Capitalism is Worse Than Death: What the Squid Game Series Tells You About

The South Korean series "Squid Game" became the most popular Netflix project in 90 countries in a week. Forbes Life editor Sofia Brøntwein examines what its main idea is and why viewers might like it so much

About 10 years ago, Seoul-based South Korean director Hwang Dong-hyeok began working on the script for the mini-series "Squid Game," whose main idea was that people on the brink of bankruptcy play childishly lethal games for money. Don-hek was living with his mother and grandmother almost below the poverty line at the time. He couldn't finish the script in the end - he had to sell his laptop to get $675 in cash for it and pay for household expenses. 

Poverty is a national problem in South Korea. Despite the fact that the country is one of the world's leaders in the beauty, medical and self-care industry, millions of South Koreans live in dire economic conditions. The state ranks fifth in the ranking of countries with a high level of relative poverty (set against the average after-tax income). About half of South Korea's population over the age of 65 lack a decent livelihood and are considered poor.

The country was at the top of the ranks of poor nations even before the pandemic, but during the lockdown associated with the spread of the coronavirus infection, South Koreans found themselves in an even greater crisis, making the idea of Hwang Dong-hyeok's series more relevant than ever.

Whereas 10 years ago investors and producers were wary of investing in The Squid Game because they thought it was too bloody and violent, in 2021 Netflix executives finally invested in the series, which literally became the streaming service's most popular show in 90 countries within a week. In addition, this project is another high-profile Netflix bid to become the main platform for the development of local cinematography.

TikTok users are voicing dozens of conspiracy theories about what the series is all about. The hashtag #squidgame has already posted more than 32 billion clips on the social network, most of which are dedicated to various (possible) Easter eggshells. By the way, if you read the fans' ideas and speculation, watching "Squid Game" becomes more interesting. 

Instead of rallying and winning together, the contestants start killing each other

The idea of the project "Squid Game" is extremely clear and even banal. The main characters of the series - a 456 people who either live below the poverty line, or are on the verge of bankruptcy. These people need money so urgently that they agree to take part in a kind of reality show. Every day, they are put to the test - a classic children's game - for which they will either get money or a bullet in the forehead. Six different games await the participants, in each of which some people die, causing the final winnings to grow. If more than one player completes all of the challenges, they will share the prize. If one person makes it to the final, he gets the whole amount - $38.5 million. Of course, instead of rallying and winning together, the participants start killing each other because they can't cope with their greed.

"The Squid Game," using the example of a miniature society existing in an enclosed space under strict rules, demonstrates the main vices and sins of humanity--a kind of South Korean Nekrasov, which visually pretends to be cyberpunk in places, Wes Anderson films in places. The protagonists question whether they are human beings deserving of respect or workhorses nobody cares about. They try to understand how far they are willing to go for money, gradually abandoning all moral principles and foundations. They find their own ways to cheat the system by bribing someone, by sleeping with someone, by violating their living conditions, or by using force. The participants look for allies, but for their own gain they betray even friends and comrades-in-arms. Gradually they come to terms with the fact that someone establishes absurd and cruel rules of life that cannot be influenced, and they voluntarily shift responsibility for decision-making to a third party they have never seen.

While watching, the viewer may have a desire to see some of the characters do right and good, but human nature in "The Squid Game" is revealed in a depressing but predictable format. The culprit is the money sun, which hangs from the ceiling of the room where all the project participants live. Periodically, the players, as if hypnotized, look at the huge glass pig-shaped piggy bank, emitting a warm yellow light, and dream about how good everything will be when they win. Finally the sun, which should shine on everyone equally, will turn in their direction, and life will become pleasant and easy. Well, if it doesn't, they'll die. And that means they will never have to go back to a poor, miserable and dreary life without money. While the viewer doesn't understand how it was even possible to agree to participate in such carnage, the players are convinced that this experiment gives them at least some chance for a bright future, whereas outside of the project they have no prospects. "It's just as bad out there outside the game as it is here. What happens if they let us go? We all don't even have anywhere to go," the experimenters say when an argument arises over whether to stop playing. Realizing that they are right is sad, but not at all new.  The misery and deprivation of the poor are, of course, watched by the rich, who have been so corrupted by money that death makes them laugh.


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