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Exploring the irony of the Met Gala’s ‘Garden of Time’ theme

Drawing inspiration from a dystopian novel, this year’s Met Gala theme is either purposefully or unintentionally a huge nod to the state of our planet and society in the 21st century.

On the first Monday of May, the annual Met Gala event – also known as the ‘Fashion Oscars’ – will return to New York City.

This year’s theme is based on a book named The Garden of Time and is sure to inspire some incredible and intricate nature-inspired outfits worn by the world’s most famous and elite.

The short story was written in 1962 by J.G. Ballard, a satirical writer whose provocative style intended to challenge the relationship between the human psyche and mass media.

The Garden of Time features a wealthy couple living in a protected villa adorned with a lush garden, pool, library, and vast art collection. Their lavish lifestyle is not shared by the rest of society, who exist in a brutish and barren landscape outside the walls that surround their property.

Living in this dystopian modern world, the husband must cut a flower from their villa’s garden to keep struggling outsiders at bay. Though the task is completed with success for some time, the garden eventually runs out of blooms – leaving the husband with no flowers left to cut.

Beyond the villa’s gates, the mob of outsiders inches nearer. With the garden bare, the couple is forced to stow away their valuables and wait for the inevitable: the angry mob will eventually break in, and the man and woman will face their end.

There’s a bitter irony to this theme in the year 2024, so let’s look into it.

As the world’s elite no doubt plan to tap into the theme of a beautiful garden, we can likely expect many Met Gala guests to dress in garments adorned with various types of flora and fauna.

What’s immediately ironic is that this theme doesn’t exactly reflect our environmental situation as of late. In fact, our planet has never faced more degradation.

The fourth global mass coral bleaching event is taking place as we speak, deforestation levels are increasing, and greenhouse gas emissions continue to climb despite pledges aimed at their reduction being made at various climate summits.

Humans are ‘cutting their flowers,’ engaging in a rate of environmental destruction that the planet has never seen before. The world elite are major contributors, often opting for private jets and lavish lifestyles.

The approaching mob in The Garden of Time could very well be likened to the threat of climate change, as well as the stronger and more unpredictable storms, subsequent flash flooding, and raging wildfires that will come as a result.

As the Met Gala’s attendees celebrate the beauty of the natural world through fashion, we should remember that many of them (think the Kardashians and other celebrities who own brands alongside their entertainment career) boast a ginormous environmental footprint resulting from the production, packaging, and shipping of their branded products.

Not to mention, the vast majority of these celebrities will arrive in New York City via private jets that emit many times more carbon emissions than traditional flights.

These are luxuries not afforded to us mere mortals, who will watch the Met Gala’s red-carpet arrivals from flats we’re being priced out of due to growing inflation.

In this vein, parallels between the rich couple and the mob in Garden of Time and the world’s elite and the rest of today’s society are stark.

Income inequality has continually worsened over the last few decades in the United States, so much so that ‘America’s richest 1 percent of households averaged 104 times as much income as the bottom 20 percent in 2020’, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

In other words, the rich are getting much richer while the poor get poorer.

While the Met Gala is an exciting time for celebrities and fans of fashion alike, the theme might seem a bit too on the nose in light of all of the environmental and social injustice that’s taking place today.

It will be interesting to see which celebrities interpret the event’s theme this way, perhaps incorporating environmental messaging into their outfits or pulling archival pieces to promote sustainable fashion and consumption.

With the Met only a few days away, we won’t have to wait long to find out.