This video appeared as an ad for the clean water charity “Water is Life” a few months ago and currently has over 2 million views on Youtube. I have tried to put my finger on why this video makes me so uncomfortable. Sure, there is the good kind of discomfort of being forced to take a look at how insignificant many of the first-world problems that irk me are (my phone charger not reaching my bed is a failure I deal with daily, and the farcical quality of this video helps those of us in the first world to laugh at ourselves– which, I think, is the whole reason for the popularity of #firstworldproblems). But there is also a kind of discomfort at wondering about the production process involved in shooting this ad– did the individuals know what they were saying, know the farcical quality of the filming?– and a vague sense of exploitation that I feel but am not sure is merited or not.
Furthermore, I’m concerned by the video’s overall message. Toward the end of the video, words appear onscreen reading “#FirstWorldProblems Are Not Problems.” This is succeeded by the message, “Donate to help bring clean water to those in need.” Although a valuable attempt to face “first-worlders” with the insignificance of our problems in a discomfiting and potentially transformative manner, I can’t help but wonder: is the ultimate message of the Water is Life not precisely the message that if you visit the website, enter your credit card number, and donate some money, all in the comfort of your first-world home, that you’ll be atoning for some of the guilt you feel at being a first-worlder?
Is not the guilt that we have for being members of the first world– a #firstworldproblem?