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Baby raves are all the rage in California. DJ-driven, high beats parties for toddlers, have made a splash in the Bay Area, with tickets selling out in minutes and parents driving their pacifier sucking party-goers hours to get to the Oakland warehouse where kids can dance and play. The image it calls to mind is dozens upon dozens of spoiled toddlers in frills and dayglo running around while loud electro-pop plays, with harried parents standing on the sidelines checking their phones.
The original raves of the 80s and 90s were drug-fuelled DJ dance parties, where high beats per minute electronic tracks throbbed under pulsing lights. Parties were thrown in warehouses, outdoors, or at nightclubs, and rave culture had a hippie-futurist vibe. In bright colours, with glow sticks, gravity-defying hairstyles, and body paint, accessorized with stuffed animals and mini backpacks, teens and young adults would dance all night to what was then called techno. Mostly they were on drugs, and that extrasensory influence made encounter with music, light, and stranger all the more exhilarating, if toxic and dangerous.
The concept of a baby rave looks a bit absurd on its surface, something of an indulgence. Hosted by the Bay Area Children’s Theatre, it’s a way for them to earn money outside of the traditional revenue streams, and for parents, it’s a $7, hour and a half long, child activity. When admission to zoos, museums, playgroups, and other enriching activities can really add up, seven bucks to let your kids tire themselves out and throw themselves around seems like a great deal. Plus, for some parents, it’s a way to introduce their kids to the culture of their youth, even if that culture was more about drug-fuelled mayhem that Beiber induced bouncing.
Boomer parents took their kids to stadium concerts for The Wiggles, and Millennial and Gen X parents take their kids to baby raves. It’s basically the same thing. If only there’d been kid versions of discos for all those strange, late-stage boomer parents who came of age in the 70s to take their wee ones too in the early 00s.
As the culture moves on, past trends catch up with us, and we experience nostalgia for the oddest things. Dance clubs and raves were a mainstay of my own youthful exuberance, and if there were a baby rave in Brooklyn, I would definitely have taken my kid. As it is, rave culture has grown up a bit and isn’t just for the late-night crowd anymore. Day raves are a great excuse to skip a workout, and instead of hot pants and body stockings, moms show up in yoga pants, mindful of school pick up time. In the UK, birthplace of the rave scene, they’ve gone beyond baby raves to family raves, where the whole family can show up and get down. This is at least as wholesome as the time my mom took me to a Grateful Dead show.
Easy stuff for kids to do is in short supply. There aren’t really a ton of options of cheap things for parents to do with their kids on the weekends that don’t involve a hefty dose of parent enthusiasm, as well. For this generation of parents, raised on enrichment, crazed after school sports schedules, and any and all extracurriculars with which to pad their college applications, the prospect of doing the same for their kids, with two parents working high stress jobs, is pretty daunting. But the advent of the knowledge economy has locked parents and kids into this vice of constant achievement, endless pressure, and a nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic that for sure leads to all involved to need to blow off some serious steam.
Speaking to the LA Times, Conor P. Williams, of the Century Foundation in Washington, D.C. noted that “It’s hard, if you’re [both] working 50 or 60 hours a week, to pull it together on a weekend to offer 12 hours of entertainment. Structured activities give parents a moment to wipe their brow and catch their breath.”
Parenting is different than it used to be. There’s no way around that. We’re never going to go back to the days of neglectful parenting, when kids were told to be home by dark and expected to entertain themselves. It may seem like pandering to our youth, but the stakes of child-rearing have never been higher. Parents with high-stress jobs, endless education debt, and shrinking amounts of free time, feel a need to foist that same lifestyle onto their little ones.
As blue-collar jobs dry up in the Bay Area, perhaps parents should stop to consider whether this lifestyle of perpetual productivity is what they want for their kids, or if it makes sense to show their children that there are other options. Baby raves have the benefit of not being about brainpower or production, they’re simply about having fun and running around. Now if parents could only be convinced to let kids go out and play, kids, parents, and culture would be a lot better off.