Those six words became a meme, used to express derision toward anything that feels trivial in comparison to pressing global issues. And now the pandemic has brought it back.
People are literally dying from covid-19 every day — and in response, many social media users are deploying the meme to indicate exasperation toward a message they see as irrelevant, be it political action or product ads. The keywords in the phrase have seen a spike in searches over the past couple months, according to Google Trends.
The meme is appropriate for a moment when the internet’s short fuse has been cut even shorter. With anxiety, fear and death at the forefront of people’s minds, few have the time or tolerance for small complaints.
“I think that we’re seeing an increase because there’s a lot of celebrities trying to make statements right now and failing,” said Sophie Dickinson, associate editor of the comprehensive online directory Know Your Meme. She cited an instance on April 6, in which Ellen DeGeneres compared her mansion to jail, quickly attracting Internet ire.
“People have a need for a mocking image like this,” Dickinson added, as the meme lets people express disagreement without getting too personal.
The meme reminds Natalie Bazarova, a professor of communication at Cornell University, of Marie Antoinette’s fabled “Let them eat cake.”
“Covid-19 highlighted some underlying inequalities in the society, especially around economic and health disparities, and although we are all in it together, people still find themselves in very different boats,” she wrote in an email. The meme “shows a stark contrast in priorities” when used as a response.
Dickinson said guillotine and “eat the rich” memes are also trending to express a similar sentiment.
Others aren’t using the meme as a response, but as a way to process whether their own relatively minor losses are worth worrying about. The isolation and constant bad news has broken down some folks’ sense of order and even their mental health — but many feel silly complaining about missing ordinary experiences and helpful routines.
Some are volleying the meme at Kim herself, in the comments of her recent Instagram posts, to critique her for promoting her clothing line and new fragrance during a pandemic. Granted, other celebrities are promoting products too, but Kim may be getting extra attention because, as Dickinson said, “I can’t think of anyone that would illustrate first world problems better than Kim Kardashian.”
Kim was in the news in the early part of the pandemic, during a flareup of the years-long Swift/West feud. As many fans know all too well, Taylor Swift objected to Kanye West’s lyrics about her in a 2016 song, but two years later, West and Kim released a video clip of a phone call that seemed to show Swift approving them. (Swift and her team disputed that interpretation.) In March, a mysteriously-released uncut video of the phone call emerged, and Swift fans claim it exonerates her.
Swift promptly put up an Instagram story imploring people to focus on “what really matters,” with a link to donate to Feeding America, an organization providing free meals to food-insecure families. Kim then released a Twitter thread to clarify her side.
A reply under Kim’s thread exemplified what many — including Kim herself — felt about the issue.