"Gilded Glamour" or "Out of Touch"?

This year's MET Gala has received scrutiny, but why?

Peter Lennon
18th May 2022
Image: Instagram @yen_godden

After an absence in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a postponed event in Autumn 2021, the Met Gala has returned to its traditional spot on the annual calendar: the first Monday of May. And “tradition” is what the Met Gala has led with in its theme this year of “gilded glamour”, hoping to evoke the economic boom in late 19th Century America that has helped carry the nation to its position as the leader of the western world.

To say that the Met Gala’s exuberant display of wealth is tone death would be an understatement

Despite such evocations of wealth and power, working families across the United States are struggling to make ends meet. The economy has greatly shrunk, with inflation being at its highest in forty years. Meanwhile the global gas shortage continues to spike fuel costs. To say that the Met Gala’s exuberant display of wealth is tone death would be an understatement.

The price of entry for the Met Gala event has risen over the years to achieve exclusivity, as spearheaded by organizer and editor-in-chief of Vogue Anna Wintour. At this year’s event, a base ticket set back celebrities $35,000 (approximately £24,000), while a table sells for as much as $300,000 (approximately £239,000). The Met Gala has long been dubbed a charity event, with the money raised from tickets going to the continued maintenance of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts’ Costume Institute.

Although the Metropolitan Museum is a hive for invaluable pieces that serve to educate the general public, the Costume Institute is closed off for such folk. Instead, the pieces are only briefly brought out for public view due to the museum’s concerns over preserving the textiles of the pieces. The preservation of such works is undoubtedly important, both for appreciation of the world’s cultural pasts and for inspiration of moving into the future.

That being said, the failing efforts of the Costume Institute to bring such appreciation and inspiration to the general public, despite the copious amount of money raised by the Met Gala, only further accentuates Anna Wintour’s aspirations for exclusivity among the wealthy elite. Symbolically, the Costume Institute has privatized a prime collection of art history.

Image: Instagram @rixahmed

This year, media outlets have singled out actor Riz Ahmed for his interpretation of the theme, dressing as a “chic labourer”. When asked for comment on his outfit, Ahmed stated that he was paying homage to “immigrant workers who kept the Gilded Age golden”. He was of course referencing New York's nineteenth-century galas and balls, where many pursued the "American Dream" to get rich quick. At the same time, others lived in poverty. Political statements and homages are not unheard of at the Met Gala, with U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wearing a white dress and “Tax the Rich” in red satin stitching at the 2021 event.

This year's theme has been deemed "out of touch", considering the current global economic downturn and worsening inflation in America.

The conversation around such statements often centre on their hypocrisy. With the elite making the statements being the same ones who have paid thousands to attend. However, the annual commentary on these “celebrity deviants” detracts from the larger institutional issues of the Met Gala. This year's theme has been deemed "out of touch", considering the current global economic downturn and worsening inflation in America.

With the theme of the “gilded age”, celebrities and the wealth elite turned up in droves to celebrate America’s nostalgia complex over the nation’s notoriously poor distribution of wealth – and they all played their part beautifully.

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AUTHOR: Peter Lennon
English Literature undergraduate. Although I primarily write for the Courier's Film section, I do love helping out in the Televsion and Gaming sections as well. I also organise and host livestreams/radio shows as FilmSoc's inaugural Head of Radio. Twitter: @PeterLennon79

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