María Luisa Paúl
These days, social media posts featuring pops of pink and blue are inescapable as some parents take on ever more lavish approaches to revealing the sex of their babies.
But the past few years have shown that the over-the-top celebrations are prone to disaster – like, say, an accidental wildfire, a plane crash or a possible environmental crime.
Take this week’s gender-reveal party in Mato Grosso, a state in central Brazil.
Like other such parties, the outdoor event on Sunday featured pink and blue balloons, a giant stork and trendy powder cannons that fired coloured plumes into the air.
Things were taken a step further, however: according to Brazilian authorities, the party dyed an entire waterfall.
It was a violation of Brazil’s federal environmental law, a spokesperson for Mato Grosso’s environment protection agency (Sema) told The Washington Post.
While an investigation will determine which penalties and fees apply, the unnamed family member behind the stunt is being charged with harming the environment, Sema said.
Known as Cachoeira Queima-Pé, the 59-foot-tall (17.9m) waterfall is located in Tangará da Serra, an area with eco-tourism sites and copious waterfalls.
According to Sema, the Queima-Pé feeds into a river with the same name that’s an important fresh water source for the city –which has been struggling with severe drought over the past few years.
On Sunday, the usually milky waterfall suddenly turned a bright, Listerine-like shade of blue. Videos show the couple lovingly embrace as other guests cheered – a boy! But in the digital realm, other Brazilians were less than impressed.
“So many ways to do a gender-reveal party and they chose just the one that has an environmental impact,” Vanessa Costa, a Brazilian forestry engineer and content creator, wrote on Twitter.
In a follow-up video posted on Instagram, Costa dove into the possible harm caused by the stunt.
“The act of dyeing the water is pollution. You are polluting those waters, and that’s an environmental impact,” she said.
SEMA, which was promptly alerted about the party, agreed. On Monday, the agency sent a team of investigators to gather samples from the waterfall, which found “no change in the water’s physical parameters, such as colour and other, and no trace of local fish mortality,” Sema said.
The investigation, though, is still under way and aided by Mato Grosso’s Public Ministry, the state-level law-enforcement agency told The Post.
While the water’s quality didn’t immediately appear to have been altered, the agency said the act of dumping a substance into the water “constitutes an infraction”.
Under Brazilian law, “throwing solid, liquid or gaseous waste or debris, oils or oily substances” into the environment is subject to fines ranging from R16 600 to R166K depending on human health effects, animal mortality and biodiversity destruction.
The agency said one of the gender-reveal party’s hosts told Sema they didn’t know a chemical product would be used to dye the water – instead placing the blame on a family member, whom the agency has since identified and called in for charging.
The party in Brazil is far from the first gender reveal gone awry.
Last year, a Southern California couple was charged with manslaughter after the smoke bomb they used sparked a massive wildfire. Since becoming a trend in 2008, gender-reveal parties have triggered an explosion, caused a plane crash and led to death.
Gender-reveal parties have proliferated “in a cultural moment where events and rituals are often created to garner a share of the spotlight,” Carly Gieseler, a professor at York College with the City University of New York, wrote in a study published in 2017.
While some have featured more low-key stunts – like popping a balloon with coloured confetti inside – others have included duelling Power Rangers, smoking cars, fireworks and a whole lot of explosions.
The trend’s longevity points to “our increased capacity for sharing, our competitive consumerism or our drive to permanently articulate moments so unfathomable or temporal,” according to Gieseler.
Yet even the creator of the gender reveal regrets starting the fad.
“Celebrate the baby,” Jenna Karvunidis told NPR.
“… Let’s just have a cake.”