the medium is the message: AOC’s met gala dress

Image via New York Times

I’m sure you’ve heard about AOC’s 2021 Met Gala Dress.

US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez donned a white gown with “Tax the Rich” cascading down her back in big, blood-red lettering. 

The medium is the message she posted on her Instagram. Communication theorist Marshall McLuhan first coined this phrase in the sixties, essentially prophesying the proliferation of social media and an interconnected society through digital means. 

I can’t stop thinking about this phrase. The medium is the message. It’s the idea that the method used to send and receive information is more important than the information itself. In our current digital age where the circulation of political issues and activism is enabled through social media, AOC’s bold political statement seems to be the correct means of transportation. It’s repostable. It’s pithy. It’s jarring. It’s blood stains on a pure, snow battleground. 

Frankly, I rolled my eyes upon first seeing pictures of her fashion statement. Must we bring politics to a costume party? Seems awfully tawdry. But it’s a fashion statement, one I would assume to have stirred up controversy among the right-leaning crowd. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, especially in this case. Succès de scandale, non?

Many of us consume bite-sized news about this event, wondering who the best-dressed, worst-dressed, the most scantily-clad, and whatnot celebrities are. In the elite, opulent stage of the Met Gala, AOC delivers a message knowing it would be highly publicized and exposed to media consumers from all ages and political beliefs. 

Some may say her gesture of performative activism will not produce far-reaching impacts. It’s not like the government will see “TTR” and decide on a tax policy reform for the top 0.01%. Although it won’t produce immediate impacts, Alice Cappelle asserts in her video “Why AOC’s Dress Matters,” that the representative’s actions are in fact transformative on a bigger, long-term scale.

Cappelle introduces the “Overton Window,” a model illustrating the range of political policies acceptable to the mainstream public at a given time. AOC is pulling this window of discourse towards left-wing, progressive ideals, and feeding the unthinkable into the minds of the masses, letting it stew in hopes that these values eventually become sensible, acceptable, and bear fruit into a policy. 

While AOC was amplifying her message to celebrities dressed in stones and haute couture being ushered by security guards, protestors right outside The Metropolitan Museum of Art were being handcuffed by the NYPD. They dream of a better America and they fight with their chants and signs. I imagine AOC unzipping her dress, shedding herself of the glitz and gold, buttoning her blazer, and whispering to the world that she’s going to fight alongside them.

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