With the Met Gala come and gone, I’m wondering why we readily celebrated such a vapid level of material excess.
The sense of amusement at the display of rich frivolity at last week’s “Met Gala” soon turned into an ache that was difficult to soothe. The FOMO-full, must-go, hyper-glamour annual fundraising event for Manhattan’s Metropolitan Museum of Art attracted hundreds of ornately-clad celebs, glad of the invitation to sashay up the carpeted steps flanked by ogling fans and the opportunity to party, as well as raise money for a worthy cause inside the hallowed halls of big art.
This year’s theme of “camp” provided the famous with the excuse to parade in self-parody. It was “supposed to be fun”, Vogue matriarch Anna Wintour joyfully deadpanned. But the vapid level of material excess was deeply unsettling to watch in light of what the rest of the planet looks like in 2019.
This is not to deny fashion’s place as an intrinsic part of human creativity, and its industry as an important source of immense skill and talent to a country’s economy. The recent exhibition of the late master couturier, Christian Dior, at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, was a striking example of how fashion, like art and architecture, is every bit history.
Design alchemist Dior helped France emerge from the ravages of the Second World War; a nation reincarnated by a belief in style that has continued to define its identity through subsequent generations. When clothes could once again drape and celebrate a broken body, it seemed that humanity was not lost.
Today, much of humanity and indeed the world exist in that same brokenness. Our inter-connectivity through the Internet’s looking glass tells us so. Getting caught in the cross-fire of real-time news and the daily grind of reporting on human suffering and environmental degradation can be exhausting. The deluge of statistics of men, women and children who are dying, maimed, tortured and traumatised from today’s conflicts and poverty is overwhelming. So too are the realities of our role as plunderers of earth’s biophysical resources, as we easy-bake animal, plant and human life to extinction.
In the 21st century, even hedonistic pleasure comes with responsibility. Giving money to charitable causes does not off-set the carbon footprint of indifference displayed on the steps of New York’s Met last week.
The need to curate our lives for our own mental wellbeing and productiveness means that we cannot realistically walk around with the burdens of the planet on our shoulders. And there is little wrong with packaging some top-tier fund-raising around the celebratory razzmatazz of famous A-listers.
But must it be so venal? A stifling overload of money and wastage flaunted itself up and down those steps for all to see. It’s hard to laugh off the privileged when, given half a chance to show off, they become purveyors of interminable, gratuitous stuff, a nausea of Swarovski crystal—including $1.7 million’s worth on a bra and pants—and insanity of attempts to outdo one another with face-punching imperviousness to today’s real issues of inequality and dying eco-systems, including a dress of 14 kilograms plastic—yes, plastic—petals.
What memo are these people not getting?
At a time of shared fragility, these were despots of wealth, their vulgar showmanship coming up with zero originality; every rehashed false eyelash, gold lamé, turreted headgear and feathered ensemble noted a thousand times before. The Met Gala was as camp as a row of refugee tents which could have done with the extra fabric.
In the 21st century, even hedonistic pleasure comes with responsibility. Giving money to charitable causes does not off-set the carbon footprint of indifference displayed on the steps of New York’s Met last week. Would it be such a spoiler to think of more sustainable sourcing for their get-ups? Or tone down their cost?
The visuals, the messaging and the soft power of celebrities should better serve today’s more deserving cries for attention. It’s time they started synching their fit-bits to the planet’s pulse.
In light of the current deficit of political will to address the causes of injustice, we are all advocates; our survival demands it. Lights, clothes, action and entertainment from the famous do matter, and they can be fun.
But not this.