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The Met Gala and Performative Pageantry of ‘Feel Good’ Activism

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

There is something people are missing about the whole Met Gala fiasco. While many on both the left and right honed in with a laser-like focus on Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Tax the Rich” dress, there is something else about this whole affair that illustrates a reality about the hard left that should be pointed out. Constantly.

You probably already know the story. This year’s Met Gala was fraught with political statements. While AOC’s dress, which made her look more like a Chick Fil A sandwich than a lawmaker, was the star of the show, others did something similar.

What people should be highlighting is the fact that while these bourgeoisie elites get together once a year to congratulate one another on how virtuous, rich, and beautiful they are, these individuals don’t do much of anything for the unwashed masses they claim to champion. However, it is not just folks on the right who notice this cultural trend. Washington Post columnist Karen Attiah wrote an op-ed taking Ocasio-Cortez and others to task for their failure to make real progress.

In the piece, which is titled: “AOC accomplished her Met Gala mission. But performative social justice is still a problem,” Attiah pointed out the hypocrisy of AOC attending the gala. “How could AOC, champion of the working class, attend a gala priced at six figures per table?” she asked.

The author pointed out that Rep. Carolyn Maloney also wore a dress designed to promote the Equal Rights Amendment, while model and actress Cara Delevingne wore a vest that said: “Peg the Patriarchy.”

Attiah points out:

Unfortunately, left uncredited was Luna Matatas, the queer artist who had created and trademarked the phrase in 2015.

So Delevingne’s activist “statement” ended up just reinforcing the inequality of the fashion world, in which powerful White people too often erase the work of people of color and independent artists. In a similar vein, a dress demanding “Tax the Rich” at a benefit where most wealthy attendees will just write off their charitable contributions on their taxes wasn’t communicating rebellious irony. It was delivering cognitive dissonance.

Then, Attiah gets to the root of the problem:

With the help of celebrities, people and institutions that help to perpetuate an unequal and unsustainable status quo are trying to define disruption and commodify activism — while refusing to reform themselves.

The author is accurate – the so-called progressive movement, especially over the past decade or more, has shown itself to be more concerned with appearing to be working for social change than actually working to solve the problems many Americans face today. I previously highlighted how this duplicitous tendency presented itself shortly after the murder of George Floyd.

Cities governed by Democrats, along with far-leftist organizations, responded to the widespread protests by touting the many Black Lives Matter murals that were painted on streets and walls. When a national conversation on racism emerges, you can always count on the hard left to use symbolism to make it appear as if they actually care about the black community when, in reality, they have no intention of addressing the problems they constantly bring up. It is the same mentality behind the ridiculous display of stupidity that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the gang engaged in when they knelt on the House floor wearing kente cloths.

Attiah argued that how social change is being defined is rendering activism a meaningless exercise, especially when “charity is championed rather than true structural change,” and when “social change is measured by clicks and retweets.”

She pointed to an upcoming CBS reality show called “The Activist” in which activists would pair with celebrity judges to compete for fundraising opportunities for the social cause of their choice. She noted that “the activists/contestants will be judged on the social media virality of their campaigns,” and pointed out that AOC attempted to justify her attendance at the gala “by posting a screenshot showing how Google searches of ‘Tax the Rich’ increased after her appearance.”

The author continued, noting that statements about important issues were not made during the gala:

What interests me, too, are all the statements that didn’t get made about America on Monday. There was nothing about Texas’s draconian abortion law. Or about the racial inequities at institutions such as Condé Nast and the Met Museum. As far as I could see, no celebrity had the imagination and courage to make a statement about America’s failed and disastrous invasion of Afghanistan and the needless bloodshed by Afghans and U.S. service members that occurred over 20 years — a direct indictment on the ruling class.

Obviously, the author’s preferred solutions to the problems facing America would be hard-leftist in nature, meaning they would likely do more harm than good. Nevertheless, the issues she points out with the left are legitimate.

The bottom line is that the hard left, in general, prefers empty symbolism and virtue signaling proclamations to actual solutions. It is why police brutality against black men persists even though leftist politicians are in charge of the cities in which these incidents occur the most. It is why black and brown Americans receive the worst quality education in the country.

Democrats have been in charge of these cities for decades. If they truly wished to do something about it, wouldn’t they have made progress by now? I know we should not attribute to malice that which could easily be attributed to incompetence. But at this point, the left has been governing these cities for far too long for me to accept that they are merely inept. At some point, it becomes appropriate to speculate that their “failures” are actually deliberate.

But as long as they can cover their lack of progress with symbolism and impotent gestures, they can convince the rest of the nation that they actually care about the oppressed. Until they get competition from the opposing party, they will continue to get away with it.