The Met Gala is an event worthy of cultural appreciation and artistic expression — far from what the Wheel’s Editorial Board describes as a “fiasco” focused on “the superficial nature of celebrity culture.” Beyond this, in the Board’s Sept. 22, 2021 piece, “The Met Gala — A Celebrity Symposium of Theatrics and Performance,” the Editorial Board goes on to describe the event as one that perpetuates “a cycle of [political] inaction;” this pushes the harmful misconception that cultural entertainment is an unworthy indulgence during the midst of political turmoil.
Political turmoil in the United States is omnipresent. That September, as the editorial mentions, the continuation of mask-wearing and advocacy for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement were topical issues. When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) wore a dress to the Met Gala with “Tax the Rich” displayed in big, red font, it was an act of political solidarity. Considering that the artistic annual theme focused on American fashion, one could say that Ocasio-Cortez nailed it.
The Board originally commented that there were “nine Black Lives Matter protestors” arrested outside the 2021 event. The event’s organizers also received general backlash for failing to show “their awareness of the health implications of the lavish event,” referring to COVID-19 safety. I agree that these issues are of valid concern. However, the event did mandate full vaccination status upon guest entry, alongside a requirement to wear masks indoors.
Concerning the BLM protesters, I agree that the Met Gala highlights the stark difference in capitalistic realities that the top 1% of celebrities experience, as compared to low-income Black and brown communities advocating for defunding the New York City Police Department. The 2021 Met Gala, the first since COVID-19, launched the world and disproportionately marginalized groups into violence, health-related turmoil and political upheaval. Because of this, many made the event a symbol of wealth disparity and political ignorance.
However, there is something to be said about the mindlessness of feeding into celebrity culture, particularly during a time when the political climate was justly heightened. The editorial, however, should not have conflated “adoration with celebrities” with “performative over substantive action.” Just as Ocasio-Cortex had been and continues to take substantive political action, her dress made an important stand and engaged with the artistic intellectualism that the Met Gala promotes.
Moreover, it was completely unfair for the Board to establish a stance that engaging in the Met Gala emphasizes “ignorance to broader problems faced by everyday Americans.” Activist burnout was a phrase that many social justice advocates brought attention to in 2020 and 2021 because it is impossible to be constantly politically engaged; in fact, it’s exhausting. Making viewers feel guilty about watching the Met Gala only furthers the trope that those who are politically engaged must be all the time.
In arguing that Americans should be constantly politically engaged and that entertaining the four-hour broadcasting of the Met Gala promotes ignorance, the Board published a toxic piece. The Met Gala doesn’t necessarily have to be made into a symbol of America’s pervasive wealth-gap; viewers can recognize this while simultaneously indulging in criticizing over-the-top outfits and gushing over their favorite celebrities. There shouldn’t be any guilt in that.
An escape from the often devastating reality of our political landscape is necessary. Change cannot be promoted by criticizing events based on frivolity, because it is those very events that bring people together, no matter one’s political orientation. If it takes “a celebrity symposium of theatrics” for that unity, I think it’s worth fighting for the Met.
Saanvi Nayar (26C) is from Marlboro, New Jersey.
Saanvi Nayar (she/her) (26C) is from Marlboro, New Jersey and is interested in the fields of public health, sociology and women's studies. She is a member of the Editorial Board and outside of the Wheel, co-hosts a podcast @dostanapod, advocates with URGE at Emory and obsessively keeps up with The New York Time's "Modern Love" column.