When the garbage mountains piled up in Paris in March, a strange thing happened. Young people around the world started talking about it. For more than three weeks they watched, as the waste piled up and the stench permeated the streets of Paris.
The garbage collectors had stopped work in response to a French Government proposal to raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64. A garbage strike in Europe isn’t usually a Gen Z conversation topic on the other side of the world but as Parisiennes held their noses, TikTokers saw an opportunity. They created videos set in, around and on top of the mountains of rubbish. The trend went viral.
#paris #protest #trash
Tiktoker Lev (@yung_city_slick) captured the chaos in a humorous way, striding into and over a pile of rubbish, with the caption “nothing will keep me from moving forward”, to the soundtrack of Edith Piaf singing “non, rien de rien” (no, absolutely nothing). The video has more than 2.8 million views.
“My TikTok didn’t highlight any political problems but it made fun of them,” Lev told Newsworthy. He had not expected the video to "blow up” and had no intention of raising political awareness about the issue around the world. Rather, he wanted to give the people of Paris “something to laugh at” in a “motivational approach” to help them get through the strike.
For three weeks, everything revolved around the daily protests. Designer shops were boarded up and roads and metro stations were closed. Amid this, he admitted to “staying away” from it all.
“The point of protesting is not because of two extra years, but for fighting future battles when it gets raised two years afterwards, maybe more,” he said. “People are releasing anger, and the French way of going about things is through protesting."
Paris situation March 24th, 2023 🐀 Still la poubelle ville du monde 🚮 All jokes aside, I love Paris no matter what ✨ #parisprotest #trashtok #trashparis #parispoubelle #reformeretraite #paristok #fypparis #paristoday
“A morning walk in Paris”, another TikTok video capturing global attention, was shot by French photographer Jordan Plihal (@lapresqueparisienne), using the caption “Still la poubelle ville du monde (still the garbage can city of the world) with a rat emoji. In an email interview, the photographer explained she wanted to show the “current state of Paris”. It has been viewed 1.4 million times. “As a photographer, I found the contrast between the beauty of Paris and the disgusting trash to be fascinating.”
Plihal said it was important to show Paris from a “personal perspective” as the reality was overlooked by mainstream media and that people engaged with her video because they were “interested to see Paris in a different light”. As she used her TikTok videos to create awareness, she also shared her thoughts on the protests and pension reforms. While she doesn’t agree with the way the pension reform was passed, she does believe it is needed from an economic standpoint.
“Not only are people living longer and are in better health, but at the start of this pension system we had four active workers for each pensioner. As of 2020 this number has dropped to 1.7 active workers for every pensioner. This ratio is continuing to become more unbalanced, and if anyone of younger generations wants any pension at all by the time they retire, we need to reform the system,” she said. “Compared to the majority of countries in the world, France has amazing working conditions and benefits.”
Plihal said that it “breaks her heart” to see the “disrespect” and destruction towards Paris. She said she sympathises with the right to a “peaceful protest” but not when “it becomes dangerous for others to carry on their daily lives, or when the protestors are destroying and burning private property just to break something? … [it’s] a serious societal problem that needs to be addressed.”
As well as the physical inconvenience of piles of rubbish on the pavement, the stench was overwhelming. By the time the union called an end to the strike and the clean-up of more than 10,000 tonnes of rubbish began on April 1, “it was smelling soooo bad!” Plihal said.
For now, the stench is gone, and the attention of Gen Z TikTokers has moved on to the next trend du jour but on the streets of Paris, it may be only a temporary reprieve. The garbage collectors’ union resumed its strike on Thursday ahead of a Friday decision on the pension reform by the Constitutional Council. If the council does not rule against the reform the garbage collectors have warned they will continue their strike indefinitely.