Word: The next article incorporates spoilers about “Squid Recreation.”
Is the Netflix Korean sensation Squid Recreation an allegory for late capitalism? The response to the present is much like medieval morality performs that tried to hammer residence the everlasting damnability of the Seven Lethal Sins.
I’m a college literature professor who focuses on movie and video media. Which means that I’m normally on the hunt for “constitutive contradictions” — these hypocrisies which will defy the rule of legislation and customary sense, however are required in allegedly simply, democratic, ultra-advanced capitalist societies.
And so, I’m undecided between a crimson button and a inexperienced button of the kinds that determine in Squid Recreation Episode 2’s mockery of an election. If allegory is a narrative or efficiency conveying deeper or hidden that means that its viewers should work to interpret, the present would qualify based mostly on viewers response alone. However possibly it isn’t in any respect allegorical, in that Squid Recreation makes what little covert evil and hypocrisy could stay in our world so graphically, unmistakably overt.
Options to capitalism
This sequence socks us with what cultural theorist Mark Fisher referred to as “capitalist realism” — the impossibility of imagining an out of doors to the political-economic system by which most of us reside, not to mention an alternative choice to it.
However when requested if he intentionally got down to expose the dehumanizing and even deadly results of late capitalism, Squid Recreation creator Hwang Dong-hyuk laughed off the suggestion that his blockbuster sequence delivers any “profound” level or message.
“The present is motivated by a easy concept,” he instructed the Guardian. “We’re combating for our lives in very unequal circumstances.”
Hwang referred to his personal expertise of the 2009 world financial downturn as an inspiration for the sequence, which noticed financing for his movie initiatives dry up and compelled him, his mom and grandmother to take out loans.
Drawn to the hardcore survivalist video games depicted in Japanese and South Korean comedian books, Hwang contemplated simply how dangerous issues may get and the way far he would possibly go to maintain himself and his household alive. He didn’t must look far to seek out cautionary tales.
The again story of Squid Recreation‘s protagonist, Seong Gi-hun, is a fictionalized retelling of the violent 2009 conflict between automotive producer Ssangyong and 1,000 of the over 2,600 workers Ssangyong laid off. Putting employees stood down a brutal alliance of personal safety forces and Korean police for 77 days. Thirty strikers and some of their spouses misplaced their lives — many to suicide — through the strike and its aftermath within the Korean courts.
Continued under- and unemployment, lack of property and gathered debt (compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic), has meant that in 2021, private debt in South Korea climbed to 105 per cent of GDP. Canada’s common family debt skyrocketed to 112 per cent of GDP within the first quarter of 2021, earlier than dropping to 109 per cent within the second quarter.
“We’re all dwelling in a Squid Recreation world,” Hwang instructed the Guardian, with out pretension or exaggeration.
Squid Recreation: the actual debt disaster shaking South Korea that impressed the hit TV present
Monetary calls for
Actor Lee Jung-jae as Seong Gi-hun is riveting as our everyman. Like tens of millions of employees displaced and discarded worldwide, Squid Recreation’s protagonist Gi-hun tries to remain afloat within the service and gig economies, with a fried rooster restaurant that shortly fails, after which as a driver.
He takes out loans from banks and mortgage sharks that tenuously prop up his playing habit. Gi-hun’s ex-wife has remarried, to a gainfully employed man, and is planning to maneuver with him to america, together with Gi-hun’s daughter. The brand new husband can afford to have fun his stepdaughter’s birthday with dinner at a steakhouse (uttered in English, so all comprehend it’s a giant deal), whereas Gi-hun can solely pay for a sizzling canine and fish cake fast-food snack, and a tragicomic inappropriate reward clawed out from an arcade sport.
An inveterate gamer and perennial optimist with an endearingly expressive face, Gi-hun lives on the cusp of the Huge Payoff — whether or not off-track betting, withdrawing cash from his mom’s checking account or accepting an invite to play a sport of ddakji in a Seoul subway station.
However like all video games of probability within the nine-episode sequence, it’s clear that this one — the place gamers toss paper tokens in an try and flip over their opponent’s tokens — is rigged from earlier than the beginning. It’s additionally clear that every one 456 opponents (Gi-hun is No. 456) are in a battle royal for his or her lives and an enormous money jackpot, which lends the present its highest-stakes, highest-concept model of suspense.
What could also be much less clear — and probably the stuff of constitutive contradictions and ironies galore — is why report numbers of viewers have flocked to Squid Recreation. The sequence is probably the most watched Netflix sequence ever, beating out earlier rankings champion Bridgerton. Bloomberg Information estimates Squid Recreation’s price to Netflix to be near US$900 million.
The entire sequence, nonetheless, solely price about $21 million to make, whereas creator Hwang misplaced six tooth from all of the stress and has acquired no performance-based bonuses. He additionally doesn’t need to be perpetually often known as “the Squid Recreation man.”
An unidentified Korean part-time meals supply driver instructed the Guardian: “It’s important to pay to look at [the show] and I don’t know anybody who will let me use their Netflix account.… In any case, why would I need to watch a bunch of individuals with large money owed? I can simply look within the mirror.”
Why certainly would anybody in monetary straits like all of the gamers within the sequence need to watch Squid Recreation? I’ve searched the web, with out success, for a ballpark variety of the 142 million households that tuned in globally who could have signed up for a Netflix free-trial interval to take action.
Hwang is at present in discussions along with his streaming empire paymasters over potential further seasons in addition to his different movie initiatives. Contemplating business progress predictions, what is going to some viewers pay or sacrifice to maintain watching Squid Recreation?
Extra to the purpose, why would they? I believe a solution to the late-capitalist allegory query hinges on what audiences see mirrored again to themselves on display. One viewer would possibly acknowledge their very own difficult state of affairs in a personality’s story, whereas one other sees struggling of an unimaginable sort.
These divergent vectors of identification could decide whether or not there’s or isn’t any profound or hidden that means to Squid Recreation. They could additionally affect new, ugly video games of probability, manipulation and life-or-death subsequent season. We’ll have to remain tuned to seek out out.