Epic exhaustion

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Remember that time you went to your high school prom and there were exotic birds, paid performers twirling fire torches, and a caged live tiger at the center of the dance floor?

No? That didn’t happen at your prom?

Me, either.

At my prom, there were some balloons, streamers and a shimmery photo backdrop that went with the “Under the Sea” theme. No one even mentioned anything about the lack of a live shark. We didn’t need one because it was prom, which was already a big deal – no exotic animals required.

tiger-500118_640 (2)But at a recent event in Miami, plain old prom wasn’t enough for one high school. Judging by the torches, the jungle drums, the parrots, the lemur and the live tiger, they felt like their “Welcome to the Jungle” prom theme just wouldn’t work if it wasn’t epic. What’s even more startling is that it wasn’t the students who arranged for the over-the-top entertainment. The adults at the school approved the use of a live tiger in a room with loud music, thumping drums, flashing lights and hundreds of kids. What could go wrong?

Thankfully, nothing tragic happened during the prom, although the video clearly shows one ticked-off tiger who was in no mood for selfies. Parents were rightfully shocked and angry that the school had put their teenagers in a situation that could have easily gone wrong. After a strong reaction from parents and zoo officials, school administrators said they now “regret the decision” and have “learned a great deal” from the experience. (I guess the silver lining here is that prom turned out to be educational, at least for the grown-ups.)

What jumped out at me when I heard this story on the national news was how far our society has come in a quest for “epic” moments. Somewhere along the way, people decided that a prom with balloons, twinkle lights and streamers just isn’t good enough. The craving for bigger and better celebrations seems to grow stronger each year.

These days, just getting a date for the prom requires a plan of epic proportions. It even has its own Google search term – “promposal.” Not only do teenage boys have to work up the courage to ask a girl to the prom, they’re expected to do it in a clever, romantic way that will not only get them a date but will also earn an impressive number of likes when it’s posted on Instagram. Can you imagine the kind of stress that creates for teens who are in the most insecure phase of their lives? I’m grateful I was a teenager before YouTube was even a twinkle in the Internet’s eye. I don’t think I could have handled all the public scrutiny.

But it’s not just prom. Many families are now taking videos of reactions when their student gets a college acceptance notification. Then there are elaborate “first dance” performances at wedding receptions. After that, there are ultra-creative pregnancy announcements and “gender reveal” parties. (And you can’t just use pink or blue food coloring for the inside of the frosted cake because the guests will have already seen that trick a million times on Facebook or Pinterest. The epic moment demands a fresh idea, you see.)

I realize this probably makes me sound like a grumpy old lady who’s bitter about the lack of wildlife at her senior prom. But that’s not it. What bothers me is that sometimes it feels as if the focus of a special moment is less about the moment itself and more about how it plays to an audience on social media – its production value. I worry that we’re all going to be exhausted by the expectation and the pressure for life to always be BIG and EXCITING.

Will simple celebrations eventually be viewed as boring, tacky or “less than” the epic ones being passed around Facebook? That would be a real loss because sometimes those small, private moments are the ones we love most. Maybe the endless quest for epic experiences with the potential to go viral has become a virus in and of itself.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com.

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