Jason Sudeikis Wearing A Hoodie To The Zoom Golden Globes Says A Lot About Society

A year ago today, most people had never heard of Zoom. The NBA had not shut down its season indefinitely yet, an “Oh, shit!” moment that let America know that this coronavirus thing we’d been hearing about for a couple months was actually something we’d have to worry about, at least for a couple weeks. Just one person in America had died of the illness. Things have changed socially at an unprecedented pace — over 500,000 people have died, protests against police brutality and racism have come, captivated the world, gone, and been forgotten, a presidential election and mini-attempted revolution have happened, and it would seem that rules for televised video chat award show etiquette have calcified so quickly that we can draw conclusions about gender equality from what a man and woman were wearing to the very first one.

This sort of thinking echoes the controversy from January about the fact that Bernie Sanders wore a winter coat and mittens to the inauguration of Joe Biden while many of the women in attendance, including Kamala Harris (making history as the first woman and first woman of color to be sworn in as either president of vice president) wore more sophisticated clothing. While there is a kernel of truth in saying that if, say, Susan Collins had worn rumpled clothing to the inauguration like Bernie did (and always does) she would have been criticized, there is probably less truth in saying that, for example, Amy Poehler would have drawn more criticism than Sudeikis for wearing the same outfit.

Even if that were not the case, there are some illuminating things about this mini-controversy and the one surrounding Sanders. The first is that it’s incredibly easy to find someone to be mad at or make fun of. The tweet I linked above has roughly 8,000 retweets — not exactly mega-viral, just popular enough for people who think it’s dumb to find it. The same was true in the case of Sanders. There were articles written in nominally trustworthy news sources, but there’s no realer way to draw conclusions about how popular these lines of thinking are in a broader context from a couple thousand people complaining on Twitter than there is to draw conclusions about how people dress for video conference Hollywood award shows from two people choosing to go different routes the first time one happened.

Maybe Amanda Seyfried just wanted an excuse to get dressed up after a year in quarantine! Wouldn’t saying she only did so because of Society strip her of her agency as a woman who can make choices for herself? Isn’t that annoying to read? Isn’t it pretty much inconclusive unless you start from one position or the other?

So we can’t draw any sweeping conclusions about what either “look at how this man dressed, doesn’t it prove a point about privilege?” point of discussion means for society at large. What we can say, however, is that there exists in some people an instinct to see inequality and address it by trying to make things worse for people. That’s the other illuminating thing. There are, to be sure, double standards for how men and women should dress at awards shows or other professional events. These criticism seem to be saying that means that men should have to dress better rather than that women should be allowed to dress down more without criticism. To make that happen, we will make sure that Sanders and Sudeikis are properly criticized to attempt to recreate the shaming that women would endure if they hypothetically dressed incorrectly.

This is harmless in these two scenarios. Who cares if some people are mean to a senator and a movie star because they don’t like their coat or sweatshirt? Honestly, more people should be mean to senators, ideally about their work rather than their clothes, but whatever. The instinct quickly gets harmful when leaving the realm of celebrity fashion, though.

Take for example the rush among politicians and media members to make sure that the guy who blew up an RV in Nashville and the people who stormed the Capitol in Washington, DC on January 6th were labelled terrorists, and to suggest enacting laws that would expand the definitions or terrorism and allow more people to be treated by the state as terrorists. That instinct — to make sure that awful white people are subjected to the same bad treatment as brown people rather than making brown people less subject to bad treatment — is the same: make things more equal by making them worse for more people instead of better for the people things are already bad for.

It’s not a new instinct. When Cliven and Ammon Bundy and their band of followers were arrested following a long armed standoff over the Bundy’s unpaid grazing fees on federally owned land in Oregon, and when Dylann Roof was arrested for shooting up a black church in South Caroline, they were taken in by law enforcement alive, without violence. Compare this to how Eric Garner (to pick one example from the countless that are unfortunately available was killed for selling cigarettes and it’s understandable to think: if Garner was killed for that, then the Bundy’s and Roof should have been killed for their crimes. Instead, the thinking should be that Garner shouldn’t have been killed for his. Less violence should be the goal, not equitable violence.

Equality is an admirable goal, as long as the equality is a matter of making life better for everyone rather than an end in an of itself. Whether that means women wearing more comfortable clothing in professional situations without criticism or black and brown people not being subjected to otherwise extrajudicial interrogation and captivity because they’re perceived as more likely to be a terrorist, it’s important that nominal equality not be the enemy of a better world.