“Oh no, there’s a pixel out in the corner of my laptop screen.”
- from the song “First World Problems” by Weird Al Yankovic
Last year was plagued by a lack of holiday gatherings, but this year the word on the street has been to get your Christmas shopping done early because of potential toy shortages.
My daughter, the budding shopper, has noticed no lack of gift opportunities in the local stores. Granted, maybe we’re not ones to chase the hottest gift trends, which might be harder to come by.
We might share parody rocker Weird Al Yankovic’s frustration in his 2014 song “First World Problems,” that he “can’t remember which car I drove to the mall.”
In contrast, Third World problems include: my children are starving or at risk of being eaten by wild beasts. Or that dad got captured in the night for no justified reason by the dictator de jure. Foreign militaries bombing the town. Literal bread lines. Double- or even triple-digit inflation, for years on end. None of these are things mid-Missourians experience today.
Oh, what the masses in Venezuela, North Korea, Ukraine, Hong Kong, and other places wouldn’t give in exchange for our simple First World problems.
We’re so spoiled here that even with an unprecedented health-related economic disruption last year, the government papered over potential household spending shortfalls with an explosion of stimulus money.
Our medical system is still among the best in the world, even as stressed as it is. Here, there are so many vaccine doses that concern has shifted to unused stock going to waste. Meanwhile, many sub-Saharan African nations still have vaccination rates in the single digits. Treatments available here for the debilitated are the envy of much of the world, or even any period of human history.
While some people do suffer from food insecurity — inconsistent surety of where their next meal is coming from — starvation is nearly unheard of in the developed world, including mid-Missouri.
Obesity, diabetes and heart disease are instead far greater ongoing epidemics. While many tons of extra food are thrown away in this country, Weird Al laments “I bought too many groceries for my refrigerator.”
Clean drinking water here is ubiquitous. It is so plentiful that that same quality water is sprinkled on turf grass and automobiles. Weird Al whines “when I (shower) the water starts getting cold after an hour.”
As Columbia debates how to deal with trash and yard waste, the issue is we have so much to consume in the first place that is then thrown away, and lawns to maintain to manicured perfection — problems of abundance. Weird Al produces trash, as he “had to buy something I didn’t even need just so I could qualify for free shipping on Amazon!”
The new whiz-bang project is to expand high-speed internet service everywhere, it being a necessity for modern life. Think of it as the new electricity.
Meanwhile, many average people around the world still wait for a reliable electric grid at all. It irks Weird Al that “my house is so big I can’t get Wi-Fi in the kitchen.”
Through all the news reports of problems and controversies and worrisome projections, most everyday, average hard-working people in fact seem to be doing pretty OK. They work through problems, seek help when they need it and offer help when somebody else has a need.
There are more jobs than workers that teenagers are making $20/hour with tips in fast food delivery. I mentioned this the other day to a highly educated friend who then realized that’s not much less than what they make mid-career at their nonprofit.
Even as food, fuel and many other consumer goods costs are ramping up, most of us live far larger than we need to. For a good three generations now, since World War II, we have been trained to expect a continuously rising standard of living as our American birthright. That a bump in the road toward ever-increasing everyday luxuries is treated as some kind of popular-culture disaster shows our weakness.
Perhaps it is countercultural to stop and count our many ongoing blessings, even if we seem to have a little less than a couple years ago.
Steve Spellman hosts “Mid-Missouri This Week” on 89.5 FM KOPN at 5 p.m. every Wednesday. He writes twice monthly for the Missourian.