Therapy, humor in Twitter’s ‘White Girl Problems’

By Scott Eidler, Special to The Washington Post
Posted Jan. 02, 2012, at 2:14 p.m.

Ever since “White Girl Problems” launched on Twitter over a year ago, it popularized a simple formula: complaint, hashtag, problem. The kvetching is catching. A whole online community has sprung up to vent. Now there’s }JewBoyProblems, }PostGradProblems and }HipsterProblems, to name a few. Hyperion is releasing a book in January — “White Girl Problems” — and there have been talks w ith television executives about developing a series.

The problems hashtag is equal parts group therapy and stand-up comedy.

“Everybody has problems,” said David Oliver Cohen, 31, an author of the popular “White Girl Problems” account. “Twitter has given people a catharsis to let go of them and sort of move forward.”

Jillian Leff used it the night before she underwent minor surgery. The 22-year-old from Toms River, N.J., tweeted: “Surgery tomorrow. The sad part? The only thing I’m concerned about is not being able to go to the gym for 2 wks. whitegirlproblems.”

Cohen and his brother Tanner, 24 — who grew up in Annapolis, Md., and live in New York — and their friend Lara Schoenhals, 27, an Oklahoma City native living in Los Angeles, created the account over drinks one night in Los Angeles. It has gained more than 545,000 followers. They tweet as a misguided, spoiled, 20-something socialite. They gave her a name (Babe Walker), a blog and a memoi r. They’re poking fun at the girl, who “thinks everything in her life is an issue,” David Cohen says.

Like changing her hairstyle: “It is so difficult to transition back into being a brunette. whitegirlproblems.”

Or maintaining a diet: “Does anyone remember what pizza tastes like? whitegirlproblems.”

Her followers, like Leff, often respond with their own iterations of a “white girl problem” or feature their favorites from the account. In the past three months, according to Klout.com, which tracks social-media activity, posts from White Girl Problems have been re-tweeted 370,000 times.

It has been a hit with out-of-work college graduates. Stephanie Williams, 24, of Rochester, N.Y., recently left her job at a public relations firm and moved back in with her parents. She says it’s comforting to connect with others on Twitter who share her problems adjusting to postgraduate life.

“This is possibly the first time where I don’t feel like I have control over the direction of my life,” Williams said. “And I’m going through this crisis on Twitter with other people.”

Leff, who graduated from Emerson College in the spring and is still looking for a full-time job, says “misery loves company — all you want is someone to relate.”

The reason the White Girl Problems account is so popular, its authors say, is because many of the tweets ring true even if they are over the top. “There’s a little bit of mocking involved,” Schoenhals said, but “in the spectrum of our character, they are real problems in her world.”

This character is one its creators carefully constructed. They said she’s modeled after a modern-day reality star, like a Kardashian sister or celebrity fashion stylist Rachel Zoe. But her issues speak to a larger crisis among many college-educated adults unhappy with their jobs.

“We’ve found it’s aspirational,” said Tanner Cohen, an actor before writing for “White Girl Problems” full time. “While people that follow us might hate their internship or their desk job, even this person who has it all isn’t happy.”

Williams said reading a chapter of the forthcoming fake memoir excerpted on the White Girl Problems blog titled “Every job I’ve ever had is the worst job I’ve ever had” made her feel better about her experiences in the workplace.

“Even the privileged are told that they’re inadequate,” she said.

Some Tweeters think that experimenting with “problems” hashtags has led to more candid conversations online. Evelyn Weisskohl, 22, and her twin sister Hilary, who are from Fairfax County, Va., and now work at media agencies in New York, created }TrendyProblems, another humor handle (with 36,000 followers). They said re-tweeting parody accounts lets users express what’s really on their minds without having to attach their name to the posts.

Anthony Rotolo, a professor of social media strategy at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University, said hashtag humor has created an exclusive club where acceptance is based on how funny you are.

“Part of the appeal is it’s sort of a membership card to the Twitter community,” Rotolo said. “Friends of mine who don’t use Twitter won’t understand why I’m laughing, and in a sense that feels good — you kind of feel part of something.”

The hashtags are often used to satirize different communities formed by Zip codes, college campuses and religious affiliations.

Marc Phillips, 21, a junior at Ithaca College, explores classic Jewish stereotypes as author of }JewBoyProblems: the overbearing mother, his fondness for bagels and lox.

In turn, his followers tweet back their own jewboyproblems. And during some weeks a barrage of marriage proposals. Over the past three months, according to Klout, the account has been mentione d in 1,500 tweets, including this from one of his 8,300 followers: “My mom just called me to remind me to wear boots, gloves, hat, and a scarf . . . I’m 22 years old jewboyproblems.”

Some tweet the hashtag problems to their friends as a nonconfrontational way to call out strange behavior. Recently, when Rotolo tweeted his frustration at not living near a Starbucks, friends responded with the hashtag firstworldproblems.

“Did I really sound that bad?” the professor asked himself.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/01/02/news/nation/therapy-humor-in-twitters-white-girl-problems/ printed on April 17, 2014