This is dangerous territory. I am going to comment on something beyond my cultural acumen, critiquing something I try not to participate in and don’t understand. The Grammy’s — as a metaphor not a critique of music.
I only saw seventeen of the red carpet outfits captured and reported by the New York Times, so mine is admittedly a narrow perspective. As I flicked through the images of celebrities in gaudy clownish Haute couture, all I could think about was The Hunger Games. If you haven’t read the trilogy or seen the movies, the backstory is about a fictional USA in the aftermath of a civil war, with the victor a Mountain West District known as Panem. The other “Districts” have been reduced to slave labor for Panem and are brutally repressed economically and militarily. The author creates a vibrant contrast between the hardscrabble lives in the repressed Districts and an outrageously, unselfconsciously decadent, celebrity-driven culture in Panem.
There on Sunday night (which I didn’t watch) was Shania Twain in a black and white polka dot bellbottoms pantsuit, bright crimson wig, and an oversized matching witch hat “by Harris Reed.” Lizzo, a character right out of Panem anyway, walked around shrouded in a bright orange flowing ghost outfit “by Dolce Gabbana,” in which only her head and hands showed through cutout holes. Look it up, I’m not kidding. Harry Styles wore shinny diamond-pattern clown overalls “by EgonLab” without a shirt, just his pasty chest with copious tattoos on display. The rapper Cardi B was somehow fitted into an electric blue sculptured dress “by Gaurav Gupta” that appeared to be blowing in the wind around her head but without moving, and a flowing chapel train sliding on the floor behind her. To top it off, somebody named Sam Smith was surrounded by a brilliant red bag of satiny material “by Valentino,” that began with a pillow size cowl collar around his neck and went billowing down to the floor while covering his feet. The outfit included a matching red top hat with red veil hanging around the eyes, red gloves, and red cane. Pure Panem.
I have disdain for the whole notion of Haute couture anyway, so just the “by so-and-so” is enough to get my Swedish DNA agitated. Add the fawning worship of celebrity and I really get piqued. The wealthy pawns of the Hollywood-Disney-Broadway power-axis seem so thrilled with the egregiously decadent fantasy world created by their collusion with its billionaire-class owners.
The author of The Hunger Games (260 consecutive weeks as a NYT Bestseller), Suzanne Collins, got the idea for the first book of the trilogy one night as she was channel surfing. Reality television shows flickered in contrast with flooding images from the war in Iraq. “Ding!” Panem was born. Yet Panem already existed.
The Progressive Left, to which in another country I might belong, should but does not engage in a critique of celebrity worship and the excessiveness of Haute Couture. Rather, it solicits donations. It then gets associated with classism and a cozy entanglement with wealth so un-woke it sleeps through suffering.
Like I said, this is dangerous. My own cultural bias is likely flowing behind me like Cardi B’s dress. Yet we must be able to critique the excesses of Capitalism and the decadence of our culture or risk further descent into outrageous inequity.