The first Monday in May arrived on Sept. 13 this year. Rescheduled due to COVID-19, the Met Gala was finally livestreamed to the public last week amidst mixed reviews. The Met Gala serves as an opportunity for celebrities to reach new levels of stardom and designers to showcase their boldest looks. The world’s most exclusive party speaks volumes about American celebrity culture; for a few hours on a Monday afternoon we are glued to our screens, endlessly refreshing so as not to miss an opportunity to dissect those we have raised on incalculably high pedestals.
Author Kilroy Oldster once called it, “the distinctive American obsession of ogling the film, television, music and sport stars whom draw media attention and captivate the public of each generation.” However, after my own evening of bouncing between the livestream, Twitter and the endless celebrity gossip websites, I noticed something different about the social reception of this year’s Met Gala. Amidst the fashion discourse, there was an undercurrent of resentment and anger, a sense of the public turning on their once beloved celebrities. What has traditionally served as a temporary escape from the banality of average existence has turned into an unseemly display of wealth and privilege. Have we reached the end of the American celebrity?
COVID-19 undoubtedly exposed the gap between the average American and the ultra-wealthy like never before. As most Americans faced bleak lockdowns, a shattered economy and death beyond comprehension, we watched celebrities and politicians all but completely avoid our global struggle with the virus. Never have rules been so blatantly skirted without consequence than when the Kardashian’s violated California’s non-essential travel ban for a birthday bash in Tahiti. Mississippians were advised by the state to avoid gathering with their families to celebrate Christmas while Tate Reeves threw a party at the Governor’s Mansion.
Now, as the pandemic continues to ravage the US, we watch the same celebrities who graced us with the glaringly condescending “Imagine” music video float down the red carpet in outfits worth sums that you and I will probably never see in our lifetimes. People are upset, and understandably so, that celebrities bought tickets for $25,000 apiece while working people bear the brunt of the pandemic’s economic collapse. Many were unimpressed by the feeble political statements made by attendees as protestors were concurrently arrested on the steps of the museum. Americans found it impossible to enjoy this spectacle of wealth and glamor on the coattails of national tragedy.
The lack of cohesion and understanding of the theme “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” is painfully ironic. The Met Gala was once our cultural city on the hill, the glamor and extravagance to which we all aspired. Somewhere along the way, our values and those of the people beyond the velvet rope got misaligned. We no longer understand each other, the idol and the idolizer. Our source of entertainment has morphed into a source of irreconcilable disillusionment. Celebrity worship will no doubt continue on an individual level, but the pandemic has forced Americans on a societal scale to rethink our romanticization of excess. Perhaps Sept. 13 marked the last Monday in May.
Katherine Broten is a junior majoring in Public Policy Leadership and economics from Farmington, NM.