Global 👀 with Greta: AOC’s ‘Tax the Rich’ Dress – Easy Fodder for the Starving Critics

Welcome to a new section of opinion articles on Political Playlist! I’m Greta, coming to you live (sort of) from Italy. I’ll be reporting major events happening in the U.S. political environment from my Italian perspective. As someone who is focused on American politics and political relations among Western democracies, I think that my passion for journalism and my European point of view enriches my work. Now, onto today’s topic… the TAX THE RICH dress.

Chanikarn Thongsupa

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Brendan Smialowski, Agence France-Presse

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Global 👀 with Greta: AOC’s ‘Tax the Rich’ Dress – Easy Fodder for the Starving Critics

by Greta Maggi

Welcome to a new section of opinion articles on Political Playlist! I’m Greta, coming to you live (sort of) from Italy. I’ll be reporting major events happening in the U.S. political environment from my Italian perspective. As someone who is focused on American politics and political relations among Western democracies, I think that my passion for journalism and my European point of view enriches my work. Now, onto today’s topic…

TAX THE RICH.

It’s the bright, red, capitalized message written on the dress of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during the 2021 Met Gala. Surrounded by Hollywood’s biggest, trendiest, and wealthiest starts, the New York Representative ascended the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art with one purpose: to bring her message. At one of the most notorious – and voiceless – events of the year, her dress was the conversation.

The Met Gala is one of the most exclusive fashion events on the East Coast. In 1999, Anna Wintour, a spectacular genius in her entireness, became the president of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. She started to organize one gala night every year as a fundraising event. The dress code this year was “America Independence”.

For her first appearance at the Met Gala, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez couldn’t pass without leaving her mark.

Dressed in a white gown by Brother Vellies and a political slogan across her back, she embodied the core of her political belief: taxing the rich.

She didn’t go out of line. She didn’t go off-topic. She stuck to her role, a politician. Rep. AOC is the representant of a political institution, and when invited to a glamour event, she found a way to associate her political message to that environment. Would you blame a model to dress a Dior haute couture dress? Would you critic a musician to have the newest instrument with him/her? So why blame a politician to bring one of the most notorious slogans with her?

As AOC tweeted during the night, “the medium is the message”. And in my opinion, that’s nothing but true.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez expresses the epitome of social media political communication. Indeed, she is the brand herself, and she keeps building and nurturing it. AOC has 12.7 million Twitter and 8.7 million Instagram followers…and counting.

“Tax the rich” is one of the added values to her persona brand. She has strong positions, she knows her public, and she understands her audience’s demands. In light of that, one can see where the conversation goes, which is to say, to the working-class families. When you manifest your politics, femininity, and values to the voters without saying a word, you just know how to do your job. And what I think came as a surprise (just for some, to be clear) is that a radical, socialist, young, Brown, American woman did it. Nonetheless, if the same critics have followed her politics during the past years, they wouldn’t be that shocked. Honestly, who would dare to do so in Washington if not her?

For what concerns the major critics she received, they were all towards the price to attend the event (which is $35.000) in contrast with the purpose of her message, and the choice of the slogan “tax the rich”. I read and heard multiple points of view about the latter (from the American and the international press).

Someone declared that “tax the rich” is just a simplification of people’s needs, and I cannot agree more. It is a brief, simple, generic slogan. It is not the solution to inequality but can be considered as a starting point.

It is not the key to overcome barriers, but the medium that leads to change. Going deeper, one can see that it epitomizes another important point: without working people societies cannot have wealth. Thus, it is necessary to distribute wealth. Those three words question the moral paradigm based exclusively on profit, creating a new collective reflection. With all that said, I think the point here is to go beyond words and understand the statement and how much American society has changed. As Aurora James, the stylist of AOC’s dress, said: “We must always continue to push ourselves, push our colleagues, push the culture, and push the country forward. Fashion is changing; America is changing. And as far as this theme goes, I think Alexandria and I are a great embodiment of the language fashion needs to consider adding to the general lexicon as we work towards a more sustainable, inclusive, and empowered future.”

Despite my political ideology, which I believe cannot be translated into an American one, since I have lived – and voted – my whole life in a European (Italian) cultural and political context, I consider Rep. Ocasio-Cortez proof that if you find a strategy, one that is easy fodder for the starving critics, in the end, it feeds your image.

For all the cynics and critics out there: How much time have you spent on the pictures of the event? How many tweets have you written about the dress? Have you followed comments from all sorts of social platforms? Are you still talking/discussing her and her dress? Well played, AOC.

For someone who is reporting from the other side of the ocean, who will not experience in the foreseeable future the kind of political polarization America is going through neither the radical progressivism in the left and who is not a voter in any election in the United States, the AOC’s choice is a win. In my judgment, her notoriety is not limited to her ideas, but principally to the way she communicates them. And another time, she proves to be able to communicate what she thinks and we – from both sides of the Atlantic – are all listening.