Squid Game: Here’s why the South Korean streaming series is captivating audiences around the world


SASKATOON – Since its premiere on September 17, Netflix’s “Squid Game” has exploded in popularity with co-CEO Ted Sarandos saying it has “a very good chance” of being its most popular series of all time. An internet provider in South Korea is even suing Netflix to pay for costs related to increased traffic and network maintenance.

A Canadian professor said the South Korean show resonated with so many viewers due to the streaming giant’s expansion into non-US markets; the growing importance of South Korean pop culture in the West; and global themes in the history of inequality and uncertainty.

“‘Squid Game’ builds on the dramatization of class conflict and the huge wealth gap,” Michelle Cho, professor of East Asian studies at the University of Toronto, told CTVNews.ca during ‘a phone interview. “I would say these are global themes. I think they exploit the crises of capitalism that a number of places are experiencing around the world.

For the uninitiated, the South Korean dystopian horror series is about people in debt trying to make money by participating in deadly versions of popular children’s games such as “Red Light, Green Light.” Cho said the series relied on horror elements reminiscent of the “Black Mirror” series, as well as “Battle Royale”, a 2000 Japanese thriller that itself inspired the “Hunger Games” series.

Cho said the show is highly produced and features colorful settings that provide a visual contrast to the characters’ anxiety, despite living in a country with a robust post-war economy.

“A lot of [them] are not sure whether the modernization process has really resulted in a better place to live or more happiness, ”Cho said. “South Koreans are very, very concerned about the cost of living and wealth inequalities right now. “

She said many of them feel like too many aspects of their lives are hyper-competitive.

“And I think the questions Koreans are asking themselves are, ‘Well, how is it possible to survive when everything is a competition?'” She said, adding that many workers in the people probably feel the same way.

“So it’s like it’s building on these already existing ideas and global culture and that’s what also makes it more appealing and up-to-date. “

And although the show was shot in Korean, the streaming platform offers subtitles in 37 different languages ​​and voice dubs in 34 languages. And the platform’s strategy seems to have paid off, because according to the company, 95% of the show’s viewers are not in South Korea.


Twitter and TikTok have been buzzing with memes and clips from the show since it first aired, with Bela Bajaria, Netflix’s global television manager, telling Vulture that it helped fuel conversations on the show.

“People hear about it, people talk about it, people love it, and there’s a very social aspect to it, which helps to grow the show outside of what we’re doing,” she said. at the point of sale last week.

Cho also attributes the show’s success to Netflix’s drive to expand into markets outside of the United States.

This growth has meant that the platform has turned to the presentation and production of diverse content in different markets, to attract new viewers. She said this included shows such as the Spanish crime drama “Money Heist” or the French thriller “Lupine”.

She said China and South Korea are just a few of the last areas in the world to feel pressure from Netflix to diversify, which started in the early 2010s. The company even established two studios just in outside Seoul to create more local content.

“So it was only a matter of time before a show produced outside ‘the West’ gained traction,” Cho explained, adding that the capabilities of the platform itself played a role. huge role. “Once something starts to become a trend, the algorithm suggests it and it’s an extremely powerful tool the platform has to grab the attention of subscribers.”

But Cho also believes that the series’ success is directly linked to the growing global notoriety of South Korean pop culture over the past decade via soap operas called K-dramas, K-Pop music, and films such as Bong. Joon-ho’s Academy-Award-winning. film “Parasite”, which also addressed inequalities and class struggles.

“There has really been a steady expansion of Korean media exports since the early 2000s, starting with film festivals,” she said, noting that since the 2010s there has been an effort concerted – especially by the South Korean government – to provide subsidies or tax breaks to media production studios and promote cultural products and industries, such as films, television, games and comics online called “webtoons”.

On behalf of Netflix, he said in a statement earlier this year that he spent around US $ 700 million on Korean movies and TV shows between 2015 and 2020.

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