Maybe I’m a little late jumping on the band wagon, but I had a little think today about why the First World Problem Meme is so problematic. Also seen as hashtags on Twitter #firstworldproblems #fwp, it was originally known as “White Whine” (although that term is less popular), and is defined by Urban Dictionary as:
First World Problems: Problems from living in a wealthy, industrialized nation that third worlders would probably roll their eyes at.
The reason why I am thinking about this older meme is because my coworker showed me this ad recently for non profit group Water Is Life.
Basically, it shows people in developing nations surrounded by poor infrastructure, reading out tweets that are tagged as ‘first world problems.’
This is the first part as to why it is problematic. I get that the point is to illustrate that the problems in the tweets aren’t real problems, and that the people reading them have real problems. But it also comes across as a little patronizing and firmly positions the speakers as “others.” They are not us. They have “real” problems.
I won’t even delve into the terms First World and Third World because there are piles of books out there about deconstructing these terms and their colonialist implications. For argument’s sake, I’m going to use these terms because everyone knows the meaning behind each term.
So what does #fwp assume? Well, that the First World and Third World are monoliths. As in, everyone in the First World is rich and don’t have ‘real’ problems, only problems that involve maids and phones. Everyone in the Third World is poor and starving and facing rape and torture and therefore have ‘real’ problems.
Nevermind that starvation, rape, murder, and other ‘real’ problems really do happen in the First World. I could point to overwhelming statistics that illustrate massive wealth disparities in the world’s richest countries. In fact, Manhattan’s wealth disparity rivals that of Sub-Saharan Africa, a region of the so-called Third World.
And the Third World, while there is poverty, also has rich people. The rich people in the Third World usually live it up more than the rich people in the First World. See also: Imelda Marcos and her collection of shoes that would make Carrie Bradshaw have a seizure.
The Third World also has a middle class. Maybe they don’t have two routers or have heated car seats, but they aren’t exactly starving either.
So blah blah, long story short, this meme is lazy. Maybe they should call it One Percenter Meme.