“Squid Game” has become what it criticizes


Joseph Stanger

Netflix and Walmart partnered in offering ‘Squid Game’ merchandise, contrasting with the show’s meaning.

Joseph Stanger, Columnist

*Light spoilers for the show*

If you haven’t already seen it, you’re probably sick of hearing about it. “Squid Game” is a Korean drama series and the latest pop-culture craze to come out of Netflix, and whether you hate it or love it, you can’t deny its explosive success. 

I shouldn’t have to convince anyone that “Squid Game” is an anti-capitalist show. The creator, Hwang Dong-hyuk, has outright said it. If you understand capitalism, then you understand this show is commenting on it from the moment money gets involved. 

You might hear grifters on the internet try to convince you that Hwang is somehow wrong about his own series, which he first conceptualized in 2008 amidst the collapse of the global economy that year, and that it’s actually a critique of communism. That’s a silly notion considering how applicable much of the show is to any society under a capitalist organization of the economy.

The main character is an ex-factory employee who experiences PTSD from a violent work strike, which eventually resulted in him getting to a place where he’s a ripe contestant for “Squid Game.” The game, in and of itself, is reflective of capitalist society, which influences and pushes participants to step on and over others in order to improve their own chances of success. 

The game also allows participants to democratically decide if they want to participate, but once they see how poor their conditions are outside of the game, they conclude that they have a better chance of succeeding in “Squid Game” than they do in normal society.

But, despite the clear meaning of the show, which advocates against capitalistic greed, “Squid Game” has quickly become a money-printing pop-culture phenomenon. Because of this success and the business decisions that come with it, “Squid Game’s” impact is virtually antithetical to its meaning.

In the weeks following the release of the show, Netflix quickly partnered with Walmart in order to create merchandise. You can already purchase hats, T-shirts, notebooks and even Funko Pops based on the main characters. 

The show also influenced Netflix’s competition in the streamer space to commission more international productions; not because good shows can come out of international productions, but because cheap shows can. In the weeks following “Squid Game’s” release, Disney announced that it was planning 27 new shows and movies from the Asia Pacific region. 

Corporations have taken to social media to turn their logos into shapes for the dalgona game from the show, real-versions of “Squid Game” are popping up around the world (without killing, thankfully) and the IRL VIP himself, Jeff Bezos, is making posts congratulating Netflix on “Squid Game’s” success. “I can’t wait to watch the show,” he tweeted.

I believe that part of the reason for the show having an impact that opposes its own values (at least in the United States) is due to a lack of media literacy. In South Korea, the show has resulted in workers using it as inspiration to strike against the government’s labor policies. Meanwhile, in the US, people are using it as inspiration to dress up like one of the “Squid Game” guys for Halloween.

There are definitely Americans that recognize the meaning of the show, but most will probably watch it for the characters and gruesome set-pieces. From what I’ve seen, most of the discourse revolving around “Squid Game” is about the games played, whether kids should be able to watch the show or  Jung Ho-yeon, the South Korean model and actress who gained over 20 million followers after the release of the show. 

Until media literacy in the US is made more important, shows even with the most obvious and harsh criticisms of the systems we live in will only be swallowed up and used to perpetuate those systems. And maybe, if more people are made aware of the problems that exist in our current society under capitalism, more people will be willing to stand up against it instead of becoming players in the very real “Squid Game.”