Photo Credit: Vadim Bogulov (via Unsplash)
*Mild Spoilers Ahead*
Netflix’s ‘Squid Game’ has captured worldwide attention in a way that entertainment that is not associated with America’s Hollywood often has a hard time accomplishing. This is not the first time that South Korea has overcome glaring inequities in popular media consumption. K-Pop is a genre of music originating in South Korea that has burst through the limits of what non-western or non-European music has accomplished in the past. The K-Pop group BTS has achieved worldwide fame on the historical level of the Beatles, with diehard fans gathering in squealing audiences for their every performance. These feats have led many to surmise that a change in media leadership is due and that Seoul, South Korea may even become the “new” Hollywood.
Much like the capitalism that determines where much of our popular media originates from, “Squid Game” itself makes a bold statement about the nature of capitalism. In the series, written by Hwang Dong-hyuk, the rich (called “VIPs”) derive pleasure and entertainment out of betting on the desperately in-debt players’ likelihood of surviving each game in the series. The deaths of these players seem to invoke no sympathy in the VIPs apart from self-directed sympathy over the loss of their bets.
The players in Squid Game have been carefully chosen; they are all individuals who have more to lose by not participating than by participating and potentially losing their lives. This fact is demonstrated when the players vote to stop playing the game as part of a rule that gives them the illusion of free will. All players are sent home to the dreary realization that their lives, many at the mercy of loan sharks and without the money to support themselves or their families, offer much less hope than the promise of ₩45.6 billion (a little over $48 million CAD), at the risk of losing their lives. During the games, they are given food to eat and beds to sleep in, along with the promise of better lives for themselves and their families if they can survive all six games. Therefore, it is hardly a surprise when 93 percent of the original players take the opportunity to re-enter the game.
When we consider the desperate situation that many of the players are in within “Squid Game”, we may ask why so many of us are intrigued by the opportunity they are given. Is it because, if given the chance, we would participate in “Squid Game”? As university students, many of us living with student debt on our shoulders, it’s not unforeseeable that we would risk our lives for the opportunity to pay off our debt. However, the gung-ho attitude of Squid Game’s western audiences might be more representative of arrogant ignorance than a reflection of individual ability. All the participants in “Squid Game” had just as much to lose as a group of headstrong western millennials would have. We can be assured that had these games been sprung upon us we would have reacted similarly.
“Squid Game” has carved its way to success by contributing a unique storyline in a time when re-makes and allied spin-offs seem to be all Hollywood can offer us in terms of movie and TV-show entertainment. Its darker message of the realities of capitalism and class divisions may have been largely unconsidered in terms of its popularity, but these messages are now clearly in the public eye. South Korean entertainment has once again done us a service in demonstrating that Hollywood can be overcome and that no matter how hard American companies fight to stay in power, it is ultimately the public opinion that decides which forms of entertainment ultimately succeed.