Remember the last time I was busy getting offended by things on the internet?  Wasn’t that fun?  You’re welcome:

I don’t like the #firstworldproblems hashtag.  I also dislike it as a meme nor am I keen on old-fangled saying it out loud with one’s mouth.

For those of you living like, under a rock in Swaziland, this is what I mean:

(Click to enlarge because I failed.)

FWP 1.1

FWP 2.2

FWP 3.3

We know the purpose of Twitter is to whine, muse, spoil TV shows, and talk about snacks, and we happily participate in these things.  That copy of Ulysses won’t tweet us its breakfast and subsequent bowel movement, but we don’t want anything to do with it.  It’s long and heavy and OMG I think I just saw Tony Danza at a nail salon.

Tweet tweet.

I’m not trying to say that the frivolous things in our lives are unworthy.  The little stuff connects us, helps us relate to each other, strengthens friendships and relationships.  No one likes my jokes except for that one person who does and that’s a thing we share!  It’s nice, okay?

A skeleton walked into a bar.  He ordered a beer and a mop.

My primary problem with the FWP hashtag/meme is that it paints a one dimensional picture of whomever it excludes.

Now, an interlude of lay-woman’s history blather:

The terms “first world” and “third world” don’t really mean what they used to mean.

They were first used during The Cold War.  The Cold War, everybody.  This isn’t ancient history.  These are terms we made-up to describe allied countries.

First world: NATO
Second world: Communist Bloc
Third world: Everybody Else

Everybody.  This includes the entire continent of Africa, Central and South America, and most of southern Asia and the middle east.

globe divided large

We don’t use “second world” very often now.  First and third world no longer describe a political division of countries, they most often describe those-who-have and those-who-have-not.  Rich versus poor.  Developed versus undeveloped.

There are practical reasons to distinguish between the first and third world.  There is an enormous gap of wealth between the world’s rich and poor countries.  “Third world” refers to countries that lack economic development and infrastructure.  Infant mortality is high, life expectancy is low.  People die of treatable diseases.  Poverty is pervasive.  We’ve tried to find new ways of describing these countries like “developing nations” and “the global South”.  “Third world” has fallen out of favor not only because it no longer bears connection to its established meaning, because its current usage is often pejorative.

Returning to my original point and if you’ve made it this far gah-bless you: The FWP hashtag/meme paints a one dimensional picture of whomever it excludes.

Here in the first world: Memes and stuff!  Tweet tweet.  In the third world well, I don’t know, but I think diseases?  Wars?  Tribes?  And like a lot of general dying.

It encourages people in their thinking of the third world as a monolith.

A monolith: “Something suggestive of a large block of stone, as in immovability, massiveness, or uniformity.”

Poor, starving, violent, isolated, tribal, warring, dismal, sad, dirty.

In reality the third world encompasses vastly different types of societies, religions, and economies.  In reality citizens of third world countries discuss TV shows, quote song lyrics, swear at their sports teams, break their cell phone screens, write bad poetry in their awkward years, spoil the family pet, endure bad hair days, gossip, get dumped, paint their nails, lose their car keys, cry over pop stars, and use Twitter.

Yes, there are places where people don’t have cell phones or computers or cars.  There are places where people don’t have running water or enough food to eat.  The reality of global poverty deserves our attention. Not, however, in such a way that exempts those who experience it from being dynamic individuals.  i.e. If you’re poor, you’re poor, and that’s all you are.

Why use the FWP hash tag?  What does it add?  Why does it make people feel amused instead of uncomfortable?  What implications does it make about “our world” versus “their world”?

“Discussing the life expectancy of my nail polish while at once acknowledging the suffering of billions”?

“Privileged to spend my brainpower on boys and make-up because a lion is not chasing me”?

Congratulations, you are one of the majority of everyone on Earth not being chased by a lion.

I suppose that some people use it in attempt to acknowledge the silliness of their thought or complaint.

Saying something like #pettyproblems would imply, “I am aware that there are worse things than what I am experiencing.”

#firstworldproblems implies, “I deem this a privileged experience, only fathomable by others of my same socioeconomic status.”


This is now much longer than commentary on a hashtag should be.  Bear with me for a few more thoughts.

If you, like me, have ever found yourself cringing at a tween, teenager, or young adult tweeting something ‘silly’ and tagging it #firstworldproblems, there’s a reason for that.  It should feel bad, because it’s a bad message- particularly on a social platform dominated by our youth.

The more we think of ourselves as isolated in our experiences and the more we make a caricature of this massive portion of our globe, the smaller it becomes and the less we have to think about it.

Civil war. #notmyproblem

Culture war. #notmyproblem

Genocide.  #notmyproblem

Dropped my iPhone. #notyourprivilege

Line at Starbucks. #notyourprivilege

Broke a heel. #notyourprivilege

Are we cringing now?

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5 Responses to #Soapbox

  1. Paul says:

    Preach it, sister!

  2. Jason says:

    “Poor, starving, violent, isolated, tribal, warring, dismal, sad, [and] dirty,” is sadly a pretty reasonable description of most of the third, and even formerly second worlds, anecdotes to the contrary aside. Celebrating the “diverse” cultures and economies in Central Africa or the Near East actually distorts our understanding of the third world more than celebrating American/Western privilege does. If the FWP hashtag serves to remind people of their fortune in being born in the First world, than that seems worthwhile. If only our “social platform” was to embrace those policies which have created our privilege in the first place, we would be doing even better–and so would they. More importantly, if the third world would embrace those polices which made us wealthier than them (and abandon the policies that have made them backwards hellholes), they would be more like us. Maybe not “culturally,” but certainly in terms of health and human welfare. Instead, the shift towards centralized government in the western world is bringing with it the first sustained period of increasing global poverty since WWII.

  3. Pingback: Off Week | BroCast News

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