Monday, October 27, 2014

On First World Problems

One of the best pieces of marital advice I ever heard was in a recap of an episode of Friday Night Lights over at the late, lamented Television Without Pity.  The advice: in a marriage, it's OK to be a jerk to your spouse so long as you know you're being a jerk.  In other words, sometimes you're tired and you feel fat and you're worried about money and the sound of that televised football game is just cutting through you like a knife and so you say something shitty to your husband about the football game but you are aware that your husband should get to watch football without your shitty comments so you present said shitty comment in such a way as to let your husband know that you know you're being a jerk.  In that way, you're getting it out, and your husband feels free to let it go because he knows you know.

That's marriage.  All the old marrieds know just what I mean.

When the hashtag #firstworldproblems first came up, it served a similar purpose.  A person would make a FB status update or send a tweet complaining about something while making it clear that even as they were complaining, they were aware that they were enormously privileged to have this problem.  It's frustrating to get the wrong coffee after standing in a long line at Starbucks.  It's amazing to have the income and the access to $4 coffee.

But somewhere over the last few months #firstworldproblems has morphed from a way someone makes evident their own privilege to judgy invective hurled outward.

This, I think, makes the whole hashtag a lot less valuable.  The petty annoyances of modern first world life are petty.  But they are also annoying.  And a person can be annoyed without being an asshole; can be annoyed while being aware that their life is pretty good.

There are times when it's right to call someone out on for being an asshole.  Here's a good one:

But if you respond to someone bitching on Twitter that they spent 15 minutes in line and then the barista gave them a Macchiato when they'd ordered an Americano (those are things, right?  I think coffee tastes like butt so I don't suffer long lines at Starbucks) with "#firstworldproblems," it's not so much that you're being sympathetic to the plight of third worlders as you're just being morally superior. 

And that doesn't help anyone.

Let's take #firstworldproblems back as a knowingly self-deprecating hashtag. That was good.  And the next time you feel like calling some stranger out for being shallow, make sure your own house is clean first.  Did you get hella pissed the last time someone took 17 items through the 10 items or less? Did you lean hard on your horn when that woman cut you off?  We all do it.  And we should all have room to admit it.  Ourselves.