On Monday, the annual Met Gala brought celebrities, athletes, and politicians to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City for a fancy fundraiser. This year, much attention was paid to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.), who wore a dress with the message “tax the rich” written on it.
The irony of AOC demanding higher taxes on the rich while partying with them at a celebrity-filled extravaganza that costs $30,000 a ticket wasn’t lost on anyone; the congresswoman addressed the criticism by noting that it was her responsibility as a New York City official to help keep “cultural institutions open to the public,” and the fundraiser helps pay for the museum.
AOC’s right that the discord between the message on her dress and her attendance at the event shouldn’t be making people upset. That’s because the real issue here isn’t inconsistency on wealth inequality—it’s rank hypocrisy on pandemic restrictions.
In photos from the event, neither AOC nor any of the other famous invitees—Megan Rapinoe, Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D–N.Y.), Dan Levy, and on and on—wear masks. (The same cannot be said of the staff members attending to the celebrities’ needs.) Why do the rich and famous get a pass?
For what it’s worth, the museum’s policy couldn’t be clearer: All visitors ages two years and older are required to wear masks at all times, regardless of vaccination status. They are also expected to maintain six feet of distance from other people at all times. AOC said she was working to keep the museum open to the public, but when the public visits the museum, they are obligated to follow irritating and (in the case of masks for the vaccinated) largely pointless procedures. Yet the city’s elite are exempted from such requirements.
In fact, the law treats non-celebrities like second-class citizens. Hypocrisy is written into New York City’s official COVID-19 policies. The city’s mandate requires vaccination in a wide variety of circumstances: restaurant customers, gym employees, and museum visitors can all be asked to show their vaccination cards. Visiting celebrities, though, are exempt. The law specifically excludes out-of-town athletes, performance artists, and their entourages. (Last year’s quarantine orders similarly exempted the same groups of people.)
New Yorkers who object to the vaccine for their own reasons, or have robust immunity following a prior infection, are still obligated to obey the mandate. Nationally, the federal government has grown increasingly willing to push vaccination and masks. Most students sitting inside a classroom at present are probably forced to wear a mask, whether they have been vaccinated or not. But when the elites get together for a party, the rules appear to go out the window.
This has been a recurring theme of the pandemic, of course. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, imposed brutal restrictions on California residents and demanded extreme social distancing, but had no compunction about attending a private dinner with lobbyists at the luxurious French Laundry. At the start of the pandemic, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told city residents that they should delay getting haircuts. “Getting your roots done is not essential,” she said. When she said “your roots,” she really did mean your roots, because the mayor absolutely went and got a haircut anyway. She justified it by saying: “I’m the public face of this city. I’m on national media and I’m out in the public eye.”
If the pandemic is over for the aristocracy, it should be over for the commoners too—particularly those who got the shot. AOC and her friends should feel free to get dressed up and go to the ball, but maybe the rest of us vaccinated folks don’t need to wear masks in gyms, residence halls, or while walking from the entrance of the restaurant to the table.