Squid Game: An allegory of economic and social inequality
Directed by Hwang Dong-Hyuk, the survival-thriller series Squid Game offers a dark concept behind the classic Korean childhood games: where debt-ridden competitors are given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to turn their crises into fortune. Set in South Korea, Squid Game provides a glimpse of the social inequality and exploitation of the poor – transcending the cultural barriers from viewers (and players) all over the world.
The series also defies the conventional horror concepts with its surreal eye-candy settings and delightful music playing in the background. With each game tickling our imagination and bringing out our inner child, the sense of nostalgia is short-lived as blood begins to splatter on the vibrant walls, the stakes going between life and death real fast. The players are now playing with their lives on the line, each more desperate to survive than the last.
One of them is the divorced Seung Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae), who finds himself in deep waters as soon as he finds out the diabetes of his mother, the risks of losing custody of his daughter, and loan sharks coming for his blood. Hoping to see a glimmer of hope, Gi-hun voluntarily participated in a six-game series – only to find out hundreds of participants were also competing for the prize pool of 45.6 billion won or 1.9 billion pesos – enough money to change a person’s life.
Providing a picture of the debt crisis and social inequalities in South Korea, the series only exposes the tip of the iceberg of the precarious conditions of the marginalized which drags them further into the gutter.
Diving deeper into the long-standing abuses and mistreatment of migrant workers, another protagonist and crowd favorite Ali Abdul (Anupam Tripathi) shows the unfair treatment to the working class, after his employer refuses to give his long-overdue salary. With a family to provide for, his decision in joining the game symbolizes selfless sacrifices one is willing to make in the name of love for their families.
On a similar note, the story of Kang Sae-byeok (Jung Ho-yeon) depicts the hardships that North Korea escapees face in searching for a life that they desire. In a tear-jerking moment between the aloof Sae-byeok and Jiyeong (Lee Yoo-mi), she revealed her intention in bringing her family together in South Korea for a new start, with her mother trapped in the north and brother in the orphanage.
Squid Game keeps us at the edge of our seats with shocking revelations and mind-blowing twists and turns, but more than that, it reveals the gold-bedazzled masked spectators relishing the bloodthirsty competition by trivializing the frightful deaths of the players.
Appalling enough to imagine, but the VIP guests or spectators take it even further by placing a hefty amount of bet on players. It demonstrates how much in a dehumanizing position the marginalized are reduced to mere “horses” in a race track betting game.
As the series unmasks the harsh truths of society behind the concepts of playgrounds and game control rooms, Squid Game underscores how capitalism can make us believe that we have nothing to lose when we barely make ends meet. Forced to their extremes, the players are led to the illusion of choice that Squid Game brings, until they find out that there was never a choice to begin with – at least, not without getting their hands dirty. They are forced to think that the gains from these choices are worth the price, without knowing the stakes behind these momentary wins: a widened divide and a perpetuated inequality.
Slider Courtesy to Netflix.