Credit: Mike Coppola/Getty Images, Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue, Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images
The Metropolitan Museum of Art held its annual fund-raising gala last week, a conclave of the rich and famous drawn from New York’s financial, political, and cultural elite. I was excited to learn that the theme of this year’s gala was “American Independence,” an appropriate theme to integrate into the body of my new book Why America Matters: the case for a new American exceptionalism. However, rather than an affirmation of American virtues and values, the event seemed to provide opportunity for the celebrity elite to mock them.
Despite the official theme, the underlying message of many celebrity attendees seemed to have been less about American independence and more about advocacy for LGBTQIA+. Vanity Fair wrote that “The curator of the Met’s Costume Institute … felt it was time to reexamine American identity through the lens of recent social justice movements. ‘I’ve been really impressed by American designers’ responses to the social and political climate, particularly around issues of body inclusivity and gender fluidity …”[i] Soccer star Megan Rapinoe carried a clutch that read “In Gay We Trust,” Schitt’s Creek’s Dan Levy’s shirt featured an illustration of two men kissing to “allow him to make queer love visible,” while supermodel Cara Delevingne wore a top that read “Peg the Patriarchy” (a reference to sodomy).
Some took a more direct political tack. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, either not appreciating the hypocrisy or perhaps fully embracing the irony, wore a designer dress boldly emblazoned with the words “Tax the Rich” in bright red. Others such as Democratic NYC Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney voiced support for women’s rights. Maloney tweeted that “across the country, women’s rights are under attack.” Perhaps confusing America with Afghanistan, she did not go on to explain herself.
One of the least appealing aspects of the event was watching the privileged guests prance around maskless, while in the background the waitstaff and other servants sweated it out for hours under masks, despite having been required to be vaccinated just to work the event. I warned in March that masks were becoming a visible sign of a new caste-system; a resurgence of classism that has no place in American democracy. The gala put this rising social division between the wealthy and everyone else on tasteless display.
The event caught the attention of conservative media because it all seemed to be in such ill-taste, and completely tone deaf to the current mood of the country. It was like watching Marie-Antionette and the luxurious pomp of the Court of Versailles fête themselves on the eve of the French Revolution. Amidst the disaster of Afghanistan, the pandemic related fearmongering by the same elites, the out-of-control border crisis plaguing our southern states, a working and middle class under increasing economic pressure from inflation and poor policy choices, and a country more politically and culturally divided than ever before, the resentment and disdain of the American people was palpable.