Is this #FirstWorldProblems video genius or exploitative?


When I begin writing a blog post, I normally figure out what I think about something and then try to make that argument in a logical and concise way so that you the reader agrees with me by the end. Thus, it’s very rare that I don’t know the answer to the question I’m posing when I’m drafting a post.

So when I saw this video, by, featuring children living in third world countries spouting off a series of #firstworldproblems to make the point that they aren’t actually real problems, I was conflicted. Sure, it’s an effective way to make the point that we have it pretty good and have so much to be grateful for.

At the same time, it made me uncomfortable that these children were used in that manner. This might not actually be any different than when they are featured in ads which just how their faces with sad music playing, without even getting to hear their voices at all though.

What do you guys think?  Is this effective or is this exploitative?

Join the Conversation

  • Joseph Martin

    This video feels a little bit exploitative – but only because some of the people look uncomfortable. (I couldn’t listen to it).

    If this video had been all adults/teens to whom the premise was explained and thought it was great, it wouldn’t be exploitative. But some of the little kids look nervous, and one woman looked annoyed. Maybe she was acting or mad at the intended audience, but maybe the group making the film is intruding.

    I think its up to the filmmakers to provide proof (or at least a statement testifying) that those featured in the video know the message and support it.

  • Kalen T

    It is a good question to be asking. At the same time, it does seem like the video is comparing apples to oranges and comes off as manipulative. It takes the idea that first world inconveniences (e.g. ‘I hate when my phone charger won’t reach my bed’) are ‘problems’. This is not a problem.

    Personally, I’m of the mind that actual first world problems include achieving a decent living wage across professions, particularly in the retail and food service industries, achieving racial and gender equality in the professional/public sphere as well as private, getting crucial reproductive service to impoverished populations, and so on. While they are different problems, they aren’t of any less importance. A difference of urgency, perhaps, but not of any less importance.

    The other day I read a blog post that claimed feminists shouldn’t worry about their slut walks, or ‘complaining every time some guy hits on them’, but instead, focusing on situations such as that of a 5-year old Saudi girl, Lama Ghamdi, being raped and killed by her fundamentalist cleric father who was given a monetary slap on the wrist for confessing to the crime. What the blogger failed to realize was that 1) both first world and third world feminist problems originate from the same root idea that women are of lesser value than men; and 2) that these are different expressions of that same root idea that manifest in two different contexts of the first and third worlds.

    Additionally, there is always that risk of Western feminist imperialism — just look at Women in Development during the 1970s who took the approach of throwing money and broad education at their third world counterparts and expecting everything to work and be hunky-dory. As many feminist NPOs have learned (I hope), this kind of strategy can fail to account for and empower the local voices of the women who best know their own position and actually get them the assistance they need to implement large-scale change. It is something of which to be mindful.

    With this video, it’s best feature is that it highlights that resource/wealth gap between Western nations and developing nations. It is effective in that. However it definitely uses guilt as a motivator which I don’t see as a sustainable in the long run as promoting an effective program. Hence, I see it as manipulative, trying to garner those one-off donation and does a disservice to a good program in that regard. It exploits guilt and the reality of these people’s lives to get money. One image that got me was the little boy sitting on the stairs of an empty house, clearly not where he lives — yet they chose that particular space to achieve this effect, this sense that this boy had nothing. Similarly, the little boy sitting out back behind a house on a pile of dirt while talking about heated leather seats — it highlights the contrast he’s talking about a luxury yet has nothing. Images like these don’t address the key issue which is that these people need access to clean, potable water and the infrastructure to support that access.

    I donate to the charities I do because I want to make a difference and I have the means to make that difference even if I am not on the front-lines. I think it is the right thing to do. It becomes a question of means versus ends in that sense — who cares how they get the donations as long as they get them, right?

    Show me a video where the organization is creating a positive and effective impact on these peoples’ lives, addressing directly their actual problem of basic access to clean water, and I would be much more receptive to giving what I can rather than be manipulated.

  • Alison

    I received the video yesterday from a few friends and was ready to forward it on when I paused and had the same thought – is this more exploitative than informative? I watched it again and felt even more uncomfortable and decided not to share it. Nevertheless, the very fact that I’ve stopped to think about the video and clicked on the organization’s site (though more out of curiosity than feeling compelled to give) may be signal that this is an effective video in terms of generating a little debate among viewers that ultimately raises the profile of the organization and cause. Still conflicted…thanks for posting.

    • Chris

      I haven’t watched the video yet, but I tend to see the “First World Problems” meme as generally exploitative. It seems to me that in most cases, it boils down to little more than a progressive version of reminding people that “some little girl or boy in China would just love to have your vegetables.” There’s got to be a better way to talk about global inequalities.

  • Tiffany

    It COULD have been genius if the people in the video seemed like they weren’t just being fed lines. I felt like they were being used as part of a joke that’s only funny to people in the first world, which seems like nothing but exploitation to me.

  • worrywort

    If the actors here understood the concept of the ad, and it appears they very much did, I’m fine with it. The concept itself holds water as far as I’m concerned, so excluding actors/spokespeople from this background out of squeamish over-concern is to deny their agency, intelligence, and grasp of the argument.

  • Matt Markonis

    Grinding poverty is a lot more uncomfortable than being in a one-minute advertisement that tries to get rich people to pay attention to your problems. It’s just a reality check.

  • Cory

    I work in international development where this ad received a fair amount of skepticism. There’s a reason why there are people who think “Africa” and “starving children” are synonymous and it has to do with videos like these.

  • Maurine Crouch

    I get what the video is trying to do, and I found it funny/painful the first time I saw it.
    My issue, however, is that for this video to work, we need to assume that a black person in front of a hut is definitely in extreme poverty. As if it’s totally impossible for any of these kids to be wealthy enough to have petty concerns. Or that any of them are “first world” people visiting. The other assumption is that people who are poor think only about is their survival. I guess both of these are assumptions that I don’t feel comfortable with. While poverty requires a lot more thought in terms of how to simply stay alive, people are also agentive enough to wonder about petty things. It’s not just wealthy people that can have these types of concerns.

  • Emily

    I saw a friend share this video on Facebook recently, and it made me uncomfortable, though I’d been having some trouble figuring out why. I think the problem is that it reinforces that view that Africans are a homogenous group, all suffering from poverty, hunger, disease, and countless other things. We are meant to see these black people in Africa and automatically assume that their lives are horrible. This video reinforces the perception of Africa as a homogenous continent of universal suffering. It does not acknowledge different experiences, different cultures, different opinion, different levels of poverty.

    I understand the sentiment; many of our trivial problems are not important when we are faced with the very real problems of others, such as not having access to clean water. But I’m sure there is a better way to do this, without playing on the “Africa=nothing but poverty” idea that so many people have. We can acknowledge that there are also Africans with trivial problems, that not all Africans face these severe conditions, that Africa is a large and diverse continent, and still encourage people to be aware that there are many people in the world facing problems worse that their so-called “first world problems.”