was treated for his injuries at a local hospital.
Baby gender reveal parties are hardly a new phenomenon. Many trace them back to blogger Jenna Karvunidis who, back in 2008, hosted a gender reveal party in which she cut into a pink-colored cake.
But from there, things have spiraled. Explosions from the parties have caused multiple wildfires, including one in San Bernardino, Calif. that burned more than 90,000 acres and led to the death of a firefighter.
What’s behind the phenomenon? For answers, Nexstar spoke with Niklas Myhr, a clinical associate professor of marketing at Chapman University, also known as “The Social Media Professor.”
Myhr credits the ever-escalating gender reveal party with a case of old fashioned oneupmanship.
“The psychology behind it is you don’t want to seem predictable and boring [to] your friends,” Myhr said.
“To do something truly original is difficult. So the simple way out is to make things explode, maybe not literally, but to make something that is outrageously crazy,” he said. “It is what could be driving some people to do the most easily observable, shocking element, like an explosion.”
In the social media age, things stand to get even more out-of-hand, Myhr said. When you see someone doing a creative gender reveal on one of your social feeds, you might be inspired to do the same — but take it to the next level.
“No one is pulling the emergency brake on these parties because at other parties, they did this, so we should do that,” he said.
But over time, Myhr said, the gender reveal party has become a victim of its own success.
“It’s similar to how advertisements could have been novel, fun and inspiring at one time, but next year, what was cool last year looks predictable. So you go into this cycle of escalation where you want to keep the wow factor and element of surprise, which means you have to do something more creative, more original.”
Myhr noted that there are other issues with the gender reveal party, as well, including the fact that it relies on gender stereotyping (blue equals boy, pink equals girl) and the baby may not grow up to identify with the gender it was assigned at birth.
Is there any sign that gender reveal parties may be going to the wayside?
For Myhr, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
“[Gender reveal parties] seem to have survived the decade test of surviving and even growing in prevalence, so my prediction is that they will not disappear,” he said. “I think certainly there will be some looks at these [fatal incidents] with a sense of caution, and in some of these cases they hopefully decide not to use the over-the-top explosive devices.”