I figured that I better sit down and take the time to write this out, considering that the show is still fresh in my mind. If you were not able to figure out my the title of this post, I hopped on the bandwagon. Yes, I took the plunge. I could no longer stand my own ignorance; I was tired of seeing the hordes of memes and references to the people in red jumpsuits and weird masks with shapes on them. Yes, yes I did. I watched Squid Game.
I am by no means an Asian drama otaku. I’ve really only watched a handful of K-Dramas, so it cannot be said that I am familiar with the tropes, ins-and-outs, etc. when it comes to that. Granted, this does not mean I remain in complete ignorance. What I do know is that Dramas are prime binge material. (at least for the ones that I have watched) If there is anything that I have learned, it is that it is so easy to sit down and become enveloped into the narrative. You sit down to watch the show, and before you know it, it’s 4 in the morning and your whole evening/night has passed you by. I say this from experience, obviously, and Squid Game was no different.
As I have already mentioned, I was drawn into this show as a result of the countless social media posts that I have seen across a variety of platforms. Whether it be viral tweets on twitter, fanart on reddit, or casual whimsical references on discord; it’s abundantly clear to me that Squid Game has taken the world by storm. And even though I don’t use it, I am sure that TikTok is gaslighting the absolute crap out of this show. Wouldn’t be surprised if people began their own imitations of the show, in whatever way is convenient to them. I hope I am wrong, but that’s what people tend to do. The show itself is evidence.
Another thing that took me by surprise, prior to me watching it, was an article I stumbled upon. It claimed that Squid Game was on its way to becoming “The Most Viewed Netflix of All Time.” Now, I am not 100% sure on the details here, but I am taking that headline at its word. That’s a pretty crazy claim, considering how long Netflix has been around. Anything that has that many viewers is worth taking a look into. If this is true, it follows suit that there is something which distinguishes Squid Game from not only other dramas but everything else in general.
What is Squid Game
First off, the name of the show comes from a children’s game akin to Red Rover, Hopscotch, etc. From the way I understand it, Squid Game (or some variation of it) was likely played by children in Korea during the 80s. The protagonist of the show explains the way the game is played in the opening sequence of the show:
Once the game starts, the defense can run around on two feet within bounds, while the offense outside the line is only allowed to hop on one foot. But if an attacker cuts through the waist of the squid outpacing the defense, he or she is given the freedom to walk freely on two feet. For whatever reason, we called that the secret inspector. After preparing for the final battle, the attackers gather at the entrance of the squid. In order to win, the attackers must tap the small closed-off space on the squid’s head with their foot. If the defender pushes you out of the squid’s line, you die. That’s right. You die.-Seong Gi-hun
Before touching base on the factors which are causing people to flock to Netflix to watch Squid Game, I want to briefly outline the premise of the show. This is for the sake of anyone who may not be aware of what it’s about, etc. It may not matter, as it’s unlikely that anyone will actually read this. At any rate, I want to make sure no one is left wanting.
Squid Game is a K-Drama spanning nine episodes (each around 50 minutes long). It follows the life of Gi-hun, a middle-aged man living a meager existence mooching off of his elderly mother’s wages. This is the conclusion the viewer will come to 5-10 minutes into the first episode. As Episode 1 drags on, providing exposition, it illustrates the underlying circumstances of Gi-hun’s current state of existence. Some years back, his company downsized and fired him after a decade of employment. In addition, his wife divorced him, taking full custody of his only daughter as well. Along with other circumstances of happenstance, the events surrounding his family relations cause Gi-hun to get into deep debt with a number of loansharks. All of these things culminate and inadvertently lead him into the position the viewer finds him in during the first episode.
After being invited to play a series of children’s games for a chance to win a life-changing amount of money, Gi-hun accepts and is taken to a remote location with 455 other players. There is a ton of shady stuff going on, and the aura that surrounds the environment speaks volumes about just how generally unsafe it all is. It soon becomes clear that there is a catch to the games: when on is eliminated from the game, they are eliminated from the game.
I would say that Dong-sui’s financial/personal situation is not rare, particularly among his peers that also find themselves stuck in the midst of these games. Though I am not up-to-date with the current socioeconomic climate of South Korea, I feel safe in assuming that many find themselves in desperate, trying situations that can be compared to the protagonist’s; along with the personal situations of the rest of the contestants who find themselves thrown into the midst of childrens’ games marathon as well. Willingly allowing oneself to be put into the midst of this turmoil is something that can only be brought on about by a crippling lack of financial freedom.
The Crippling Chaos of Social Classes
I am not the best when it comes to expressing or illustrating complex insights upon the ever-evolving nature of the economy and/or society as a whole. I ask anyone, who may find my lack of astuteness offensive, for forgiveness. There is nothing more that I want to avoid than to pretend like I know what I am talking about, because I definitely do not know. My only intention is to attempt to call attention to an issue that is as old as time. In any place, at any moment in history, there has always been those who are on two sides of the coin. There have always been those with the plenty, as well as those with the few. Has there ever been anyone that has not been given the shitty end of the stick?
Squid Game develops a number of different themes throughout the length of its narrative. Underlying it all though is the bleak injustice of inequality. It begs the question that if all are equal, then how is this expressed throughout the daily and practical life of each individual?
It doesn’t take but one day to lose everything. I am sure that every one of us has examples (some less extreme than others) that come to mind. It is all a matter of circumstances, circumstances which are nothing more than the product of our own environment and unique experiences. These factors are beyond our control. Each person is essentially a victim of happenstance. The distribution of wealth, debt, etc. is no different. We have control over nothing. It is a matter of chance, a combination of luck and an exertion of effort at the right time.
I cannot say for certain why this show has blown up as much as it has. I do think that it has something to do with the underpinning themes regarding the nature of socioeconomic inequality. There is no doubt that this cuts to the heart of viewers, especially considering how unpredictable life is in this modern age. In addition, I would say that a huge part of the appeal stems from a combination of others factors. The bulk of these would be covered under the nearly $40 billion WON budget (i.e. $16,812,670 USD). Squid Game makes an affective use of this massive budget at its disposal — being demonstrated through the settings/backdrops and the cast. It was nice to see the Brad Pitt of South Korea make a cameo appearance as well. Love that dude.
I cannot vouch whether or not this is worthy of the hype it is receiving. That is not my job; even if it somehow were, I would remain conflicted about how to assess that. All I know is that I enjoyed watching this. It was captivating enough to make me binge my way through it with a couple of breaks between episodes. For me, it was a deeply-moving portrayal about the brutality and tragedy that is human life. We are so easily swept up by the material, so much so to the point that we are willing to discount our fellow man for a mere opportunity to gain. Yet, at the same time, we are forced into this as a result of the world that we are forced into during birth. Money makes the world go ’round; it’s a necessity. Squid Game demonstrates this dichotomy of the human experience, and it seems like it wants us to really acknowledge this aspect of life. It’s possible that this international hype-train will lead to some good. Hopefully anyway.
There is a ton more I could say, but I will refrain. I mostly just felt the need to get this stuff onto the page because I finished watching this earlier today. Squid Game is deserving of a write-up, even if it is a half-assed one. I doubt that I am going to have to be the one to turn others onto this show, but you never know. Let it be known that I think this is worthy of a watch.
But yeah, I did not proofread this, so my apologies for any issues.
That’s all I got to say about that.