The Korean Netflix series called The Squid Game (Squid Game), premiered on the platform of streaming On September 17, and within a few days, fans filled the internet with references, memes, and positive reviews.
In 10 days, the series overcame cultural and linguistic barriers and reached No. 1 in 90 countries, from Qatar and Oman to Ecuador and Bolivia. On the other hand, in the United States, Squid Game it entered the List of the 10 best series and movies on September 19, occupying the eighth position. He climbed to second place the next day and on September 21 he got No. 1; is the first Korean original series to achieve this milestone.
The program shows a kind of Battle Royale, with hundreds of players who must face each other in different children’s games. However, in Squid GameWhen players lose, they are not simply out of the game, they die.
Beyond reminding us of these children’s activities (albeit in a brutal way) Squid Game It is a criticism of Korean capitalist society, which can even be related to several other countries that have the same model. The series is all about the socio-economic divisions of the population, income inequality, the exploitation of the rich towards those with fewer resources, and the desperation of Korea’s unemployed working class to survive.
What creator Hwang Dong-hyuk did was take influences from different manga (Japanese comics) and manhwa (Korean comics) —as Battle royale, where people must kill each other in a place chosen by the government – and combine it with a kind of Korean tradition: comedy TV shows where people participate in various games, such as Infinite Challenge and Running Man. That is why, to also give it a touch of nostalgia, the series includes children’s games such as Marbles, Tug of War, and English Hideout (Red Light, Green Light), which have been activities enjoyed in various cultures for years.
However, to all this Hwang Dong-hyuk added social problems. More specifically, the complicated socio-economic situation experienced by people who were once a strong middle class and ended up working for lower wages due to Korea’s unstable economy.
This situation is represented mainly through the protagonist of Squid Game, Seong Gi-hun (played by Lee Jung-jae). In the first chapter, they tell us that he is a divorced man of about 45 years old who lives with his mother, and not in the best conditions. They also show us that he has a young daughter, works as a driver, and gambles what little money he makes (even stealing from her mother) on horse races. Plus, he owes millions to a mob boss.
Seong Gi-hun learns that his daughter is going to the United States next year with her mother and stepfather, so to get her back, he must earn money and show that he can take care of the little girl. Desperation over your monetary situation is what draws the attention of the recruiters of the Squid Game, a mysterious organization that offers you the opportunity to win a huge sum of money (about $ 38 million) in exchange for participating in a series of games with deadly consequences with other people.
Finding no other alternative to get all the money he needs for his goals, Seong Gi-hun decides to enter the game without knowing what would await him there. In the nine episodes that the series lasts (with chapters of about an hour), we see the protagonist in his attempts to win while fighting to maintain his humanity in a violent and insensitive environment.
“Korea is a country that has been really prosperous if you look at some of the economic indicators. It is a country that is totally associated with the economic miracle of the Hangang River (representing the rapid and triumphant growth of the country’s free market economy) ”, he explains Kyung hyun kim, filmmaker and professor of visual and East Asian studies at the University of California at Irvine (via Vox).
“It is a small country, but it actually rises above its weight category in terms of production for export figures, GDP per capita. However, it also has the suicide rate tallest in the world by far. The numbers look bleaker every year, ”Hyun Kim adds.
For him, these indicators have to do with “economic problems and class polarization”, but not only that, but there is also “a kind of extreme shame associated with being poor and being a failure for the family and the community. ”.
According to Hyun Kim, “Korea has always been hegemonic and monolithic in terms of race and politics. Korea insists on being ‘one blood’, this rite (which many Koreans still insist on to determine what it means to be one. The ethnic criterion is much more important than how long you have been in the country and so on. That’s another factor on which that bleak dystopian sense of shame is built: Korean society has really fueled this sense of despair and anxiety that I think is part of the image of Squid Game”.
Due to the complicated situation of the protagonist of the series, many Koreans can empathize with him. However, people who do not belong to that culture can also do it, because what Seong Gi-hun experiences is something that transcends borders. In addition, the series puts viewers in his shoes, in a way that allows them to reflect on whether they would make the same decisions as him if they were in his place.
In the series, Seong Gi-hun and the rest of the contestants are asked how far they would go to get money, and they are put in dire situations to see if it is really worth putting in so much physical and mental effort.
Now if we bring it to life, these are the same questions that people face in daily life living under a capitalist society: how much can they tolerate for money? What kind of work would they be willing to do or how much abuse would they allow for pay? Although the series is fictional, its background goes beyond the limits of the screen and what it is doing is simply showing the reality of a huge population worldwide.