Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

Photo: The Quad Volume 121, Issue 3 AOC article by Ali Kochik 

In 2021, then Managing Editor of The Quad, Ali Kochik, wrote an Op-Ed titled “AOC, Galas, Taxes and Students,” which detailed her perception of AOC’s infamous “Tax the Rich” Met Gala dress. Amongst the criticism Ocasio-Cortez received was the repeated notion that there was a disconnect between the congresswoman’s actions and words. Ocasio-Cortez explained, via her Instagram post on the subject, that “We all had a conversation about Taxing the Rich in front of the very people who lobby against it,” but, to insert my own opinion, that would seem to have had no true impact. As X user @KHAMCHANH stated at the time, “My opinion on the AOC at [the] Met Gala thing is that the rich would not invite her if they actually felt she was a threat to their wealth and power.” No billionaire or otherwise insanely rich person worth their salt would be pliable to the calls for economic equality through an act so lacking in actual action or follow through. In short, the idea was that while Ocasio-Cortez was not “deliberately plott[ing] how to do the most while absolutely doing nothing at all,” but, like most hollow demonstrations of solidarity, was quite tone-deaf. And as we reach the apex of late-stage capitalism, what do overly extravagant displays of wealth look like and how are they perceived? 

In regards to the first half of the question, social media has seen a growing trend of “stealth wealth” and “quiet luxury,” trading in handbags and other fashion items littered with logos for simple basics that run the gambit from expensive to ludicrous. “Quiet luxury” has become synonymous with “old money,” which carries a heavier air of sophistication. And, unlike those tacky fools wearing Gucci logo belts, are acknowledged as more real in some indescribable way that only holds any sort of pertinence to those in that tax bracket. Often, this interclass fight blurs the much larger and much more important point that all rich people are equally annoying. Regardless of the asinine nature of “quiet luxury,” which you may have best seen encapsulated by the “clean girl trend” or the internet’s hyperfixation on Sofia Richie — who somehow became a trend in and of herself — it speaks to the current attitudes and reception of wealth. Celebrities are obvious targets of criticism for lavishness, they are front-facing and sort of giant walking embodiments of problematic behavior. But, with the general emphasis on “quiet luxury,” it suggests, at least in part, a rare demonstration of awareness on the part of annoying rich people, particularly those who aren’t front-facing. There has been a transformation amongst the ultra-rich in order to maintain their markers of wealth, while also diluting their new formation into marketable, profitable trends for the ever-shrinking middle class, and thus we are witness to a sudden fascination with “quiet luxury.” Hence, the influx of TikToks that are espousing the idea that Aritzia basics, slicked-back buns, and simplistic gold jewelry are the essence of “quiet luxury.”

To reiterate Kochik’s point within the article, why Ocasio-Cortez’s and most politicians’ acts of solidarity feel so hollow, even to their own base. The presentation of effort is made, but, much like the transition between “quiet” and screaming-from-the-rooftops-luxury, no real, tangible difference is found. Perhaps it is easier to procure a black turtleneck rather than Louboutins; however, even then, there is an immediate difference in brand, price and quality. Extending beyond the immediate clothing item, vast amounts of wealth and greed continue to exist, the wealth gap widens and the hospitality of our world is further breached. “Quiet luxury” offers a costume to don, while those in power continually strip away any real avenues for economic mobility. 

As economic inequality increases, there is less tolerance for the general lavishness that marred the late 2010s. Rich folks must be more obscured in their positioning as a means of temporarily circumventing “backlash,” otherwise known as real, genuine calls for equitable taxing practices so, as Kochik writes: “People can live better lives.” 


Alexis Stakem is a second-year English major with a minor in Social Work Concepts.

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