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Did it make sense to daub the Gucci tree in Milan?

Actually not much, the brand however was able to give a correct answer

Did it make sense to daub the Gucci tree in Milan?  Actually not much, the brand however was able to give a correct answer

The latest controversy at the end of 2023 was perhaps also the most public: Ultima Generazione activists targeted Gucci's Christmas tree in the Vittorio Emanuele II gallery in Milan, calling it an unacceptable symbol of luxury. The activists vandalized the tree with orange paint, protesting against "the flaunting and elevation of luxury as a symbol of a city where students cannot afford rent" and expressing opposition to "the world they sell us as achievable, which it is not. The system we live in is not sustainable, neither economically nor ecologically," calling for a "repair fund for the damages of climate catastrophes." The activists displayed a banner with the inscription "Repair Funds," highlighting the complicity of luxury multinationals and the government in an economic model that favors a small elite. They asked when the government will start caring for the poor instead of the rich. Shortly after, Gucci responded, choosing to "not intervene and use the incident as an opportunity for collective reflection. Active for years in promoting constructive dialogue, Gucci thus confirms its commitment to raising awareness in the community on these issues, emphasizing that shared responsibility should never translate into violent or vandalistic acts." Sometimes the simplest solution is truly the most elegant. But who is right in this case?

@trulyinast da #milano è tutto signore e signori #climatechange #climateaction #guccitreemilano original sound - Athena Sota

If the cause championed by Ultima Generazione activists is of absolute and primary importance, and if almost every form of public activism has always involved some form of shock tactic, it must be said that targeting Gucci and its tree proved to be a gesture certainly visible but perhaps superficial. Firstly, because it mixes the awareness of climate change with a very generic desire for social revenge in a "hot" moment when due to the economic stagnation characterizing Italian society and the not-so-excellent conditions of its economy, intolerance towards the caste of the affluent and powerful is really skyrocketing. The risk is to create a political minestrone of disparate demands (environment, economic policies, high rents in Milan, the mayor's actions) for which a blank check from the government is certainly not the solution. Secondly, because the activists themselves may ignore that Gucci specifically and Kering as the parent company are actually quite attentive to sustainability: it would have been better to target with paint the many shop windows of fast fashion stores or even the many brands that, precisely because they are not luxury, have a greater distribution and ecological footprint. In the fight against climate change, the real villain is not fashion but the various Sheins, Temus, and the like - one could almost say that Gucci's production doesn't even come close to the frightening global volumes and the staggering level of emissions produced by fast-fashion brands that fill the windows along Corso Vittorio Emanuele II.

Lastly, Ultima Generazione's protest missed the mark because if a certain target is hit for sensationalism, it will remain at the level of sensationalism: it is true that one must make noise, but one thing is the trend of the national economy, and another is the collaborations between the municipality of Milan (which, let's remember, cannot redistribute wealth with a magic wand) and the fashion brands that actually fuel the city's economy, its tourist traffic, exports, and even its job market. The same "rich" people populating the fashion boutiques so hated by the protesters are largely foreigners. In this sense, it would have been more appropriate to vandalize a target with more "civic" symbolism, given that Gucci, besides being an Italy-based brand owned by a French group, had also provided decorations for the city's outskirts this year, wanting to demonstrate not only thinking about dazzling the residents of Monte Napoleone but also acting in good faith. It could also be added that the shouting and demonstrative activism in the streets only in a few cases (often at the cost of violent degenerations) manages to penetrate the high chambers of politics. Even to gain attention and public support, it might be better to try to engage with society based on a more serious, thoughtful, and rational dialogue: we are all concerned about the climate, but the first obstacle that prevents us from starting a conversation about it is the absurd partisanship surrounding the topic, consumed in the obsessive denialism of one side and the somewhat empty performativism of the other. On the Internet, these activists speak of "resistance" as if there were an invader on national territory: who are they resisting? The elderly attendees of a Christmas Mass? The truck drivers who will now be late due to a blocked road? The underpaid guard at a museum who will now have to clean the paint? Not to mention that cleaning that paint causes a waste of many liters of water. The thrill that this resistance seems to seek is that of iconoclasm - a symptom of a generation that no longer feels at home in this world. And at least on this point, we can say that the feeling is shared. But the methods simply do not work.

The very existence of such heated protests aimed at causing easy sensation is already a symptom of a dialogue between the square and the palace that is so difficult and unreachable that it needs such demonstrations to be realized. It's a bit like bombarding someone with messages who doesn't want to respond, hoping to break their patience. There is no trust in official communication channels (and frankly, how can you trust a political system that is so slow, cumbersome, and Byzantine?) and in the effectiveness of the solutions undertaken, so these flamboyant protests are relied upon in the hope of attracting the attention of regulators immersed in infinitely more pressing issues. Recently, one of these activists even interrupted a Christmas Mass - but for what purpose? What result other than making oneself unpleasant to everyone present? Also exposing themselves to the instrumentalization of the opposing side that can now portray them as nuisances, disrespectful intruders. From a purely PR standpoint, it certainly doesn't help that these demonstrations are colored by such heightened emotionality (who remembers Giorgia "Ecoansia" Vas aperna at the Giffoni Film Festival?) which is the first factor in creating distrust in the opposing political side, which, let's remember, should be persuaded and not antagonized, presenting itself first and foremost as a mature political voice open to a dialogue where a common ground can be found. The enthusiasm of the younger and politically active is something precious, but it would be useful to channel these energies into a more authentically effective approach and abandon street pickets and demonstrations that not only lead to greater resistance from those who should listen but also frame the activists themselves in an attitude characterized by some illusions about how the world should go. But if we continue to complain and raise dust clouds, we will never move beyond the stage of lamentation.

Just as the misbehavior of a difficult teenager represents a cry for help and should therefore evoke concern and empathetic attention from those responsible, these protests signal to the political world what the public mood is like. Those against this type of activism should not close their ears but realize that it is an expression of real discomfort and a real problem, overcoming the impatience and desensitization caused also by the media and their obsessive, pounding coverage aimed precisely at eliciting reactions of anger or impatience from those who perceive the issue of climate change with less urgency. It becomes more worrying when the fight for a good cause is mixed with the abstract concept of "class struggle", which is a valid interpretation model of events but does not account for the realistic and very complex geopolitical, historical, and economic issues that characterize the course of the Italian and global economy. This without mentioning how the solution proposed by the activists is the "Repair Funds," that is, another form of assistance or handout that works based on a refund logic that does not touch the specifics of really challenging and complex economic policies that no one seems ready to tackle with precise rationality and realistic plans. Years later, we have not moved from Greta Thunberg's "How dare you?" It can easily be seen how rhetorical tactics, devoid of an authentic and structured political plan, yield no results other than renewed attention, eco-anxiety, and impatience.

More than paint on paintings and installations, and more than people glued to the floor or asphalt, in short, we would need serious and prepared political figures, or political movements (not just youth) capable of inserting themselves into the dialogue of powers and advancing mature proposals without counterintuitive and self-indulgent clamor. But above all, we would need a culture of public debate that is less partisan and less immersed in the condition of post-truth that now defines every form of public information.