A couple of days ago, a Facebook friend posted a professionally-shot-and-edited highlight reel of a party to reveal the gender of the baby she’s expecting. We’re talking a wedding-video-caliber creation here.
Obviously, I watched it. As a piece of cinematography, it was lovely — all amber-hued and artistically angled, perfectly paced and sentimentally scored. To judge by appearances, the gender reveal party itself was also lovely, characterized chiefly by easy mingling among the company and good-natured guessing as to the gender to be revealed, all against a backdrop of impeccably detailed decorations and a table of tantalizing treats.
To reiterate, it was all excessively nice. Yet, for some reason I could not articulate at the moment, I was appalled. Shortly thereafter, I found I could articulate the reason: Even more than it was nice, it was excessive.
Now, Catholics are characterized by a sacramental imagination, keenly aware of the way in which the natural signifies the supernatural. We’re not shy of matter, as every famous basilica from Saint John Lateran to Saint Peter’s to the Hagia Sophia to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception attests. Beauty is one of the three transcendentals, after all.
Catholics also love a good celebration. Our liturgical calendar is punctuated with joyous feast days, the liturgies for which are especially poignant and the cultural customs for which are especially fun. On the feast day of Saint Joseph, we bake lavishly. On the feast day of Saint Patrick, we drink freely. On the feast day of Saint Lucy, we set our homes ablaze with light.
Far be it from me, then, to suggest that it is somehow wrong or scandalous to host a party to celebrate a new little life or to hire a videographer to record that party. Heaven knows, I got a little carried away myself as I planned Sweet Potato’s first birthday fete. Afterward, I justified every extravagance in light of Sweet Potato’s delight at double-fisting strawberry and red velvet cake and in light of our own joy at welcoming as many friends from all walks of life into our home as we possibly could. Hospitality matters to Catholics, too.
Still, this was different insofar as it said something about the schizophrenic state of our society today.
Even as we labor under the popular delusion that marriage is up for redefinition, we propose marriage in ever-more-elaborate ways (scavenger hunts that conclude with cross-country flights!), enlist accomplices to catch these proposals on camera and immediately whisk our beloveds to “impromptu,” surprise engagement parties — and that doesn’t even touch the growth of the wedding industry itself.
Even as we labor under the popular delusion that the human fetus is not a person, we treat pregnancy as a precious season in a woman’s life, researching baby products, cross-referencing registries, and hosting showers, sprinkles and sips-and-sees.
Even as we labor under the popular delusion that “gender is a social construct rather than a biological fact,” we host gender reveal parties.
When — as is sometimes the case — these various celebrations constitute a conscious assertion of common sense, a rebellious rebuttal to the popular delusion, then I am wholly supportive. If anything deserves to be celebrated, it’s marriage and babies and new life.
All too often, though, these celebrations are evidence of the profound cognitive dissonance in which many people live. I personally know more than a handful of people who defend the gender-is-malleable delusion, for example, even as they shoot pink paint balls onto white T-shirts in their own backyards.
As to a professional video to immortalize such an event? Well, it strikes me less as evidence of cognitive dissonance than as an almost-outright-admission of that sad consequence of the contraceptive mentality — what Pope Saint John Paul II called “the commodification of the child.”
Contraception and artificial reproduction technologies — two sides of the same coin — have led us to think, if only subconsciously, that we can manufacture a child when and how we want him. The child has become a commodity to possess, not a person to be loved.
At a certain point along this line of thinking, adults seek children as a status symbol — and, when they acquire those children, they naturally advertise their new status as parents … with, apparently, professionally shot videos of professionally planned parties.
Sigh. It’s a fine line, and I’m not exactly sure I know where that line is. Do birth announcements (which I adore!) fall afoul of it? Does decorating a nursery (which I did) or taking month-by-month photos (which I wish I did) or filling out a baby book (which I plan to do)?
In this, as in so much, I suppose it’s the interior attitude that matters. I cannot presume to judge the heart of the friend who posted the video. Knowing her to be beautiful, sweet, kind and good, I suspect she just genuinely wanted to celebrate the new soul growing inside of her and to record that celebration for the future. In a world gone mad, though, I can’t help replaying the video in my head with a voiceover that introduces the “iChild 6.0.”