Cultural Appropriation at the Met Gala

The nature of the way we think about race in the United States means that often, when we think of cultural appropriation, we think of subjects like that of the first blog post – the grey area between mimicking traditionally black styles of art and expression and appropriating them. There is enough tension (obviously with absolute justification) over the history of the South that when one goes beyond music or personal fashion choices, there are some pretty clear lines as to what would undeniably be considered mockery or racial appropriation. For instance, I feel at least reasonably confidant that no one would throw a publicized party with the theme of “black people”. However, it would appear that for other groups there is enough perceived grey area surrounding what counts as cultural appropriation for this year’s Met Gala to become the adult version of a tactless college costume party where everyone tries very hard to look like their best impression of an Asian stereotype. According to Vogue magazine, the Met Gala theme was to “primarily examine how eastward-looking Westerners have understood and misunderstood Chinese culture.” In defense of the planning committee that came up with that statement, at least half of it seems to have come true – most celebrities in attendance seem to have completely misunderstood the objective examining or understanding Chinese culture. Most of the people in attendance appear to have focused on the aesthetics of what felt “Asian-y” to them, including a vaguely Asian headpiece created by an Irish hat designer, an actual kimono, which is not, in fact, a Chinese item of clothing, embroidered dragons, braids, and of course the ever popular chopsticks-in-the-hair arrangement, all of which can be seen here. There are multiple problems with attendees’ interpretation of the Met Gala theme. Aside from the gross generalizations about Chinese culture made by the fashion choices, virtually none of the celebrities, with the exception of Rihanna, wore outfits designed by Chinese designers, which in and of itself kind of defeats the purpose of paying homage to a culture, turning most of the outfits into costumes, not mere outfits. The second problem that sticks out is one that plagues most example of cultural appropriation, especially in fashion is the sexualization of the beauty standards of a culture. Many of the dresses displayed some elements of the traditional qipao, a style popular in the ‘20s that is in modern times usually only worn at more traditional weddings. However, the Met Gala versions of this style were all “sexy” (again, shockingly close to the adult version of a college Halloween party) perpetuating the idea that Chinese women have historically been totally “exotic”. Overall, the Met Gala exemplified the difference between paying homage to a culture, by taking time to understand modern fashion and support designers from that country, and cultural appropriation, which may in this case be defined as the accumulation of lazy generalizations made with intent of creating a personal fashion statement and taking only the aspects of a culture that appeal to an individual in order to make that individual look “cooler”.

Jodi & Eleah

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One thought on “Cultural Appropriation at the Met Gala

  1. Pingback: Cultural appropriation is always bad, right? Guys? | The Concept of Race

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