Illustration by Sofia Reeves

“Squid Game” probes Korean class inequity

Since Netflix released the show “Squid Game” on Sept. 17, 2021, the nine-episode series has been viewed by nearly 142 million people worldwide. 

In the show, 456 people compete in the “Squid Game,” in which the players have to participate in six games. The contestants must pass each game in order to continue competing. The prize for winning is $45.6 billion. The main characters in the show each have a reason for competing in the game, but they mostly join to avoid financial ruin. If someone is unable to finish a game, they are killed by masked soldiers.

Hwang Dong-hyuk created “Squid Game” and was inspired by the economic inequality in the real world and fictional fight-to-the-death dramas. Dong-hyuk tried to target a global audience by creating characters that everyone resonated with. 

“I wanted to write a story that was an allegory or fable about modern capitalist society, something that depicts an extreme competition, somewhat like the extreme competition of life,” Dong-Hyuk said in an interview with Variety. “But I wanted it to use the kind of characters we’ve all met in real life.”

“Squid Game” contains stunning performances from actors like HoYeon Jung, Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo and many more. One of the most interesting things about the show, however, is how widely popular it has become. 

Throughout the pandemic, many people have found themselves under greater financial stress, and “Squid Game” taps into people’s deep-seated fears about becoming destitute and unable to climb up the socio-economic ladder. Unlike many American TV shows about poverty, “Squid Game” offers no solution to the problem. The show creates an atmosphere that is pessimistic about the benefits of capitalism and focuses on the economic destitution that the characters find themselves in as a result of a flawed system.

This is not the first time recent South Korean media has mentioned this theme. Movies such as  “Burning” and “Parasite” also have a similar tone to “Squid Game.” This is because South Korea experienced unprecedented amounts of economic growth after the Korean War, but now there is limited social mobility in South Korea and a growing economic gap. “Squid Game” gives its viewers a chance to see themselves in the characters on the show. The viewers feel the frustration of the impoverished contestants who are failing to accomplish anything in a system stacked against them.

The setting of the show is also significant because it removes the contestants from the system that has failed them. Instead, it takes place on a remote island bunker controlled by an army of soldiers in pink jumpsuits and masks. Each room is decorated like a big playground. The bright, candy-colored environment of the “Squid Game” feels light and childlike, a direct contrast to the dark undertones of the show. 

“Squid Game” has it all: great performances, good writing and a strong take on economic inequality. The show connects with viewers through fear of financial ruin and brings them back to their childhood through the environment of the show. In this way, “Squid Game” offers viewers a unique chance to both escape their world of hardship and confront it head-on by watching the game play out.

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