Arriving late at the restaurant at the top of Peter Jones, I come armed with a superfluity of excuses: Lamborghinis blocking the road at South Kensington, parking around Sloane Square’s a nightmare and slow escalators I’m just too fat to run up.
‘You poor poppet,’ my companion commiserates, ‘so many first world problems.’
She’s right. I’m plagued by privileged problems; things that really get my Gaultier. What do I do? One pillow is too low, but two is just too high! I’m munching Pringles and I can’t hear the TV at the same time! How does one cope with the tedium of being on the loo when you’ve forgotten your iPhone? And then, if I remember it, I have to endure agonising ‘pins and needles’ after sitting through forty eight levels of Candy Crush. First world suffering is relentless.
I have an embarrassment of these ‘white whines’. And the internet permeates with them. Twitter seems made-to-measure for the middle-class moan. What else can you do with 160 characters and a pressing need to self-publicise your celebrititis?
But then what happens when you realise you’ve just bitched about something more vapid than an episode of ‘Bargain Hunt’? How do you show that you’re not as shallow as a ‘health and safety’ approved paddling pool? Or, indeed, as empty? The answer, increasingly, is this rather insidious form of self-deprecation.
‘Crying ‘cos I ate 2900 calories. Should have been less than 2500.’ Within the bubble of its own context, in a country with a crippling obesity problem, it has its own poignancy. But stick on a ‘first world problem!’ hashtag (older generation please substitute ‘ironic punchline’) and the inferred comparison to third world hunger makes you look like you were exaggerating the angst for effect. No, no, you have perspective. You’re well rounded. You’ve got a sense of humour.
It’s the go-to ‘save face’ option for millions of whiners who find themselves momentarily so angry about getting more than an inch of foam on their macchiato they shared it on a social network; only to realise that they just sounded, well let’s face it, a bit of a tosser.
It’s insidious because it fakes sincerity whilst remaining inherently superior. You may have a conscience but your membership of the First World is so secure sometimes you forget yourself! You’re aware you’ve lucked out in the lottery of life – you’re born in the western world; your life’s actually amazing.
But is it?
In 1966 The Economist reported 7% of the UK population owned 84% of the country’s wealth. Now that looks positively egalitarian. With a global ratio closer to 1:99 there’s no ‘comfortably-off ‘ class anymore. There are the super-rich getting richer, and the rest of us. Almost all of us are becoming poorer, it’s just those with better jobs or investments or properties have been able to delay the inevitable a little longer. The hard thing to admit is that the capitalist model ultimately necessitated this widening disparity. Capital accumulates whilst labour competes at an ever lowering price. The system works!
For the first time in a century though, the middle classes are officially becoming worse off. As a Whitehall official in the Daily Telegraph recently said, “Social mobility is no longer just an issue for children from poor families. There’s a real risk that children from families with above-average incomes will in future have lower living standards than their parents.”
If you have to earn a living you will keep getting squeezed. Where once the comfortable middle classes might have been able to buy a starter flat for their children, now we’ll be lucky to afford the insurance on our kids’ first car. If they’re leaving university to start off in almost anything but a professional job – a vocation that requires a professor, an academic qualification – the first rung of the property ladder will be way beyond the reach of your flailing arms for years to come.
Our membership of any elite moneyed class has become, at best, tenuous. You may think you’re sitting pretty on top of the tower when you can moan about your Playstation 3 connectivity problems or not realising your silent Prius is actually still running, but the edifice is crumbling away beneath you. Just because you earn enough to own an iPhone and drink lattes, chances are you’re still a wage slave, you’re on a short term contract with no security where the tiniest wobble will see you out and someone younger, prettier, more ambitious in, and if you’re lucky enough to secure a mortgage you’re being sold into almost permanent, over-priced, debentured, debt just to house yourself in a country up to its ears in deficit trying to claw its way out by taxing you at every turn until you bleed, and forget having a pension or anything accrued for your children. You think you’ve got first world problems?