How “Squid Game” Reflects a Modern Capitalist Society

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Photo By Creatorish

The drawing is a caricature of the distinctly recognizable guards in the hit show Squid Games. Photo courtesy of Creatorish.

By Milena Jandreski, Reporter

Dystopian media has always been a topic of interest for our modern society. Netflix’s new major success, a TV series titled Squid Game falls into that buzz-worthy category of dystopian fantasy media that we all crave. The Korean hit has amassed worldwide exposure, breaking records for Netflix and a variety of other streaming platforms. According to The Washington Post, Squid Game has generated an estimated $891 million worth of impact value for Netflix alone. Though the question on many people’s minds is: why is it so popular?

Squid Game revolves around a cast of characters who are either in debt or desperately in need of money. Each participant (despite being pre-selected) must willingly subject themselves to be entered into the game. Though what they initially don’t know is that they will sacrifice themselves and each other in order to win. Each time a player dies, the sum of winnings increases until one player is left standing. Players eventually turn on allies, teammates, and friends, killing in savage and brutalist ways in order to win. In the end, the sole motivator driving these players’ barbarism is their greed. That is what ultimately stays with the viewer. It is not the fact that they kill for greed that is shocking, it’s shocking that in today’s society, an event like Squid Game seems believable, feasible even.

I think what feels so based in reality to me and all the people who watched it is that despite all the different players’ accolades, IQs, or ages, they were all so driven by their debts that they were willing to do anything. In our modern society, that is an issue most of us have to face. Whether it be student loans or paying your mortgage, money drives everything now. Everything has a monetary value; even basic needs like food, clothes, and shelter can be seen as privileges. Nothing is inevitable, and wealth is not something secure or stable. This is what is truly scary. In the players, we can see their humanity despite their flaws and despite their horrible actions. We can see motivations like a father who wants to see his kid and a man who is trying to support his family.  It shows that no matter how seemingly capable or willing they are to succeed, they are all inevitably in the same situation. It ties back to a multi-cultural and societal fear of being unsuccessful  as well as the pressure many of us feel to be “self-made” and financially “comfortable.”

This financial struggle is all too real, especially for many Asian audiences who watched the show. This is because of a Squid Game resembling a system called loan sharking. Loan sharking is essentially when a company will lend you money at exorbitant rates of interest in order to keep people in a perpetual state of debt. It’s so common in Korean media that it is a popular plot device in television and movies to show struggling characters’ issues. Loan sharks and underground debt collectors are not exclusive to Korea, though. There are many similar figures and institutions worldwide that fuel a social and economic climate of desperation for everyone.

Squid Game can also be a commentary on how we are truly small and often exploited by people with more power and status. We are the middle man. The old man who funded the games allowed all those people to die simply because he was bored. He was able to do this not because he was special or better than the other players, but because he was substantially more affluent than them all. It was because of this that he was able to kill and exploit them at his pleasure. This is a theme that many of us can see in our day-to-day lives, the wealthy having far more privilege solely because they are rich, not because they are good people, and not because they necessarily deserve it. It is an injustice that we all feel. There’s always someone with more power than you. This is partly why Squid Game is so popular with audiences: we’ve all felt to some degree the way the players do. 

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