How the Met Gala Catalyzed a “Celebrity Block Party”

On the night of May 6, between dress adjustments, pearl placements, and camera flashes at the controversial Met Gala, 27 protesters were arrested on the Upper East Side during a pro-Palestine demonstration while Israeli forces seized the Rafah crossing that displaced Palestinians relied on for their evacuation to Egypt. In response to the celebrity silence on Gaza coupled with the garish display of wealth at the fundraising event, many people have started promoting the “Celebrity Block Party” as a means of separating themselves from the distractions and extractive nature of consumer culture.

The online campaign, also referred to as the “Celebrity Block List” or “Celebrity Blockout 2024,” is exactly what it says it is — a social media blocking spree targeting entertainers and influencers who have either shown explicit support for Israel or haven’t said a word about Gaza since October 7. Though fans have been pressuring various celebrities to speak up about Palestinian suffering for over six months now, the Block Party came about after an influencer named Haley Kalil, who was invited to interview Gala attendees outside of one of the main hotels, posted a video of herself lip-synching to a popular TikTok sound that included the phrase “let them eat cake” — the infamous and probably apocryphal words said to have been uttered by French Queen Marie Antoinette to starving peasants.

Though Kalil’s video has been deleted and she’s apologized for using that specific TikTok sound, people worldwide have decided that the Met Gala was the final straw and are using the block button as a “digital guillotine” or “digitine,” so to speak. Hyperallergic caught up with June Johnson and Nick Lancellotti, two activists with We The People (WTP), one of the resistance movements behind the Met Gala protest last week, to learn more about the Block Party and its effects.

“We’ve seen this happen cyclically throughout history — when you have too much of the haves and the have-nots, the bourgeoisie are the first ones to be on the chopping block,” Johnson explained. “That, coupled with the fact that we now know from the Super Bowl and other events that Israel will time their worst attacks when they know Americans will be the most distracted helped people to center the de-centering of the Met Gala.”

Though there are plenty floating around on the internet with varying degrees of fact-checking and specificity, WTP’s initial block list starts with all high-profile Gala attendees as, in Johnson’s perspective, everyone at the lavish party is complicit to some degree considering that the event coincided with Israel’s escalation in Rafah.

Johnson underscored that the blocking spree is just one of many layers in digital activism and that everyone’s block list will look a little bit different. There’s even an anonymous Instagram account trying to catalyze an art world block party. In its infancy, the online campaign seems disjointed with so many lists floating around, but TikTok disability blogger and activist Imani Barbarin presents the motion in a more streamlined and actionable manner.

Regarding parasocial or one-sided relationships between fans and celebrities, and certain fanbases’ allegiance to “separating the art from the artist” in order to keep enjoying a specific person’s creative output, Johnson explained that the Block Party is meant to help bring people out of their comfort zone and create a space for difficult conversations.

“We understand if you feel torn or in a hard space if your favorite singer or actor is on the block list, but also we urge you to just continue reflecting on this and continue reflecting on why your attachment to them might feel more important than the movement itself,” she continued.

Lancellotti mentioned that parasocial relationships with famous people are “abusive” in the sense that “celebrities don’t know who we are on a personal level, but they get their revenue from our attention and our focus.”

Lancellotti acknowledged the difficulty of distancing oneself from artists in particular, considering art’s role in informing and conveying human emotion. He reiterated that there’s space to come to terms with shutting out your favorite celebrity, but underscored that “revolution isn’t found in mainstream art,” highlighting the folk singers during the Vietnam War as a specific example.

Some criticisms of the Block Party ask what the point is in targeting the entertainment and consumer industries rather than elected officials, to which Johnson and Lancellotti both explained that simply focusing on the latter evidently hasn’t been fruitful in the last seven months, and that politics and entertainment feed into each other. Remember when Cardi B interviewed Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 election? Remember who gets invited to various events at the White House?

“Celebrities have a direct line to politicians, and we want to galvanize their platforms to help push the movement further,” Johnson elaborated. “And celebrities are much more pliable than politicians.”

But until then, we’re being asked to put pressure on the elites by removing the platform we gave them in the first place through our attention. The Block Party is more than just tuning out distractions— it has the power to impact the algorithm and the marketing efforts that feed us celebrity content based on our interactions.

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