Squid Game and capitalism

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Sneak peak of university job fairs in 2045. Youngkyu Park via Netflix

Netflix’s newest cash-grab paradoxically critiques capitalism

Warning: contains spoilers!

Squid Game is a South Korean dystopian survival series that is available on the popular streaming platform Netflix. It was written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, and stars Lee Byung-hun, Jung Ho-yeon, Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, O Yeong-su, Heo Sung-tae, Anupam Tripathi, and Kim Joo-ryoung. It was released on Netflix on September 17, 2021.

Squid Game is a survival game show that features a contest where 456 people from different walks of life play children’s games in order to win money. All of these people are in deep debts that they struggle to pay. The players who do not win the games are essentially disqualified in a brutal way: they are killed. The gag here is that the last person standing wins ₩45.6 billion, which is over $46.6 million CAD.

The protagonist, Seong Gi-hun, is a divorced man who is in debt and struggles to pay child support. One day, while on the subway, he is invited to play some games for a chance to win money. He accepts the offer and is then taken to a secret location where the games are being hosted. He becomes one of 456 players who are fighting for the same cash prize he wants. There’s also a front man who ensures things are running in order; he’s seen wearing a unique black mask. In the first episode, there is a revelation that states that each death in the games adds more money to the grand prize. In order to survive, Gi-hun realizes that he must team up with the other players including one player named Sang-woo, an old friend of his.

What makes Squid Game fascinating is that at its core, it’s a criticism of capitalism. Squid Game shows viewers how desperate the players are to win the prize cash. These players all suffer from socioeconomic poverty or loss, with one of them being an immigrant named Ali whose boss refuses to give him months of paycheques. As a result, he fights his way through in order to win the money he never received.

The reality is that Squid Game reveals that capitalism is a game that we all participate in. The viewers are the rich – the top 1% of humanity. In the show, the VIPS are made up of wealthy people who watch the players struggle for survival; it’s simply entertainment for them. In the end, the last man standing, Gi-hun, finds out that one of the players was actually a wealthy man who orchestrated the games out of pure boredom. He wanted to entertain himself and his wealthy friends, the VIPS.

The desperation capitalism creates means that people die trying to evade the debts that they owe. It forces people to risk their lives just for the mere chance that they might win the large cash prize and have their debts paid off. This is a reality that many can relate to. Squid Game mirrors and reflects the fast paced capitalist world we all live in. In order to survive, we must play the capitalist game of catch up. For the characters of Squid Game, the most efficient way to catch up is a life-or-death tournament of children’s games.

Squid Game showcases the truth: that the system of capitalism does indeed produce inequality. More importantly, this inequality stems from the exploitation of those who cannot afford to keep up with it.

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