With the world having turned more polarised than Poland quite some time back, ‘everyone’ is venting their opinions on AOC’s stunt. One bunch is hailing her clarion call to make rich people less rich at the $35,000 a ticket gala as radical chic, while the other bunch is calling it out as hypocrisy of the order last seen when HG Wells coined the slogan ‘the war to end all wars’ – to describe the world war that preceded World War 2.
What I see is ‘Right on, sister!’ and ‘Grow up, woman!’ drowning out any conversation about what it could mean to actually tax the rich – by which I presume AOC meaning taxing the rich more, since the US is not tax-free UAE. So what’s the message that gets across? Well, that the New York’s Metropolitican Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) was the venue for an elitist taunt of the elite among the elite. And that AOC displayed, as we say in Mayur Vihar, ‘kaafi daring!’
As any semiotician hired by an advertising firm knows, when the campaign eclipses the product, the advertiser gains, the client loses – the client in this case being those who may have read AOC’s demand to see more money squeezed out of every orifice of every rich person. This is the same reason why I never turned vegetarian while gawking at those PETA activists not wearing a stitch but holding placards with messages that I don’t remember ever reading.
Instead of the AOC show, I was far more impressed by what Kim Kardashian – prime minister of America’s socialite republic – wore to the Met. I was impressed because it was far more unnerving, and nudged many of us out of our set notions about a clothing that covers a woman so tip-to-toe that she becomes literally invisible. An especially humonguous task if you’re an American famous for being famous, and not a Muslim lady in a burqa.
But more importantly, the black Balenciaga ninja outfit Kardarshian wore with a flowing black robe and face completely hidden behind a black balaclava and only her ponytail showing, was truly radical in that it demanded onlookers to explore – via the burqa’s similar functionality – what being seen as ‘not being seen’ is.
Predictably, some saw Kardashian’s Vader couture ‘distasteful’. To at least one Muslim woman, she was ‘effectively wearing a burqa,’ seen as a threat in the West (and indeed to myself) to liberal values. But it did make me wonder the distance that lies between a ‘cool’ latex bodysuit, that standard uniform of bondage enthusiasts, and an ‘uncool’ burqa that is the anti-LBD symbol of ‘female bondage’.
In plain sight, anonymity through an all-covering body-hugging fabric worn by one of the least anonymised persons on the planet is, of course, vastly different from a contours-destroying, all-covering fabric worn by ordinary women. What is edgy in the former, is haraam-repelling in the latter. But the visual riff between the two is powerful, unsettling and cliché-damaging.
And certainly far more ‘dangerous’ – one of the prime functions of art that in our part of town is quickly nipped in the bud by self-censorship and pressure groups – than wearing a ‘Tax the Rich’ gown to achieve little else than wearing a ‘Tax the Rich’ gown to a grown-ups’ version of a WASPy undergraduate prom.