Saturday, 20 October 2012

Dusting off the soap box...

Recently there's been this tendency amongst people I know, in real life and on the internet, to come out with the phrase "first world problems", from some internet meme that's really taken off. I find this troublesome. I've tried to explain this to people a couple of times now, but I'm an English student, and frankly I do better when I have some time to think and write things down. (Read: when I can make revisions later.) So here's my two cents.

The Postcolonialist in me takes issue with the whole idea of "First World". It seems to me it is actually an outdated mode of thinking. Mostly because it refers to a cold war state where the First World was Northern America, Western Europe and a couple of other places here and there who were capitalist, and (at least outwardly) largely democratic, the Second World was the Communist Block, and the Third World was ... everywhere else... Clearly there are several issues with the Three Worlds mode: firstly, with the end of the Cold War there is no second world and so the definition of third world becomes even more dubious than it was before, secondly, the "third world" lumps together a whole bunch of different countries with hugely different living conditions, and most of all, the system of numbering imposes a sense of hierarchy which seems hugely arrogant.

My main objection though, is that it seems to me as though what the main point of what is actually being said is "middle class problems". There are plenty of people living in so called "First World" countries who wish that their most serious problem is that they couldn't find a parking space close to the door, or that there is too much goats cheese in their salad. Similarly, I'm fairly sure that there are people in Africa right now wishing the TV show they want to watch was available in HD or struggling to choose between the white and black iPhone.

Also, even if you want to ignore the above, if you think about it, "#firstworldproblems" doesn't even make sense. "First World" refers to the economic and political state of a country, so either your tweet should be "couldn't find any lemon and garlic flavour humous at Waitrose #individuallivinginafirstworldcountry'sproblems" or "Mitt Romney #firstworldproblems".

Oooooh. I just went all political on yo' ass. (It doesn't count as swearing if I'm talking about a donkey....)  

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