Is the Met Gala Protest-Proof?

If ever a Met Gala seemed primed to clash with its political moment, it was the 2024 Met.

On the one hand, there was the event: the most opulent, extravagant, expensive party of the year, where a single ticket cost a whopping $75,000 — 50 percent more than last year’s ticket and more than $15,000 more than the average American salary.

On the other hand, there was a city roiled by student protests over the war in Gaza and rived by the country’s first criminal trial of a former president, and a sponsor (Condé Nast) in a fight with its employees over their union.

Even the evening’s dress code seemed to acknowledge the dichotomy: “The Garden of Time,” the title of a J.G. Ballard short story about an aristocratic couple isolated in their mansion as an unruly mob draws ever closer, brandishing sticks and tools and a threat to their way of life.

“It’s oddly prescient,” Andrew Bolton, the curator in charge of the Met’s Costume Institute and the man who chose the theme, acknowledged the day before the gala — even though he said he had been thinking mostly about the garden idea when he chose it (and it was unclear whether many of the celebrities who attended had read the allegorical tale).

As the party began on Monday night, word came that a crowd was amassing, planning to march on Fifth Avenue in support of Palestine. Police officers were said to be assembling barricades after another large protest at Hunter College. There were calls, online, for everyone to join in a “primal scream” every hour from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., under the hashtag #DisruptTheMet.

Even though a planned Condé Nast union walkout was averted — a last-minute deal was reached in the wee hours before the gala — the gala seemed to be dancing on the edge of the volcano.

And then … bupkis.

Whatever protesters appeared were kept far enough away from the main event that most people focused on the party didn’t even notice. The revolution was not TikTok-ized. There were arrests, but they didn’t change the conversation. This wasn’t like the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, held only a week before, where guests at the black tie event had to run a gantlet of protesters to get through the front door. No celebrity even showed up in a pin to support Gaza or the unionizers, as they often do at red carpet events like the Oscars. (For this crowd, at least, the possibility of incurring the wrath of Anna Wintour, the evening’s maestro, may be a rare and powerful deterrent.)

Is it possible that the Met Gala has become that rare thing in the contemporary world: a protest-proof zone?

Maybe it was because of the logistics, which prevented the telling image of a marching horde with their flags and fury from confronting swanning celebrities in their fashion and fripperies from being captured, going viral, and serving to crystallize and galvanize a crisis.

Maybe it was because the Met, with its often fantastical, over-the-top clothes — this time around, Cardi B as a Windowsen flower pot, planted in acres of black tulle earth; Mona Patel, as a host of trembling Iris van Herpen butterflies; Tyla as Balmain sand in the hourglass — has become a laugh of an evening when celebrities dress up like animals in a zoo for everyone else’s ogling and enjoyment and the money goes to a cultural institution accessible to all, and trickles down to the city. It’s so removed from everyday life that no one expects it to play by the rules, or outrage, of everyday life.

Or maybe it’s because the Met Gala is one of the rare events in the year that is a politics-free zone, one in which no one complains on the red carpet about being reduced to their clothes. Unlike other red carpets, which at least theoretically celebrate film or music or reporting, the point of the party is to celebrate clothes. Perhaps this is also why no one puts a pin on their finery; that would ruin the effect. And which is also, at least in theory, something everyone can share.

You can label that superficial out-of-touch and tone-deaf, or call it the triumph of late-stage capitalism over perfervid morality. Or you can indulge it as a moment of pure escapism. Either way, it kept the mob at bay. At least this time.

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