SQUID GAME’S ANTI-CAPITALIST MESSAGE

THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SQUID GAME

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On September 17th this year, Hwang Donghyuk’s Squid Game, came to Netflix and quickly became the most popular show on the platform. The story follows Seong Gihun, who struggles to juggle his gambling addiction, gaining custody of his daughter and massive debt. After another failed attempt of paying back loan sharks, Gihun finds himself roped into the Squid Game: a means for people struggling with debt to win more than enough money to allow them to pay off their debts through playing brutal renditions of Korean kids’ games. 

 

The overarching message of Squid Game is an anti-capitalist commentary. For example, Jung Hoyeon’s character, Kang Saebyeok, is an undocumented immigrant who dangerously fled North Korea with her younger brother. Her entire character and situation encapsulate how North Korean immigrants find themselves completely devastated by South Korean capitalism, despite fleeing to seek refuge. Anti-capitalist commentary becomes especially apparent once viewers reach the last few episodes of the show, where it is revealed that the Squid Game was set up as entertainment for the elites, or the V.I.Ps. 456 of the poorest people in South Korea struggling with debt are put against each other to fight for the money that will solve their problems, given to them by the elites who watch them. 

 

Park Haesoo’s character, Cho Sangwoo, in particular, represents individuals in society who defend capitalism while being victims of it. Sangwoo’s relationship with Abdul Ali (played by Anupam Tripathi) itself is a metaphor for individuals who are completely complicit in capitalism by recognising it as the only way to succeed. In the show, Sangwoo says, “when we were kids, we would play just like this, and our moms would call us in for dinner. But no one calls us anymore”. What was once considered a game in their childhood are now matters of life and death, both literally (in the sense that they lose their life) and figuratively (in the sense that they would get exploited by capitalism without the prize money). For example, when children play the dalgona game, if they are able to successfully cut away the design on the candy, they are rewarded with a second, free dalgona. 

 

Some other opinions on Squid Game’s anti-capitalist commentary find that Hwang intentionally draws parallels between the viewers and the V.I.Ps. They suggest that we, as viewers, share more in common with the elites in the show rather than the contestants. This puts us in a difficult position, as we are naturally inclined to identify and side with the protagonist, Gihun, while being in the same position as the elites, who also root for him. As we continuously click “next episode” to watch one player out of 456 win the prize money, we find ourselves in a similar position as the V.I.Ps, in the sense that we cannot seem to look away from the horrors of the game from the comfort of our living room couch. 

 

Most ironically, Squid Game itself has become a victim of capitalism. Hwang’s Squid Game has increased the Netflix stock market value by $19 billion since its release. Because of this, Netflix is trying their best to milk the show completely dry for merchandise. Squid Game themed pop-up shops have started to appear worldwide, social media influencers have started to profit from the show’s success and I’m sure that this Halloween, we will see a plethora of Saebyeoks, Squid Game guards and Game Masters. 

 

Despite this, Squid Game is definitely a show I would recommend watching. The way Hwang has us question our position and morality presents a fun challenge. Even if you are not keen on having to think hard about such topics, this show still makes for high-quality entertainment. 

 

Bibliography: 

https://www.boredpanda.com/inaccurate-translation-squid-game/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=organic

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/oct/20/netflix-squid-game-savagely-satirises-our-money-obsessed-society-but-capitalism-is-the-real-winner

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/05/dining/squid-game-netflix-dalgona-candy.html

https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2021/10/29/squid-game-why-popular-meaning-241739

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2021/oct/09/netflixs-squid-game-owes-its-popularity-to-anxieties-of-modern-life

https://www.vulture.com/article/squid-game-gganbu-marbles-episode-capitalism-analysis.html