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The Schmooze

Who invited that cockroach to the Met Gala?

The event feted Karl Lagerfeld, but it seemed as though Kafka was the guest of honor

At the Met Gala, there’s always a long roster of celebrities walking its carpet, dressed to the nines. But this year, there was an unexpected star appearance: Gregor Samsa, in full cockroach form.

In front of the crowds, the impressively large bug waltzed up the center of the carpet. “Who are you wearing?” shouted reporters from the side, just as they had done moments earlier to, say, Doja Cat, who came in a white catsuit and a somewhat bizarre cat nose, or Jared Leto, who came in a full furry cat costume, complete with enormous head. People cheered. The event’s official photographer took the roach’s picture. And then it scurried onto his shoe to gasps and shrieks from the onlookers. 

In case this is still unclear, we are talking about a real insect here, not someone dressed up as a pest. (Though perhaps those who came as cats would have enjoyed swatting at the roach, as most cats do. Unfortunately, they did not arrive at the same time.)

There are a few ways to interpret the appearance of this guest of honor. Perhaps it symbolizes the idea that the wealth and fashion that we lust over are a plague. This feels especially prescient given that this year’s Met Gala feted Karl Lagerfeld, known for his visionary designs at the helm of Chanel — and for his misogynistic, homophobic and fat-phobic comments. Perhaps God was sending a warning, like in the Passover story.

In the opening of The Metamorphosis, Kafka describes insurance salesman Gregor Samsa’s transformation into a bug, using the German word Ungeziefer. Scholars have debated its translation ever since — is it a specific insect or simply a disgusting one? But in Middle High German, it means “unclean animal not suitable for sacrifice,”  perhaps a translation of the biblical sheretz, the word for polluting creatures, contact with which requires a mikveh immersion. (Kafka was Jewish, and the grandson of a shochet, or kosher butcher.) Perhaps the Met Gala roach could be seen as a commentary on the polluting nature of high society culture, the way all the glitter, luxury and fame cover a rotten core.

Besides, what even is the Met Gala besides a navel-gazing celebration of fame? The coveted Met Gala invitation list is often seen as a who’s who of celebrity culture, a coronation of new notable people. But we only care about the Met Gala in the first place because it is largely attended by notable celebrities. It’s all rather circular and meaningless and, well, Kafkaesque.

Or perhaps I’m thinking about this too hard. Roaches, like rats, rule New York City. They make appearances at the hottest restaurants and hippest parties. They live in the most expensive neighborhoods. They’re icons. Anna Wintour probably invited the roach herself.

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