This week’s Met Gala taught us something about power: Who has it, who doesn’t, and how it’s expressed. As those able to fork over tens of thousands of dollars per ticket strutted around smiling for the cameras, if you looked in the background, you saw those over whom they hold power: paparazzi, assistants, Gala staff and others. Those who were rich, famous and otherwise powerful were granted the privilege of breathing fresh air, while those who were not had to cover their mouths and noses behind a mask.
The images of these stars walking the red carpet with faceless, masked “help” behind them was jarring; we could see the smiles of the rich but only the eyes of anyone unable to pay the $35,000 ticket price or famous enough to get comped a ticket or two. Writing for his Substack newsletter, Glenn Greenwald bemoaned, “The country’s workers have long been faceless in a figurative sense, and now, thanks to extremely selective application of decisively unscientific COVID restrictions, that condition has become literal.”
It should have been embarrassing for anyone there to flaunt their privilege in such a manner, but it never occurred to anyone present; they were too busy showing off their designer dresses.
This included New York’s Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The most young and famous member of the “Squad” of up and coming Democratic politicians arrived beaming in a white gown with the words “Tax the Rich” sprawled across her backside. The irony and audacity of Ocasio-Cortez showing up at an event to hobnob with the 1% while flaunting an admonition about punishing the wealthy was lost on absolutely no one.
This is what I mean about the unintentional hilarity of it all. The layers run so deep, I just can't stop thinking about it. It's magnificent.— Megan McArdle (@asymmetricinfo) September 14, 2021
It was one of those moments where anyone with a shred of candor can admit that the optics were just awful. She could prance around unmasked in a ball gown worth more than most Americans’ cars while public school children in the same city have to spend eight hours a day in a mask during their first chance at in-person instruction in a year and a half.
As per usual, and to be expected, Ocasio-Cortez painted the backlash against her gown as sexist and racist, stating on Instagram, “honestly, I and my body have been so heavily and relentlessly policed from all corners politically since the moment I won my election… Honestly our culture is deeply disdainful and unsupportive of women, especially women of color and working class women…”
It’s a wiley trick: Sprawl a message across your body, and if the message is met with backlash, claim that your body is what’s being criticized, not your words or the appalling optics of trying to have it both ways — taxing the rich while fraternizing with them at a glitzy party.
The flash-point of the backlash against Ocasio-Cortez isn’t even about her or her dress, it’s the fact that once again the common folk have been reminded that we are at the mercy of a strange and mixed up ruling class. Those in power, who claim to be motivated by a quest for social justice, strut around smiling for the camera in ludicrous and ludicrously expensive gowns while lecturing others about inequality. Their privilege is visually represented in the most striking manner imaginable: They are worthy enough to be unmasked, while those around them are not. Everyone has access to the same life-saving vaccines, but only some of us are granted permission to show our faces in public again. The message was clear, but it wasn’t the one Ocasio-Cortez intended.
Bethany Mandel is a contributing writer for Deseret News, editor at Ricochet.com and a contributor to the Washington Examiner blog and magazine.