Is It Still ‘Punk’ If It Costs $25,000 & Involves Anna Wintour?


I am displeased with the Met Gala’s “Punk: Chaos to Couture” theme, but I’m having a hard time pinpointing why. However, because I’m pretty sure I am not alone on this front, and because we have spotted other blogs putting up photos of Gary Oldman playing Sid Vicious without realizing that it’s Gary Oldman in costume, I think it is probably a good idea to examine why this theme is stupid and out of touch.

Full disclosure: I do not know much about punk. I dated a guy when I was 15 who was really into Minor Threat and Agnostic Front; other than that, the closest thing I got to listening to punk on a regular basis was my mix CD of Against Me! and The Misfits that my mom and I played on the way home from school each day. I wear a lot of makeup and have been dyeing my hair unnatural colors for over a decade and have a fair amount of body modifications, but I also love men who shop at Brooks Brothers and I regularly get mani/pedis (which I refer to as “mani/pedis”). To answer nobody’s question, no, I am not particularly cool, and no, I would not consider myself “punk” or any other genre of counterculture, mostly because I’m kind of boring in all actuality.

Nevertheless, I always had at least some vague idea of what “punk” was, as well as what it wasn’t. Despite my very limited knowledge and even more limited experience, I can say with fairly strong conviction that the Met Gala is not punk.

When major designers “take inspiration from” (i.e. copy, oftentimes) countercultures, however old and “dead” those countercultures may be, it’s typically rather late and tends to not be taken seriously. Lately, the counterculture all the trendiest trendmakers would like to absorb and reproduce with $3,000 price tags is punk. It has happened before, it will happen again, but it is nevertheless still rather obnoxious to see.

The adoption of punk elements into mainstream culture is nothing new, nor is it shocking (Miley Cyrus did it literally last week), but it is ridiculous in some instances. The Met Gala is an evening when rich, famous, attractive people spend thousands of dollars to look more rich, famous and attractive while hundreds of cameras take their photos, which will end up on the covers of magazines, on the front ends of blogs and in the pages of society trackers.

I have no qualms with this as a concept. Is it silly? Yes, but then, I think most things involving red carpet events are silly. (Seriously, it’s really different to watch a life feed of those things — you realize there’s loud cars on freeways nearby and ugly parking lots all around while these people silently stare into hoards of paparazzi while slowly posing. It’s really odd.) However, the themes are usually more…uh, appropriate? Applicable? Some examples:

  • Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty
  • American Women: Fashioning A National Identity
  • The Model As A Muse
  • Poiret: King of Fashion
  • The House Of Chanel

Many of these are eye roll-worthy, sure, but they all sort of fit in with the real theme: Look At How Important And Hot We All Are.

Punk doesn’t really fit into that, though as with many cultural waves, there was plenty of one-uppage and self-importance in punk, too. People tried to get ahead of one another, outdo each other and go further away from the mainstream by — all of which are activities regularly performed by celebrities, societally “significant” people and other folks who are likely to attend the Met Gala.

Anna Wintour Patti Smith Met Gala Punk Theme

So why does punk seem like such a far cry from the Met Gala? Well, the ticket costs $25,000, for one thing. Being that I am presently $23,000 in debt due to student loans despite working full-time throughout the majority of college, I am ever-so-slightly resentful at the idea that any event ever should be $25k. Of course, it goes to a “good cause,” but let’s be honest: most of these guests wouldn’t pay that kind of money if the phrase “anybody who’s anybody will be there” wasn’t uttered in front of them at some vapid point in their lives.

To hear that “boutique owners and high-end vintage purveyors” are getting requests for stuff that is “on-theme but will still earn them an approving nod from Anna Wintour.” I have a feeling that neither Joan Jett nor Johnny Rotten would have, at any point, called a boutique on their way to a show to request an outfit that is “on-theme” but would still be given a gold star by the editor-in-chief of Vogue.

There was a decided disdain for the type of people who would be willing to spend the down payment of a house on one ticket to one event where everybody drinks $500 champagne and smiles giant, Veneered grins for cameras (insert jerking off hand motion here). There weren’t gossip mag paparazzi, there wasn’t bottle service and nobody wore Versace dresses held together by safety pins. They just wore safety pins. In their skin. (I don’t recommend this, but then, I also don’t recommend wearing Versace dresses held together by them, either.) The punk scene was created partially in opposition to that type of monetary showmanship; the Met Gala epitomizes it.

So will anybody be considered “truly punk” at the Met Gala? Doubtful, at best, but more likely a resounding “absolutely not.” Except Debbie Harry, who is apparently going with Tommy Hilfiger.

Oh, and for the record:

Sid Vicious Gary Oldman

Gary Oldman on the left, Sid Vicious on the right.

Photos: Sid & Nancy.

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    • Naomi Kashinsky

      To be fair, Vivienne Westwood pretty much invented what we know as “punk fashion” when she co-owned the “Sex” boutique with Malcolm McLaren.

      • Samantha Escobar

        Very true, and she has plenty to do with the Gala! She was just designing for such a different clientele, with different priorities and different ideals. It’s fine to change demographics, of course, but it’s worth noting.

    • MR

      Never saw the Sex Pistols live, but the sound on vinyl at the time was raw. Don’t no why you’re so down on the film’s take on Sid – the opening, when the police are interrogating him back at the police station after they found him with Nancy dead on the bathroom floor of their ratty closet apartment – when he says all strung out: “I met her at Linda’s”. Yeah, it was a really dark film. But brilliant.

      • Samantha Escobar

        Not down on the film; down on people who can’t tell the difference between Sid Vicious and Gary Oldman.

    • PuppetMattster

      I always thought punk fashion was centered on DIY. Did any of them DIT?

    • Vee

      Let me just say that I have always loved fashion but this year, the met gala made me want to vomit and roll my eyes at the same time. No one could name a punk band except for the sex pistols and wasn’t punk supposed to be anti-fashion?! My cousins in England went from pony riding princesses to punk in the early 80′s. It was all about rebellion and an FU to establishment and the posh. Think about the names of punk bands: the misfits, bad religion, The Clash….This was a TERRIBLE event that could only be viewed with a huge helping of pepto. For the first time, I was second-hand embarrassed for every person there– I said it.

      • MR

        I was never a Punk – but The Clash was great live. Strummer’s high pitched lead vocal. What range. They had this other routine where they all pointed their guitars at the audiance and made this fire motion at us. Here I am the hippie standing up on his seat less than 10 rows back, smiling back at them. No, I didn’t give them the Peace sign. :)

    • anna

      I’ve always considered myself a closet punk. Punk has so many definitions and political leanings these days but the one thing that seems true is that it is a music based movement that is almost always anti conservative and about pushing boundaries.

      I consider myself a punk because I wear what i want, which is sometimes floral dresses and heels, sometimes a safety pin in my nose and ripped stockings. I mostly try and dress interestingly, which is how punk started out. Think of the origins of punk- the velvet underground, warhol’s factory, iggy pop. Then we have The New York Dolls- the first “true” punks, (who were actually managed briefly by pre-sex pistols malcom mclaren) who were men wearing glitter and women’s clothing. They were tired of the status quo and wanted to stick up their middle fingers to society. That is the beginning of New York punk, which WAS pre-english punk.

      English Punk was pretty much a combination of vivienne westwood wanting a new fashion statement and malcom mclaren wanting to romanticize the punk he saw into a political statement. This is how we got the clash, the sex pistols. Compare them to the ramones. Who gives more of a fuck? New york punk was more about crawling out the gutter, covered in slime.

      SO, in conclusion, the Met Gala is very British punk, but not new york punk.

      • gemma_sanji

        I’m kind of repulsed by the whole thing. Punk is a great COUNTER culture, yes. I can’t beleive it’s in fashion now

      • MR

        Joey Ramone – All paleface singing lyrics into the microphone: “We want the airwaves baby, if Rock is going to stay alive!!!”. But, The Clash vs The Ramones? I chose The Clash. Their sound is just so much more diverse. Plus all the British New Wave that came during and after them. The Police, The Smiths, The Cure…..

      • anna

        Oh I’m not saying you must chose!! I love all punk for varying reasons. I meant I think british punk is alot more style oriented. They were all about the green hair and safety pins, while NY punks were just kind of freaky.

    • Brady J Kimball

      Samantha Escobar, you are my new hero. My stomach turned when I saw the pictures from The Met ball… your piece perfectly described how I felt. Thank you!