First world problems from second-rate minds

Recently there’s been growing concern regarding “Affluenza,” or conspicuous consumption at its worst. On our multiple-channeled, satellite-fed television sets we’ve followed the Ethan Couch “Affluenza Defense” court case where it was argued he could not be held responsible for his drunken killing of four people because he was too influenced by privilege and his parents’ permissiveness to know right from wrong.

In our minds, Affluenza is a condition from which OTHER PEOPLE suffer. To the backdrop of that denial, the phrase “First World problem” has entered our national lexicon, keeping pace with the Affluenza epidemic to which the United States has succumbed while we were vigilant in guarding against more unlikely illnesses, like Ebola.

Although “First World problem” first appeared in writing in 1979, in G.K. Payne’s Built Environment, it wasn’t officially recognized by popular culture until November of 2012, when it showed up in the Oxford Dictionary Online. A year later, it officially entered my vocabulary via a conversation with a co-worker, who was fretting over the amount of embellishment to use on an invitation to our workplace’s annual meeting.

“Talk about a First World problem!” she laughed. Seeing my puzzlement, she explained First World problems are issues in First World countries that receive more attention than they deserve, or superficial things that get complained about only because of the absence of more pressing concerns. Way too much ado about nothing.

I got it and was happy to have a word to classify a lot of the ridiculous hooey I have noticed with my fellow citizens and myself getting our name-brand panties in a bunch over, while people in Third World countries go without basic clothing.

The fact I am typing these observations on my laptop computer in cozy pajamas and suede Land’s End slippers in my warm dining room at an antique walnut table with a decorative pewter bowl atop it while drinking a cup of coffee with flavored creamer that came in commemorative Star Wars packaging gives me zero room to talk. But that has never stopped me.

If it’s any consolation, something we Americans like – consoling, I realize how good I have it and how unnecessary my luxuries. In good conscience, I can’t award myself even half a humanitarian point for my feelings of guilt because my furnace no longer requires me throwing wood into it to generate the heat I cease to appreciate, until there’s a power outage and I complain all the way to someone else’s house or a hotel. Americans have Affluenza bad and that ain’t good.

As with most problems, I notice the symptoms more easily when they’re displayed by other people. Just the other day, I found a good deal on steaks, bought them, then asked my teenagers to grill them for dinner. I thought they would be grateful because it’s been a long time between steak dinners.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” one of them said. “There’s snow on the grill and I don’t want to have to go out in the cold to flip them.”

Holy First World problem! There are many countries where they would be grateful to have any kind of meat, let alone steak. And a propane-fueled cooking source?! They would have died and gone to Heaven or been reincarnated or whatever, depending on their religious beliefs. But in our First World country, discomfort and inconvenience are synonymous with deprivation.

To raise awareness of Affluenza in developed countries, some videos are available on YouTube showing Third World scenes with un-American-accented residents reciting First World problem statements. They effectively show us how ridiculously, unnecessarily and unappreciatively good we have it.

My favorite is the half-starved-looking girl, with a pig rooting about her shack of a home, who comments, “Don’t you hate it when you ask for a burger without pickles and they give you pickles, anyway?!”

Ethan Couch deserves incarceration, right? It would serve him right! Unfortunately, prisons are not immune to First World problems, either. As one exasperated female inmate announced to corrections officers after losing electronics privileges as a behavioral sanction, “I have never been to a prison like this before!” Affluenza strikes everywhere: a First World problem of second-rate minds.



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