During my lifetime I have noticed that people gain entertainment from administering and hearing about complaints. The purpose of Yelp initially was to help people find great local businesses in their area; however, Yelp is more known for complaints from customers who write – at length – an epideictic on why this business is no good. In this essay I will introduce the meme “First World Problems” and its predecessor #FirstWorldProblems. First World Problems saw a boom in 2011 when people started to share their daily trivial problematic experiences across social media. It is important to first define what first world problems mean on internet and what it refers to. According to the website Know Your Meme, “first world problems,” refers to a meme lampooning complaint by western citizens about problems that only arrive “in the first world” and thus appear radically (and humorously) insignificant relative to problems in the “second – or third-worlds.
This phenomenon started as a meme and through communication morphed into a subreddit, a community identity and a way of sharing absurd news across different social networking platforms. Before I can explain why this is significant, I will first give a brief history and origin of the term “first world problems” and its effective communication tactics. The very term “first world” is anachronistic, which means that it no longer is a term that is appropriate during the current time period. This out-of-date term plays into the irony of “first world problems” by adding an undertone of humor in the sense that our problems were not real problems 50 or 60 years ago. According to the online meme database, “Know Your Meme”, “first World Problems, also known as “White Whine,” are frustrations and complaints that are only experienced by privileged individuals in wealthy countries.
It is typically used as a tongue-in-cheek comedic device to make light of trivial inconveniences.” A Something Awful comedy goldmine post titled “#firstworldproblems” complaining about twitter received several pages worth of comments with various first world problems jokes followed by the hashtag. This is where the hashtag saw its first hike on Twitter. In 2011, American stand-up comic Louis C.K. released his third comedy album titled “Hilarious,” which featured a skit about the extreme gap between the grievances of first world citizens living in over-developed societies – which he dubbed “white people problems,” and the day-to-day struggles experienced by people living in countries that are considered to be of the “Third World”. The /r/firstworldproblems subreddit was created in 2011, and additional examples can be found under this tag on Twitter.
The First World is a term associated with already developed countries and their citizens. In Contrast, the Third World is a term coined in 1952 by French anthropologist Alfred Sauvy to define countries that did not take part in either capitalism or communism. Over the years, it gradually gained a negative connotation, being associated with poverty and a country being underdeveloped. While there are several other images that relate to first world problems, the most common is a picture of a white women will tears streaming down her face. The top and bottom parts of the image are filled with whatever trivial issue is at stake. While many people use this tag to refer to issues only people with a higher socio-economic status have, others have taken to mock these wealthier people. On a website called Quick Meme, there are several memes that mock first world problems, Figure 1 is the following example, “I hate my government, But I live too comfortably to get motivated enough to do anything about it”.
This has 1,095,077 shares from quick meme to Facebook, Twitter, Google +, and Pinterest. In this instance, the meme is used to make fun of someone whom the reader can assume is privileged in some way and perhaps is idle in social activism. Another trending meme for first world problems is the same macro image and the words, “I wish my family wasn’t so rich, then maybe I could have a poor persons work ethic like you” this is meant to insult a person of lower socio-economic status, but it also is humorous because it mocks people of higher socio-economic status by complaining about something only someone who was rich would complain about.
There are different ways to approach this concept, but this type of concept is trolling or privilege checking because it is created by someone else. If you are the one posting it about yourself, it isn’t offensive. But, if it is pointed at someone else, then it is trolling. This kind of trolling is a type of one-upspersonship. If I say, “first world problems,” after hearing you complain about something trivial, then I am essentially saying that I am morally better than you, mostly because I can think about other people other than myself. The Twitter section for #firstworldproblems is full of trolls. Twitter’s ‘news’ section of #firstworldproblems posits a very important tactic of epideictic; the opportunity for lulz while exposing the absurd wealth of westerners creates an echo chamber.
The meme presents a form of constitutive rhetoric in which the community that encounters this image relates to the text and then shares it with their circle. The subreddit /r/first world problems is a place where people post their day-to-day issues that are trivial but still noteworthy. This concept is persuasive because the reader already understands and relates to the content. The reader relates because they, too experience trivial problems that may not be as monumental as poverty in Gaza, but still interrupts the conveniences of our well-structured lifestyles. During my search for #firstworldproblems, tactics of blame circulated viciously on twitter and overwhelmingly wholesome praise circulated on reddit.
The notion of “praise or blame” is evident; the subreddit ‘first world problems’ provides a platform where redditers praise the shared problem because they also have experienced this issue, or at least sympathize with the post. The news section on twitter of this hashtag is full of the antagonistic, blaming users who point out the selfishness of westerners. Most of the content here is recent news about a rich person, country or issue and the point is to show the absurdity of material wealth in a sarcastic tone. For example: on twitter posted an article by NPR in which Germany stated that the beer consumption is up, and it means bad news for the beer industry. The article is about The Demand for beer in Germany being so high that they’re running out of beer bottles. This person belittles the problem by being sarcastic, and you know they are being sarcastic by adding #firstworldproblems, which allows the reader to recognize that the tweet is mocking the article.
The significance of understanding the meme turned hashtag is that this is how we relate to each other and connect over the internet. The echo chamber that is created on the twitter hashtag verifies people’s technical image of western problems. The hashtag connects people over twitter who experience minor inconveniences that disrupt their life momentarily and while it may seem trivial, connecting with others and feeling validated in your feelings is an integral part of human communication. It also provides a platform for putting the spotlight on news that is not news, but merely a complaint about wealth.
The circulated epideictic of “first world problems” is crucial to identity in my opinion. The content not only portrays humorous situations that are relatable, it also continuously sheds light on the absurdity of material wealth westerners have, it is humbling and thought provoking. In conclusion, “first world problems” is a concept that is relatable in both structure and content. The meme “first world problems” with the depiction of a crying white woman might seem like a self-deprecating joke, but its function is to share personal daily problems that might seemingly be trivial and yet still connect users because of the relatability.
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