Like millions of others, I recently binge watched the entirety of Netflix’s newest success story, “Squid Game”. If I watched the whole series in a less than twenty four hour span, I will not say. However, the South Korean survival drama captures its audience with the contorted story of indebted people partaking in children's games for the highest possible stakes. If they win, they win thirty eight million dollars but if they lose, they get shot dead on the spot. It’s extremely addicting and every episode ends with a cliffhanger to endure that you'll keep coming back for more.
Aside from the fact that it’s extremely entertaining, it’s also a callous satire of the wealth inequality produced by the means of capitalism. The show itself is an allegory of the wealth gap that undoubtedly exists around the world, specifically Korea.
Millions of ordinary Koreans struggle to survive on a daily basis while the country’s elites maintain a firm iron grip on the economy. The Korean economy operates on a system of chaebols, defined as corporate conglomerates owned by a small handful of wealthy individuals and families. What once brought the nation out of extreme levels of poverty and disarray now acts as the embodiment of monopolistic corruption and capitalism, free from consequence over nearly any action.
The games played until life or death smacks you in the face are orchestrated by a small number of global elites who bask at the sight of players’ wretched attempts to win the prize money. They make bets and gamble on players' lives, illustrating a formative relation to the works of society under capitalism. There are two precedents in which society operates: a set of rules for the rich and a set of rules for the poor.
The show follows the life of the main character, Gi-Hun. After finding himself in extreme amounts of debt due to his gambling addiction and continued cycle of unemployment, Hun finds himself partaking in the games in hopes of winning the prize money in order to pay his ill mothers medical bills in addition to creating a better relationship with his daughter who he has a long history of disappointing.
In episode two titled “Hell” characters are offered the opportunity to discontinue the games. The majority of them voted in favor but days after returning to their gruesome realities, they found themselves with a burning desire to compete in the games once again in an attempt to work themselves out of their current situations. The willingness of players to return to such dangerous and insufferable conditions over the chance of winning a life changing amount of money is a clear allusion to the system in which capitalism operates. This, quite literally, sounds like hell.
South Korea has a long and tireless history of labor malpractice and negligence in the workplace. For example, in 1976 women workers at the Dong-II Textile Factory initiated the fight for safe and fair labor practices through proposing a democratic union election. Facing police brutality, abuse by strikers, and the dumping of human excrement onto them by the Korean Intelligence Agency, the Korean labor industry has a long and violent past with corporate workers. The mere disrespect upheld by government officials against those who work in the industries which keep their society running is just one example of the corporate and elitist greed that makes itself prominent in Korea.
Thinking more centrally, ‘Squid Game’ additionally sparked my interest in relating it to capitalist greed here in America as well. Thinking as to how Hollywood elites and other figures of significant influence and power request so much out of ordinary citizens to change the world without doing anything themselves is prevalent in the deeper meaning of this show as well.
On this matter, I am reminded of the one and only Billie Eilish video. You know, the one in which she begs regular people to stop using plastic straws and other non-biodegradable materials because they’re killing the planet. Yes, plastic is bad for the environment. However, so is flying a private jet around the world that is contributing to the incredible rise in CO2 emissions. Or sending off a rocket for six billion dollars for fun just to sit in space for four minutes. You see what I mean?
Elitists hold people accountable for their acts of corporate greed. They act under the means of their own personalized capitalistic rules because the rules of the ordinary don’t apply to them.The wealth gap, both in America and in other parts of the world is continuing to rise, for over fifty percent of our nation's wealth is held by the top one percent. Just think about it.
So, when you’re watching Squid Game, try to incorporate the deeper meaning into your watching experience. I promise it will change everything.