My Culture is NOT Your Goddam Met Gala
This month’s Met Gala in New York City saw dozens of iconic outfits inspired by this year’s theme, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. One of the evening's most talked about outfits was Rihanna’s godly outfit from John Galliano complete with a pope hat. Other hits from the evening included Virgil Abloh’s immaculately white suit featuring stained glass which the designer created for Louis Vuitton. In keeping with the theme, rapper 2 Chainz proposed to his longtime girlfriend by getting down on one knee right there on the red carpet. However, there was another major shake-up in the world of fashion early this month on Twitter when an 18-year old girl wore the wrong dress to prom. You may remember the iconic reply of, “my culture is NOT your goddam prom dress” to Keziah Daum’s prom picture of her traditional Chinese qipao — and the internet blew up about it. Nobody really connected the two events until Pope Francis’s Twitter account decided to get in on the fun by using the tweet in response to Rihanna’s Met Gala pope outfit. Everybody had a good guffaw with his holiness but I was still confused by the response. Where was the outrage? It’s not like the internet to be so hypocritical about social issues. Why be upset when some cultures are being appropriated and not with others?
Full disclosure, I was raised Catholic. However, I have not practiced (meaning gone to church, prayed, or genuinely believed in) my faith for several years now. I am not here to make the case of the persecuted white, middle-American Catholic. There are enough people fighting that idiotic battle to fill the White House (and they already have). No, I just generally am curious as to why it is okay to pay thousands of dollars to put a halo on your head because it’s a “theme” but not wear a beautiful dress found in a thrift store? Because it’s for charity? Because these people are famous? There needs to be some balance here. There was also Greta Gerwig’s nun-inspired ball gown from The Row. Does Gerwig or whoever designed this at The Row know what it’s like to be hit with a ruler by an old nun at school? Well, neither do I but from the way my parents tell it, it wasn’t too fun.
Daum’s prom dress ignited a national debate over cultural appropriation and was even deemed “casual racism” by some users. Yet in a country that is fighting to become less and less Christocentric (remember that totally real war on Christmas), I found it odd that one of the year’s biggest and most talked about events in fashion would choose the haven of cisgender white males as its theme. Would people be OK if instead of wearing crosses or nun outfits, those attending the gala were wearing burkas or kippahs? What if the theme was based on the Muslim or Jewish imagination?
I have no actual problem with either the Met Gala theme or a high school girl’s prom dress. But, clearly, there are some on the left who take issue with the prom dress but praise Rihanna and hundreds of others for using somebody else’s culture as inspiration for an outfit. What so many on the left want is consistency and not the public shaming of a young woman for picking out a pretty dress. The whole liberal ideology and certainly the Democratic party are in the midst of a crisis of inclusivity. We are not willing to cast out certain provocateurs who take some of our ideals too far. There needs to be a stand on the left to ignore all of these petty issues on Twitter about whether or not a random girl in Utah is honoring or appropriating another culture. That is not what is important to the future of the United States. In fact, it isn’t even an important issue in China, where many citizens praised Daum’s interest in their culture. There are so many issues that are important and can be debated online instead of one girl’s dress. This is the platform for citizen journalism: publicizing instances of police brutality and sharing experience with sexual abuse as part of the #MeToo movement. Intention and context matters, and if the left can't be consistent with which cultures are OK to appropriate and which are not, the moral foundation for cultural appropriation will continue to fall short.