As cultural activities have begun drawing crowds again after the Covid-19 abyss of 2020, masks and other protocols have been a work in progress — especially when red carpets are involved.
Real Time host Bill Maher, during tonight’s panel segment on the show, criticized what he saw as a disconnect at this week’s Met Gala in New York. He flashed on the screen a number of photos from the glitzy event showing maskless guests being attended to by staffers who were wearing masks. Maher said these kinds of tableaux are becoming common in 2021 as people navigate the return to norms that feel anything but normal.
“I noticed something” in the gala photos, Maher said, “that I’ve seen, having been to a few parties since the pandemic began, and that is, the people going to the parties don’t wear masks. But the servers wear masks. There’s something about this that’s not liberal to me. These are the liberal swells of the world. But if we’re all vaccinated, do the germs know who the good people are?! It seems a little wrong.”
Panelist Dan Savage, the writer and podcaster, agreed it seemed “a little security-theater-y” and said “you’re not going to get any pushback from me.” But he setting aside the optics, he proceeded to advocate the “devil’s advocate” view that at least a degree of mask wearing in group settings does limit Covid transmission.
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“But, ‘let’s just make the help wear the mask’?” Maher replied. “That’s the liberal approach?”
When Savage again pointed out that a large amount of scientific research supports the notion that masks are effective at reducing viral spread, Maher responded, “Yes – that’s why surgeons wear them.” He noted that the San Francisco Marathon recently decided to require runners to wear masks while competing in the race. “Now, that is just powerful stupid,” he said. Maher, who has been vaccinated but still had a symptom-free bout with Covid last spring, has not spoken out against masks as a general safety measure on his show. But he has grumbled about them often and in particular has questioned the wearing of them outdoors, including a related crack in tonight’s opening monologue.
Panelist Gillian Tett, an author and Financial Times journalist, said the spectacle at the Met Gala made her recall her studies of anthropology. “I care a lot about signals and the signals they send,” she said. “Having pictures of celebrities without masks next to servers who are wearing masks doesn’t send the right signal about community responsibility.”
Savage despaired, “I wish we could have a critique about masks that doesn’t go to a place where people don’t end up not wearing them on airplanes and assaulting flight attendants.”
One Met Gala guest who came in for additional criticism from Maher was Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She wore a white gown emblazoned with red letters spelling out the slogan “Tax the rich,” causing a stir by taking her political cause to a new arena. Maher groused that New York City’s richest 65,000 residents paid 51% of all city taxes collected last year. “They pay taxes,” he said. “It’s not like we don’t tax the rich at all.”
Savage and Tett both came back strongly at the host on that point, noting the rise of income inequality and other flaws in his argument. Maher held firm and soon segued into a comic bit imagining what messages other hypothetical Gala attendees had printed on their attire. (Examples included Lori Laughlin, “Get into any college – ask me how!” and Melania Trump, “Eat the poor.”)