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Cultural appropriation and the Met Gala

When is something considered appropriation and when should people just get over it?

Lila Gill and Isabella Pedroza

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The 2018 Met Gala themed, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” sparked controversy due to risqué haute couture “appropriating Catholic culture.” Although this year’s theme was intended to create dialogue between fashion and religious arts and was approved by the Vatican, people claimed that the theme “mocked” what is sacred to the Catholic faith by dressing like nuns, bishops and popes.

Cultural appropriation is defined by Wikipedia as, “A concept dealing with the adoption of the elements of a minority culture by members of a dominant culture.” But past Met Gala themes have far exceeded this definition such as the 2015 theme, “China: Through the Looking Glass.” This theme caused intense backlash for many who believed that the Chinese culture was being mocked as well. So the real question is: was this year’s theme appropriating or appreciating?

In our opinion, it was the latter. What better way to enjoy the beauty of Catholic culture than to have Rhianna looking like a vision in a dazzling Pope’s outfit? The theme gave a new meaning to the religion. It shed more light on the mysterious and stunning history of it all. But as alluring as we may have found it, there are still more facts to consider.

As stated before, to appropriate something, there has to be a minority culture and a dominant culture. Assuming you have taken a history class before, you know that for a really long time, Christianity has been the dominant religion in most of the world. It spread across the globe like a wildfire. It’s not really a question that Catholic culture is the dominant culture in many places on earth. The theme can’t be appropriation if it’s impossible to appropriate this religion.

Even though the theme wasn’t appropriation, it wasn’t necessarily a great idea, due to the fact that other religions can’t be celebrated the same way without it being extremely disrespectful. What if the Gala decided to do an Islamic or Hindustani theme? People are already getting offended when models wear hijabs on the runway or sport bindis at Coachella for accessories. That’s because these cultures and religions aren’t dominant in our Western world and the people who do it have no idea what the religious or cultural symbols mean, or the weight of the years of oppression the groups have faced. Therefore they can be and are appropriated.

Fashion is art, and art is supposed to be controversial. It’s supposed to open minds and get people thinking about the world. And this year’s Catholic-based theme did exactly that.

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Cultural appropriation and the Met Gala