I was shocked to hear the ‘red light, green light’ Squid Game tune during a post-Dashain family gathering. Must be a caller ringtone on one of my cousins’ phones, I thought.
I inquired who it was and, to my shock, found out the source—my four-year-old niece Samby! I could not believe she was singing it and asked her to do it again and she sang it with such ease that I got jitters. I asked my cousins if they had let their young kids watch Squid Game or if the little ones were present while the parents watched it. Apparently, these kids learned it from YouTube.
Probably the most talked-about series on Netflix after Breaking Bad, Squid Game was released in September 2021. Netflix calls it the company’s biggest series launch ever, topping 111 million views globally, beating Bridgerton at 89 million. Netflix, which claims 142 million households watched the Korean series, says it has added four million new subscribers post-Squid Game success.
A teenage nephew suggested I watch the series, with a disclaimer that it is extremely violent and disturbing in places. I am not going to lie—I enjoyed it thoroughly. In my defense, I would like to say that I wanted to watch it for all the hype it was creating. After that, I watched Alice in Borderland (Japanese thriller series) and Chestnutman (Danish thriller series), both suggested to me on Twitter. If you have not watched Squid Game and are planning to watch it sometime soon, I would like to give you a spoiler alert. I have tried not to spill much detail though.
In a nutshell, it’s a story of financially broke individuals getting lured into a deadly game by an omnipresent surveillance system controlled by the elites. The villains—capitalists/elites—do character studies, and scope out the potential players whom they come to know inside out, often better than the poor souls themselves. The carrot of millions of dollars in cash is dangled. In this winner-takes-all game, there can be only one winner while hundreds of others die.
The hard-to-swallow part for a lot of lovers of this series is the critical title it got during the reviews. It is constantly called a “Commentary on Capitalism” by a lot of viewers and critics. Yes, it is an imagined world that is divided into struggling classes willing to kill without remorse and to survive to entertain the faceless elites. It is a story of two economic strata, mainly the lowest rungs who are desperate for money and the richest who are bored with all the money in the world and need that adrenaline rush and thrill through violence. The series presents the richest as out-and-out hedonists—depraved, bored, and cruel, which is a problematic stereotype.
In the world Squid Game presents, the poor must either stay poor, which is too deterministic because class mobility happens a lot, or they have to kill each other to survive and climb the economic ladder. That is the kind of capitalism Squid Game celebrates and mocks at the same time. It celebrates capitalism by offering the worst possible version of it, while the same is also mocked by the lead character, who stays kind despite his riches.
People might miss that the chap who wins forty billion won (around $33 million) does not use it for a while. Then he starts giving it to others, which again shows the humanity in him, something he never loses throughout the series.
As someone mentioned on Twitter, it is a sophisticated version of the likes of Battle Royale, Hostel, Hunger Games, The Hunt, and others that initiated this kind of genre, which part of viewers call ‘sick’: The rich run out of ways to have fun and create games where the poor get killed.
With an impact value of close to $900 million according to a CNBC news report, on an investment of $21.4 million, Netflix has already decided to invest more in Korean Drama after the splendid success of Squid Game.
In my opinion, this shows the appetite for violence and blood splatter in global movies and series has increased even in us as viewers. Squid Game has methodically structured a new world philosophy, that to survive and be successful you need to betray and even kill. Movies and dramas have a huge impact on people’s thinking and lifestyle. Thus a series like this should come with a strong and visible disclaimer that it is work of fiction and should not be copied or imitated in real life, even if it’s just a children's game from the ‘80s. Let it also prompt some soul-searching among all its ardent views.