AOC’s take on Met Gala theme ‘American Independence’

Ava Parkinson, Entertainment Editor

The theme for the 2021 Met Gala was “American Independence”. There were multiple designer outfits taking inspiration from American history, including dresses paying homage to Old Hollywood and commentaries on the current American political climate. The guest list included pop stars, Olympic athletes, supermodels, actors and social media influencers. One guest who stood out among the crowd was Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in her “Tax the Rich” dress designed by Aurora James of Brother Vellies. 

According to CBS News, American billionaires increased their wealth by 54% during the pandemic. Jeffery Bezos increased his net worth from $113 billion to $178 billion. In total, billionaires all over the world increased their wealth by $4 trillion in the first year of the pandemic. However, while the world’s richest people experienced significant increases in their fortunes, the number of people living in poverty in the world doubled to 500 million, with women and people of colour suffering the most. 

Ocasio-Cortez has been a prominent voice in the Democratic party, especially when advocating for an increase in taxes for the richer people in the US. This inspired her to take advantage of her Met Gala invite to promote this message. While the message she spread was intended as an act of protest to gain attention, the context in which she displayed it makes this statement come across as tone-deaf. 

The Met Gala is known for being a highly prestigious event, where celebrities and the elite are invited to showcase dresses designed to be displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s costume institute. Individual tickets to the Gala cost $35,000 and table tickets cost $200,000 to $300,000. It is also important to mention that Aurora James, the woman who designed the dress and accompanied Ocasio-Cortez to the Gala, owes over $100,000 in taxes, according to the New York Post. Many people see the overwhelming irony in the fact that Ocasio-Cortez spent $35,000 on her ticket to the Gala while wearing an ivory wool jacket dress with silk frills designed by someone who owes over $100,000 in taxes in multiple states, plastered with the message “Tax the Rich”. 

Additionally, many people find it upsetting and horrific that the Met Gala was held while the world is still both suffering and recovering from the effects of the pandemic. The prioritisation of the Met Gala and the funding of the Met Gala’s costume institute over the safety and wellbeing of the attendees and attention paid towards those who are suffering the most during the pandemic is insulting. It brings into question: what has the 2021 Met Gala shown about the current state of the art world? In my opinion, the popularity of this year’s Met Gala has shown that its elite image has completely overshadowed the countercultural essence of the creation of art. The attempts at portraying such countercultural messages at the Gala fall completely flat and seem pathetic. The vast majority of the Met Gala’s popularity stems from the public’s desire to see celebrities in funky outfits in one room, which people pay tens of thousands of dollars to see, rather than seeing the dresses and art. 

The context of Ocasio-Cortez’s attempt at spreading a message harms the sincerity of her advocacy and activism; her stance at the Met Gala this year can be compared to the performative nature of social media influencer activism. Even though Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is seen as an inspirational figure, especially for the youth of our generation, she has still made no comment on the backlash she received on her Met Gala dress.