Offensive or celebratory? The Met Gala 2018

Offensive or celebratory? The Met Gala 2018 May 8, 2018

The New York Times:  “The Scene Inside the Met Gala.”  Also, “What Is the Met Gala, and Who Gets to Go?

The Federalist:  “At The Met Gala, Celebrities Glam Up Their Idea Of Catholicism.”

The Daily Mail (Piers Morgan byline):  “If the Met Gala was Islam or Jewish-themed, all hell would break loose – so why was it OK for a bunch of flesh-flashing celebrities to disrespect MY religion?

The New Yorker, “Pope Rihanna and Other Revelations from the Catholic-Themed 2018 Met Gala.”

Fresh off the Chinese-styled prom dress controversy, we now have the 2018 Met Gala.  Since its theme, as is the case (so far as I understand) every year, is based off the current Met Costume Institute special exhibit, “fashion and the Catholic imagination,” or “Heavenly Bodies,” it provided the opportunity for celebrities to choose garb that had themes related to Catholicism or went all-out and mocked the religion.

The New York Times provides an extended slide show, and most attendees stuck to a sort of generic high fashion that might be inspired by the generic “dress code” of “Sunday best.”  But there were some celebrities who didn’t hesitate to — well, dress more specifically thematically.

Rhianna wore a costume that might be described as a very, very expensive version of the “slutty pope” Halloween costume.

Lana Del Rey wore a “Our Lady of Sorrows” costume.

Cardi B used her real-life pregnancy to “dress-up” as Mary.

Jered Leto and Alessandro Michele “dressed up” as Jesus.

With the exception of Rhianna, I can’t say I’m familiar with these celebrities, but the Federalist article includes these photos.

The Daily Mail article features photos of Jennifer Lopez, wearing a dress with a giant cross on the front, and Kim Kardashian, also with a gold cross included on the dress’s detail.

Stella Maxwell (she’s a model, apparently) wore a dress with images of the Virgin Mary, someone named Gigi Hadid dressed as a stained glass window, and Sarah Jessica Parker wore a strange giant crown with a nativity scene.

And Lena Waithe wore a tuxedo — with a rainbow cape.

So some of these are not that bad, actually — the stained glass gown is kind of pretty, and makes no social commentary, other than “stained glass was a cool innovation.”  Kim Kardashian’s gold dress was, for her, anyway, almost tasteful, and the cross necklace and applique could almost be said to be respectful interpretations of the theme rather than a grotesque costume, given that she is publicly a Christian (remember, she famously had her baby baptized in Jerusalem).  As to the rest — other than the rainbow cape which was perceived by all as an intentional criticism of the church — it’s hard to tell whether their wearers thought they were mocking Catholicism, or whether they were so far removed from any religious sensibility that they failed to grasp any sense that this imagery was anything other than just some generic part of our cultural baggage to be repurposed in whatever manner one found appealing and attractive.

Consider that the New Yorker author Rachel Syme wrote, with a whiff of disappointment:

Perhaps it was the fact that Cardinal Dolan was present, but few attendees dared to subvert or challenge the Church itself. The one exception was the comedian and showrunner Lena Waithe, who donned a rainbow-striped dream cape over a black suit (both by Carolina Herrera)—a sign of pride and, undoubtedly, a critique of the Church’s attitude toward the L.G.B.T. community. Waithe seemed to carry the heavy mantle of statement dressing on her own, and one was left with the sense that other opportunities to provoke were missed: Where was the fetish wear, the mortifications of whips and chains, or the stigmata, or even the cephalophore?

So I don’t know which is more regrettable, the “they were deliberately mocking Catholicism” or the “they are too clueless about religion to understand that what they were doing had the effect of mockery” explanation.

And yes, at the same time, it is also irritating that everyone gets in a tizzy about anything that has the appearance of insult to Islam but merrily lets instances of clear, deliberate insult to Christianity go unchallenged.  It has a bit of the feeling of being the well-behaved sibling watching the misbehaving one act out and get all the attention.  And it’s so tempting to say, “if so-and-so gets coddled because they make a fuss, why can’t I?”  But you know that in the end you suck it up and do your homework like you’re supposed to, and remind yourself that those people throwing a fit have their own problems, and you’re lucky you’re not them, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.

But on the third hand, when some Entity in Power claims to be evenhanded and at the same time ignores the infractions of its favored groups (in the manner of just not mentioning the antisemitism of the Nation of Islam), well, it’s just a lot harder to grit your teeth and say, “oh, look at the pretty vestments!” which, I’m told, are also on exhibit.


Image:  Public domain.

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