HEAVY LIFT­ING

The gowns are as el­e­ganT as ever, buT Is IT TIme To say bye-bye To The black-TIe char­ITy ball?

Town & Country (Philippines) - - CONTENTS / AUGUST - By Wed­nes­day Mar­tin

The gowns are as el­e­gant as ever (see: Hi­lary Rhoda), but is it time to say bye-bye to the black-tie char­ity ball?

Taxes. Pri­vate school tu­ition. Mo­bile car de­tail­ing ser­vices. Add to the list of re­al­i­ties that peo­ple in par­tic­u­lar zip codes and in­come brack­ets in ma­jor metropoli­tan cen­ters can­not avoid: galas.

Like al­ler­gies, galas are sea­sonal. They emerge with the for­sythia, ebb a bit in sum­mer, and hit hard again in the fall. And there is no cure. No mat­ter how much they com­plain about spend­ing X nights out in a sin­gle week, lament that mul­ti­ple com­mit­tee obli­ga­tions are killing them, or be­moan the num­ber of friends they’re obliged to ca­jole into buy­ing ta­bles—and buy ta­bles from, in a bizarre twist on what evo­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­o­gists call “re­cip­ro­cal al­tru­ism”—the phi­lan­thropists keep do­ing it.

“Plenty of peo­ple who aren’t re­li­gious still go to church or cel­e­brate the high holy days,” Richard Kir­shen­baum, the au­thor of Isn’t

That Rich: Life Among the 1%, ex­plained when I called him to get to the bot­tom of our re­fusal to let galas go.

Like re­li­gious rites, galas have a for­mula, af­ter all. Hon­orees are cho­sen for their abil­ity to pony up—and to fill a room with the usual list of con­specifics: friends, col­leagues, the en­vi­ous, and the cu­ri­ous. They hope to do busi­ness or ce­ment a con­nec­tion by sup­port­ing the hon­oree’s cause. Or they just aim to climb the town’s so­cial hi­er­ar­chy while do­ing good, log­ging one step at a time on their Phil­an­thropic Phit­bits (when such a thing is in­vented, I call dibs on the IP).

If lun­cheons are still for ladies only, galas make an ef­fort to in­clude guys. And for good rea­son: Much of the time, if ob­ser­va­tion serves, it is he who holds the auc­tion pad­dle like a swing­ing dick, declar­ing that, yes, he can af­ford to over­bid on this frac­tional jet share or bot­tle of Scream­ing Ea­gle. Such OTT is never de trop. While it’s a way to keep galas fresh and fight back against for­mula fa­tigue, rais­ing the stakes can be de­sen­si­tiz­ing. “Ri­hanna per­formed at the last Robin Hood, so I fig­ured Bey­oncé was go­ing to be telling all the hed­gies to get in for­ma­tion this year,” one wag ob­served when I asked for her sea­soned thoughts.

Why do we still do it? In an age when we can raise mil­lions via the ALS Ice Bucket Chal­lenge and GoFundMe and Kick­starter, when we don’t feel it’s real if we’re not In­sta­gram­ming it, maybe show­ing up feels some­how retro, tan­gi­ble, gen­uine.

And there’s prece­dent. More than three decades ago Felix Ro­hatyn spoke out against the phil­an­thropic pot­latch par­a­digm in a speech at the City Club, say­ing that “it is in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to find money for less glam­orous needs.” Why not write a check to the char­ity of one’s choice, skip­ping all the ex­pen­di­ture of en­ergy and end­less fa­vorite-play­ing, he sug­gested. His event-hop­ping peers were not amused. Ro­hatyn and wife Eliz­a­beth learned that re­buk­ing New York’s hal­lowed so­cial prac­tices could get you hissed out of Dou­bles. Eliz­a­beth re­signed from a fundrais­ing post at Sloan-Ket­ter­ing be­cause she be­came, in her words, “con­tro­ver­sial.” Ahead of his time, Ro­hatyn had to do three backpedal­ing in­ter­views with the New York

Times to ac­knowl­edge the fis­sure—or risk so­cial death. Galas are an en­trenched cul­tural prac­tice, but they have had to make con­ces­sions in the age of Snapchat. Tech­nol­ogy is now part of the evening—from iPads on ta­bles to tex­ting dur­ing trib­utes. (“There’s less shush­ing when hon­orees talk be­cause at­ten­dees are glued to their phones,” one gala plan­ner told me, in a re­signed tone.)

One ti­tan of fi­nance con­fided, “No one re­ally wants to at­tend a gala. Even less if I have to change into a tuxedo—not for at­tri­bu­tion!” he said, prov­ing that dress codes have re­laxed but ad­her­ence to strict so­cial codes—crit­i­cize them at your peril—has not.

As we re­pair to our sum­mer habi­tats, event stan­dards are re­laxed. “Is it sit-down?” I asked a friend about a char­ity-in­flected event last month. “God, no. I wouldn’t do that to you,” she said in mock hor­ror. At least not un­til the fall.

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