Met Gala 2022 was especially revolting: Roe v Wade competed with a starved Kim Kardashian

Finn McRedmond: They were hardly going to theme it Down the Coal Mine, were they?

There has rarely been a bastille so in need of a storming than the annual Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute Gala. Or, to you and me, the Met Ball.

Every May the good and the great of the celebrity world descend on New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art for a night self-proclaimed to be the Oscars of Fashion. In 2014 the then editor of Vogue and architect of the event, Anna Wintour, complained that, at just a meagre $15,000 a ticket, it was too inclusive. This year a ticket would set you back around $35,000.

The Met Ball’s purpose is nominally to fund the museum’s costume institute. In reality it is to provide a roster of stars deemed worthy of an invitation; to dress them in clothes worth more than money can buy, to parade them in front of the camera like turbo-camp zoo animals; and to provide a safe environment for the super-wealthy to fraternise with the ultra-elite.

This year the party was themed as The Gilded Age and White Tie (they were hardly going to theme it Down the Coal Mine, were they?). The phrase’s provenance can be found an 1873 novel by Mark Twain about the materialism and industrialists and corruption that took hold of late-19th century America. The “gildedness” is implies a thin and transparent veneer of splendour to obscure the crisis of inequality in the nation. So far, so apt.

It's terribly easy to balk at the extravagance of celebrities so far removed from reality that the absurdity of the whole thing seems not to have even occurred to them

As celebrities stage this royal spectacle for the peons of the world to gawk at in admiration, Kim Kardashian – perhaps one of the most famous women on the planet – knew she had to shock and dazzle anew, outperforming her herculean efforts of prior years. Taking not just inspiration, but the very clothes off the back of her 1950s counterpart, Kardashian donned a dress last seen on the back of Marilyn Monroe herself.

She ascended – actually she hobbled – the museum’s famous stairs in the gown Monroe wore to serenade John F Kennedy on his 45th birthday in 1962. It has not been worn since but at nearly $5 million, it is the most expensive dress ever sold at auction. So precious is the garment that it must be stored at a controlled temperature of 68 degrees in a darkened room.

The utter inconvenience of this plan gets much worse. The day before the event Kardashian spent 14 hours dyeing her hair blonde. But that is mere child’s play. In the weeks running up to Monday she had to lose 16 pounds to fit into the unalterable dress. She told Vogue how she restricted her diet and wore a “sauna suit” twice a day. I don’t know what a sauna suit is supposed to do to a human but apparently it was the silver bullet that helped Kardashian squeeze into a dress last worn in the 1950s. When the dress zipped up she explained how she wanted to cry tears of joy.

And here’s the punchline: so delicate is the item and so laced with history, Kardashian only wore it for a matter of minutes. “I would never want to sit in it” (well of course) she said, let alone eat.

Carrying weight on our bodies was once the ultimate sign of status and wealth. Then it was thinness. But now, the choice to eat only tomatoes and to sauna ourselves for hours every day in order to fit for just a few minutes into a dress once owned by an American icon is the ultimate, unassailable privilege.

This makes it terribly easy to balk at the extravagance of celebrities so far removed from reality that the absurdity of the whole thing seems not to have even occurred to them. Most crass of all is the expectation that we will be dazzled by this display of dedication to an act that has no artistic or historic merit. A woman who hobbled up some stairs in a dress, all in the name of what, exactly?

But Kardashian is just one woman. Another man dressed in a way that I can only describe as resembling a highly poisonous tropical fish. Another one of the myriad Kardashians wore a baseball cap, veil and wedding dress. If it was satire it was well done. It probably wasn’t.

Hillary Clinton was there, rubbing shoulders with mayor of New York Eric Adams. Our own Paul Mescal of Normal People attended, looking incongruous in a black suit and an ill-advised moustache.

As these stars are primped and preened by teams of people, who put months of thought and a lot more than thousands of dollars into the affair, they are ultimately put on display like well-groomed Afghan hounds at Crufts. The important thing to remember is the indignity of the affair falls far more greatly on their shoulders than our own. And the moral turpitude at the feet of the organisers more than anyone else.

Even more insultingly, to catch Covid-19 from a celebrity ought to be a blessing, a worthy trade-off for the spectacle of being struck by their beauty

Because the trick of the Met Ball, though perhaps not its ultimate intention, is to throw into sharp relief the parallel universe of the ultra-elite. Last year this found its manifestation in images of unmasked A-Listers being tended to by their legions of salaried, and crucially, masked staff. Paparazzi were crammed into pens, faces covered, to capture the perfectly-tended-to cheekbones of the barefaced starlets. At least three aides helped singer Jennifer Hudson up the stairs of the museum, carrying her gown, propping her up under a deluge of fabric.

It was all as if to say that Justin Bieber does not even possess the capacity to spread coronavirus. But those who dressed him, fussed over his hair and his wife’s makeup, and positioned her bejewelled dress for the perfect picture, somehow could. And let us not forget those who serve the food and drinks. It was as though viral load was contingent on wealth. Or perhaps, even more insultingly, to catch Covid-19 from a celebrity ought to be a blessing, a worthy trade-off for the spectacle of being struck by their beauty. The other way round, of course, could be nothing but a horrifying curse.

The most potent and accidental symbolism of the evening, the most damning and sadly the one that the celebrities could not predict, was with the leaking of a US Supreme Court draft decision prposing the repeal of Roe v Wade. As the bodily autonomy of women across the United States was thrown into the unknown, it is hard to muster anything but revulsion at a three-week-starved woman and her entourage whose sole focus on that night was a good photo to further entrench her celebrity.

If the point of the gilded age is the thin veneer and superficiality of wealth papering over the cracks of a deeply miserable and unfair society, then no one leaned into the spiritually impoverished nature of the entire affair like the Supreme Court. New heights to aspire to next year for the attendees, I guess.