The current most watched show on Netflix, Squid Game, is one of the most horrifying pieces of media I have ever seen. It was released on September 17, 2021, claiming Netflix’s number one spot only four days after its initial drop, which was surprising considering how there was very little promotion leading up to its premiere on Netflix. It’s no surprise, though, that humanity can easily find connections to something like Squid Game where money, or lack thereof, is the key to everything and anything. The current world we live in is an economic nightmare in more ways than one, yet we have now finally reached a point in our society where certain elements of a show like Squid Game aren’t considered entirely fictitious.
The overall premise of the show is both complex and incredibly simple: people being so deeply in debt that they are desperate enough to play children’s games for money, but, if you lose, you die. When a player dies in the game, ₩100,000,000 (roughly 85k USD) is added to the total amount of money given to the winners upon completion of all six of the games. The players of said games had agreed to an offer made by recruiters of the Squid Game to earn unimaginable amounts of money. In the show there are possibly hundreds of Squid Game employees with varying responsibilities, including body discarding, crowd control, overseeing those aforementioned, and the Frontman, in charge of it all. But above the runner of the games, there are those who bankroll them, the VIPs. They are the benefactors of the game, the showrunners, in a way. The six of them bankroll the games, and because of this, have some creative rights, but the games are primarily controlled by the Frontman. The games have been going on for roughly 40 years, having been created by a group of rich men in the 80s who were bored with conventional entertainment. We don’t know many details of the previous games played, such as any possible differences in which children’s games they play, or how many people win the pot. In the year focused on in the show, it finishes in a way similar to The Hunger Games: the last man standing wins it all.
The creator of the show, Hwang Dong-Hyuk, originally had the idea for the show back in 2008, and had been editing and revising it since then. Hwang said in an interview with Variety that he felt the world wasn’t yet in the right place to see the horror and complexity of the show when he first began the creative process. It took nearly a decade, but after looking at the current state of the world, he decided it was ready for, and in need of something like Squid Game. Hwang even compared the former United States President Donald Trump to the V.I.P. commanders in the show, saying “It’s almost like he’s running a game show, not a country.”
People in the real world and Squid Game alike give up their lives willingly to those in power out of hope that they might just make it out of the millions of dollars of debt they have accumulated. In Squid Game, they do so by winning the games, and for many U.S. citizens, they sometimes have to enlist in the military, risking their lives and mental health, to be able to afford a higher education. When asked if he could find a way to compare Squid Game to the United States military system, David Marsh, a Social Studies, Economics, and AP Government teacher at Franklin High School said, “The military system in the United States does tend to kind of prey upon those who are economically disadvantaged.”
The main reasons Squid Game has become the worldwide phenomenon that people have come to know and love, are the heavy gore and the highly interesting plot paired with an even creepier subplot. According to respondents on an Instagram poll, the most horrifying reason people like the show is the relatability factor; the fact that we as people can find things to relate to in a murder game show where people are playing and killing for money, not to mention their lives. And yet, it is also to be expected for us to relate to this, considering how common it is for humans to risk our lives for a shot at financial stability. Even just one episode in, Luke Balmer, a senior at Benson Polytechnic High School, could already identify and appreciate the blatant criticism of capitalism, and how widespread that criticism is. As said by Chelsea Avestruz from SCREENRANT, a popular website that posts media information and fan theories, “Squid Game artfully reflects society being overpowered by capitalism,” a description that also fits our society. When talking to Marsh, it became clear that the main motivation behind the creation of the Squid Game isn’t just rich men finding entertainment in the suffering and death of others, but the fact that these men have so much power, and are portrayed as something of god-like figures.
We have many real-life examples of people in a similar situation, like those in the higher branches of the government, or big company CEOs. Some key examples are Elon Musk or Jeffrey Bezos, the CEOs of Tesla and Amazon respectively. No matter how much money they both have, those working for them barely receive a penny in comparison to how much the two of them make; they never stop making money, and never have to worry about losing it. The financial gap will never stop growing at this rate.
Arirang Meari, a huge North Korean supporter website, says that “[Squid Game] gained popularity because it exposes the reality of South Korean capitalist culture.” Essentially the show was so popular due to the plot being a brutal truth, not a horrifying parody. The situation of financial ruin the characters were in is not rare; with South Korea being so heavily debt-ridden, citizens have surely felt more relatability to the show compared to any of us. In fact, on October 20, an estimated 16,000 South Korean citizens protested for worker’s rights while wearing Squid Game costumes. Thousands of protesters wore the infamous shape-masks, black masks with either a white triangle, square, or circle on their face to urge the government for fairer worker’s rights and pay. Around 32% of people employed in South Korea are called “irregular workers,” people whose jobs are precarious and not stable in any way, who don’t receive full benefits most employed people do. That 32% amounts to roughly 6.2 million workers. A Twitter user under the handle @dotorii_muk posted a tweet on October 21 referring to the protest, saying “Can’t help but notice while everyone else bought Squid Game costumes for Halloween, South Koreans used it to protest for workers’ rights.”
Hwang Dong-Hyuk has not decided if he wants to continue his masterful and highest-grossing story as of yet. His creation was honest in the most horrifying and simplistic way. Hwang wonderfully exposed the harsh reality of the world’s economic system, as well as how that system is mentally detrimental. You never know what’s going to happen; you could even be killed over a game of Red Light, Green Light.