We need to talk about Squid Game
Are you ready to do anything to win? In the hit Netflix series Squid game, demoralized marginalized people – unemployed, impoverished, in debt, addicted to gambling, hijackers, a Pakistani worker, a North Korean defector – are invited to participate in a series of games for children. Those who lose are killed instantly in a gradual process of elimination. Participants can quit the game at any time, but only if the majority votes to do so.
Yet the lone winner not only lives, but is also awarded a cash prize of 45.6 billion won (roughly £ 29 million), with no strings attached. Life, the game sounds like, will diminish you, but you must find a way to honor and preserve it. What happens to you as you try to achieve your goal will reveal your lie or your integrity.
At the time of post-confinement anxiety, Squid game reached number one on Netflix in 90 countries, from Bangladesh to Brazil as well as the US and UK, and is poised to be the platform’s biggest show ever. So why has this hyper-violent South Korean thriller struck such a chord around the world, in developing countries, emerging markets and advanced economies? Behind the horror show you will find a game of trust. Don’t trust the system or others, but how much you trust yourself.
In this parallel world of constant surveillance, masked guards in uniform carry machine guns, their boots snapping underfoot in maze-like hallways, and shoot at those who break the rules. The similarity with which they move around like assassins in video games is odd (technology continues to hijack one medium after another). As for the participants, they fear the cruel environment of the games but also the harshness of the outside world, with its lack of opportunities for those who most need a second chance.
What if innocent games like marbles and grandma’s footsteps end up looking like Call of Duty and Rainbow Six Siege. There is a tug of war with an abyss in the middle, which the losing team will fall into. Then a hopscotch version on a glass bridge where some panels are designed to break underfoot. Despite the constant noise of gunfire and massacres, there are moments of solidarity, human connection, and small acts of kindness. As in every schoolyard or concentration camp, leaders and supporters emerge when alliances are formed.
So why do people gamble their lives? For the same reason, they play on anything. For money, but also to feel that something is at stake. Being relevant means being part of a game, not just watching, and these are people who have lost pretty much everything already.
In their interactions, we find traces of Milgram’s experience, which measured participants’ willingness to obey authority figures in order to perform acts contrary to their personal conscience. In the allegorical world of Squid game, you end up doing what you thought you would never do to another person, especially when the element of coercion is absent. What despair will cause each of us to do is hidden under a dark stone.
Is the complexity of human nature best exposed when things slowly disintegrate? At William Golding Lord of the Flies (1954), a group of young schoolchildren survive a plane crash and find themselves isolated on an uninhabited tropical island in the Pacific. Amid the pink cliffs and white sand, spooky and wild patterns emerge as the boys try to rule themselves. In the center of a black hole, the rules of nature don’t apply, Golding said in his 1983 Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech. Squid game embodies this notion and hammers the point: our innate tendency to violence is immense.
And so, during the final stages of the games, VIP guests – bored with the money and no longer finding joy in the accepted ways of spending it – are invited to watch the show live and bet heavily on the remaining participants in the game. a twisted version of horse racing. For every dying person more money is added to the price and as you push the limits there are faint echoes of The hunger Games, Royal battle, The Handmaid’s Tale and Agatha Christie’s And then there was none, as good as Parasite, the 2019 Oscar-winning film, which also examined the wealth disparities in Korean society.
So, does it matter who wins the brutal race at the end? In his Theory of Skewness, British economist John Kay postulated that, strange as it may sound, overcoming obstacles and winning decisive battles are goals best achieved when pursued indirectly. If you want to go one way, the best route may be to go the other way. Oblique approaches are most effective in difficult terrain, or when results depend on interactions with other people, and the show echoes that belief through the trajectories of the characters.
But make no mistake about it. Squid game has the lucidity of a parable and the power of a medieval fairy tale. It pushes the envelope as far as it can go and targets your heart directly. Disguising itself as a simple test on the survival of the fittest, it transcends genres and, like any original creation worthy of the name, the world is lost as long as it lasts. It can be either a blank to project on, or a reminder about the agency and what loss of dignity means for all human life. It’s up to you to decide which one it is.
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