Politics And The Met Gala: A Match Made In Heaven Or Hell?
This year’s Met Gala theme was “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” focusing on US fashion changes and it’s social/political influences. Some hail this as creating a much needed conversation, while others condemn it as ‘Champaign Socialism’. So, let’s take some examples and try to unpick this, shall we?
Firstly, Cara Delevingne wore bold lettering across her torso reading ‘peg the patriarchy’, which she told Vogue was representing “women’s empowerment”. The term ‘pegging’ refers to a sexual act where a woman uses a strap-on sex toy to have anal sex with a man.
The phrase was coined and trademarked by Luna Matatas in 2015. Matatas called Cara out on social media and stated that “it’s a metaphor for subverting the system that requires subservience within a gender binary” and not about a sex act, or men.
Matatas had trademarked the term “as a fat queer woman of colour” to protect her business and was disappointed at the missed opportunity for collaboration. Delevingne has also been accused of copying “The Future is Female” from a small queer-owned business, Otherwild. This links to the larger issue of white feminists co-opting ideas from feminists of colour and excluding them from the conversation. It is also argued that her explanation missed the point Matatas was trying to make.
Secondly, congresswoman Carolyn Maloney wore an outfit inspired by woman’s suffrage with a sash reading “equal rights for women”. She referenced the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) which was passed in 1972. She explained the importance of this message as “across the country, woman’s rights are under attack”. Her specific referencing of the ERA is important as it is still waiting on certification by the state. This can be seen as an important statement of Maloney’s political stance and ambitions.
Thirdly, Dan Levy wore a costume created through collaboration with Johnathon Anderson which showed a portrait of a queer couple kissing. They took inspiration from artist and Aids activist David Wojnarovicz and his work inspired by, and designed to subvert, a homophobic cartoon. Levy and Anderson wanted to acknowledge the hard work artists like Wojnarovicz did, while trying to make the imagery and message hopeful and positive. The fashion company Loewe, which designed Levy’s outfit, also made a donation to the important charity Visual Aids.
When speaking about the outfit, Levy stated, “there’s a lot more that needs to be done”. This shows his recognition of the fact that many LGBTQIA+ people are still living in spaces where they aren’t accepted or even safe.
In referencing charities, previous LGBTQIA+ artists, and the work that needs to be done, he is using his platform to educate and highlight an issue which he is a part of and educated on. Throughout his career Levy has worked to represent queer people and their love. For example, in Schitts Creek there is one the best explanations of pansexuality I have seen, when his character David Rose explains that he “likes red wine, white wine and rose,” and references the taste being what’s important, not the type of wine.
It could be argued that the Met Gala is a precipice of ‘Champagne Socialism’, which describes individuals who are upper middle-class and socialist and implies hypocrisy.
It can be argued that, for example, AOC wearing a ‘Tax the Rich’ dress was hypocritical, given the $30,000 price tag of a Met Gala ticket, and she has been criticised for sporting a message but doing nothing to make it a reality (@hexthekyriarchy). On the other hand, it can be argued that wearing this dress, sporting a message of taxing the rich, in a space which is filled with rich people who are likely to be vehemently against such a policy, is forcing the message into the very space in which it is needed.
Furthermore, Jameela Jamil pointed out that AOC was invited to the gala for free, in a free dress, and used the stunt to raise awareness of the work she is doing in Congress. The dress was also created by a small business owner of colour (@15percentpledge) who is also an activist. With this knowledge, it can be seen as a kind of infiltration and subversion of a capitalistic space.
A quote that come to mind from Russell Brand is:
“When I was poor and complained about inequality they said I was bitter; now that I am rich and I complain about inequality they say I’m a hypocrite. I’m beginning to think they just don’t want to talk about inequality”.
This highlights the idea that sometimes calling people hypocrites might be a way of diverting attention from the actual issues. Instead of focusing on how we can make the world an equal place for all, focus is drawn towards controversy. On the other hand, it is important to recognise when people are using political messages as a marketing ploy, without doing any actual work, versus when people are genuinely promoting a worthy cause.