‘Tax the Rich’: The controversial Met Gala dress that took the internet by storm

President Mitsuki Jiang explains the JSA Debate Format for an upcoming convention in Ms. Kuhleman’s room (Rm. 2707). With two speakers on the Pro and Con side, the audience votes for the “Best Speaker” who receives a gavel after multiple speeches from both teams.

Heads turn as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York strides into her first Met Gala, the congresswoman wearing a bold dress with a bold claim: a scarlet red message that reads “Tax the Rich”. The 2021 Met Gala was hosted Sept. 13 on a Monday night and although tickets typically cost $30,000 for participants, all of New York’s elected officials received a free invitation, and that included AOC.

The glamorous evening’s theme titled “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” showcased American independence as its dress code for the night. While AOC was not the first attendee to make a political statement, she certainly stirred up some major controversy over her daring message and its implications.

Members of the club Junior Statesmen of America chose to address AOC’s dress on Sept. 24 in their lunch meeting during a thought talk, an open discussion centered around a certain topic. Parliamentarian Varun Manickam led the thought talk with the leading question: What is the impact of AOC’s attendance at the Met Gala?

One of the first topics that came up was performative activism and if AOC’s actions were classified under the term. The phrase describes activism benefitting people’s social standing rather than out of genuity. It was popularly coined after the George Floyd protests when celebrities were accused of supporting the movement for the wrong reasons. Some were accused of participating to gain fans instead of sincerely working towards social change.

Many critics pointed out that AOC’s dress was, in fact, performative activism and was merely a hypocritical performance, but some students’ opinions differed.

“How can she be a performative activist when she’s elected and trying to pass these laws to tax the rich?” senior Jason Yao said. “She’s doing more than any of us could do, so how is her doing this is necessarily bad is a question I’ve been trying to answer myself. If she wasn’t trying to pass laws that actually tax the rich, I would say this is ridiculous, you’re not actually doing anything, but she is doing something.”

Senior Katherine Chen held a different opinion on the effects of AOC’s appearance, but agreed that she wasn’t necessarily a performative activist.

“I feel like the dress takes away from the message because the controversy surrounding the image of her dress has blown up the internet, but at the same time, now when you search up tax the rich, AOC comes up instead of actual information,” Chen said. “She’s trying to defend it by saying Google searches have gone all the way up but it’s because people want to see her dress– they don’t want to actually learn about stuff.”

Manickam thought AOC’s attendance alone displayed her bravery, even though she would have been able to predict the debate and criticism her dress would have received.

“I thought that what she did was quite impressive, but I would assume that her press team probably told her not to because they would’ve known that this could have started some controversy,” Manickam said. “It’s like going to a really elitist area and saying we should tax the rich, but [she] still showed up not really conveying an actual message.”

Co-Vice President and junior Kalina Peneva reflected the same sentiment and said that AOC would have received backlash for appearing, no matter what she wore.

“I feel like to some degree the progressives are always going to say she’s not doing enough and the people on the other end are going to be like she’s doing too much, so it’s hard to find people that say ‘you’re doing the right thing, this is perfect,’” Peneva said. “Because of that, I think she’s put in a tough position to begin with. I guess it’s not as hard because a lot of progressives do agree with her, there are just a portion that don’t, too.”

While discussing if AOC’s attendance alone would have an effect, Chen added what she thought of AOC’s acceptance to the invite and if it served to make her message stronger.

“The other rich attendees already know her policies, so it’s not like she’s increasing personal awareness through the dress,” Chen said. “It’s literally for the publicity and media attention there, but now she’s just clogged up the entire feed with this dress instead of actual information.”