PostApocalyptic Media is probably one of the only websites where we writers are allowed to say we’re almost hoping for the end of the world. Still, the announcement of a real squid game even made us frown.
In truth, the first thing I did was laugh. Then, I said, “did they even watch the show?”
It’s possible that the executives who greenlighted this upcoming game show never watched the original series, which is a blistering attack on wealth culture and a critique of how those with less are often treated as consumables and dehumanized in society. This too “unflinchingly tackles a problem particularly rooted in South Korea: the debt and the endless struggle to repay it.”
This next squid game The game show is both ridiculous in concept and raises two important questions: what is a dystopia, and are we living in a dystopia right now?
The basic dictionary definition of a dystopia is “a State or society in which there is great suffering or injustice, usually totalitarian or post-apocalyptic. However, it does not specify that these last two are essential facets. Do squid game function in a society of great suffering or injustice? And if so, how is it different from real life?
First of all, it depends on what is meant by “great suffering and injustice”. In most dystopian stories, it is obvious who is oppressed. All inhabitants of the Districts of The hunger Gamesfor example, suffer, just like the women of The Handmaid’s Tale.
battle royaleon the other hand (both Koushun Takami’s novel and the 2000 film based on it), is a comparable title to squid game in that most of the story takes place in an isolated area, away from mainstream society. We only know that the first is a dystopia due to flashbacks and the ending, which reveals that it is Japan under totalitarian rule. The novel/film strives to show how horrible such a form of government would be (the plot involves a class of teenagers forced to fight to the death or be killed by rigged collars).
But it’s there squid game becomes difficult to nail. The outside world in squid game is about the same as here. People live normal lives in a democracy with access to food, water, housing, hospitals, education and entertainment…it doesn’t seem like a dystopia. People have rights. The cops (at least one of them) try to help. The game show is to take place on a private, remote island/resort, probably because money doesn’t give you complete immunity from murder.
Yet enough people suffer so much financially agree to participate in a game show where they only have a 1 in 456 chance don’t die seems to suggest that, yes, society in squid game is a dystopia. However, this is not caused by a government with an iron fist or a collapsed world, but by capitalism and the culture of wealth. Director Hwang Dong-hyuk explained that the main character’s perilous financial situation was based on experiences of workers at South Korean automaker SsangYong Motor in 2009.
Therefore, if the company in squid game is just everyday life in South Korea, it would prevent normal life in South Korea (and, ostensibly, the rest of the developed world) from being dystopian. We just don’t see it because the injustices aren’t as obvious as in Fahrenheit 451 Where 1984. Or because debt creeps in slowly and we often blame the debtor.
Creating a (unironic) game show based on a hyper-critical wealth culture series seems like a joke. Instead, the joke may end up being on us.
squid game was released on Netflix in September 2021 and is currently Netflix’s most-watched show.