Biggie said it best back in 1997 with his hit single, “Mo Money Mo Problems.” But the mantra has taken a new incarnation in a spate of racially charged trending hashtags: #whitegirlproblems and
Just this week from Davos Ariana Huffington posted the following tweet after she and Sheryl Sandberg were stranded in a remote Swiss town after weather diverted their helicopter:
FirstWorldProblems, really? I’ve lived in America my whole life and never encountered anything close to this. I’d say that’s a case of #SuperRichProblems.In attempting to be self-aware and self-deprecating, people are just calling more attention to their privileged status; drawing attention to the fact that you have the luxury to complain about your botched private helicopter trip or overdone steak at the Michelin two-star restaurant. It’s like a false attempt at self-mockery because if you really don’t think the problem is legitimate, then why are you complaining or sharing it in the first place?
Most things in life are relative. You only think you have it bad until you see the next guy who has it worse than you do. That’s why we can’t turn away from TV shows like Jersey Shore and Hoarders. If you’re rich and your private plane breaks down, in the experience of your world, that really does suck. In one sense, it’s nice of Arianna to have some perspective on how serious this really is in the scheme of things but there’s something a bit crass about the sharing of it. Like the equivalent of lunching ladies from the 50s sharing their, “You’ll never guess what the maid did again . . . ” stories.
If you’re talking about yourself all day long, which is a lot of what Twitter is, it becomes difficult not to be ironic and a bit pre-emptively defensive. It stings a bit less when others are laughing at you if you’re already laughing at yourself.
The public nature of social media is in part responsible for this self-consciousness. Twitter is largely egalitarian: it’s free and anyone can say whatever they want (as long as they have access to the Internet).
According to Knowyourmeme.com, “The Real First World Problems” Tumblr was created in 2008 and the Reddit page “First World Problems” originated in January 2011. But this is not the first time these types of memes have entered our web psyche.
Back in 2009, #thatsafrican began trending on Twitter. Associate Blog Editor, David Weiner, at Huffington Post wrote about the role of Twitter and free speech and the controversy over the unseemly hashtag. Weiner muses, ” Is it self-deprecating humour? A cover for racists? Something only Africans and African-Americans can joke about? Something no one should be talking about?” Within 20 minutes after he posted, he added an update saying that the hashtag was no longer trending and wondered whether it had been taken down by Twitter.
In a similar vein, the “Shit People Say Videos” are playing out racial prejudices couched in humour. “Shit White Girls Say To Black Girls” was posted on January 4, 2012 and has over 7 million views. A black girl wearing a blonde wig and doing her best white girl voice utters: “The Jews were slaves too, you don’t hear us complaining about it all the time”; “Is it bad to do blackface, is that still like a thing?”; “This is SO ghetto.”
“Shit Black Girls Says” is a black guy in a wig. What if there was a “Shit Black Girls Say” done by white girls? It still seems like the rules are as follows: it’s OK to poke fun if it’s at your own identity group. The “White Girls” video was a bit of a departure.
Perhaps the racially charged undertones will allow for some open or honest dialogue about economic disparity and racial tension in America. Ultimately, the hashtags and the videos are funny or they become viral because they resonate with people. And they say a lot more about the state of race and class in our society than any economic and sociological study.
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