‘Squid Game’ takes the world by storm

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Joel Bautista | The Ticker

Mia Gindis

The Korean drama “Squid Game,” has become a global phenomenon practically overnight despite the language barrier for most of its viewers.

The Netflix Inc. survival drama shot to the top of the charts in all 83 countries where the platform provides its streaming service, shortly after its first release on Sept. 17.

Ted Sarandos, co-CEO of Netflix, has even confirmed that the show is slated to be the most popular show in Netflix’s history in any language.

The survival drama follows the plight of 456 individuals facing severe debt as they compete in a mysterious game to win a cash prize of 45 billion won,  or approximately $38.5 million.

Players are forced to play a series of children’s games, such as “Red Light, Green Light,” “Tug of War,” marbles and more.  At the end, losers aren’t just eliminated—they are  killed.

Since its premiere, “Squid Game” has catalyzed an international embrace of Korean culture, fueled mainly by a widespread curiosity about the children’s games that drive the plot.

Despite its fantastical aspects, the survival drama has managed to maintain a cross-cultural appeal because of the many themes within it, such as the recent widening of wealth disparities and the debt crisis that eerily reflect the current global climate.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, South Korea currently ranks at No. 11 using the Gini coefficient, which assesses income inequality among nations. The United States sits at No. 6.

Household debt amongst South Korean families has increased exponentially, prompting economists to warn that such unprecedented levels of debt might inevitably stifle the economy.

Similarly, housing affordability has become a hot-button issue, with living prices rising by over 50%in urban areas like Seoul, according to The New York Times.

“The stories and the problems of the characters are extremely personalized but also reflect the problems and realities of Korean society,” the show’s creator Hwang Dong-hyuk  said.

He completed the script in 2008, but had little success in getting it picked up. Dong-hyuk overhauled it more recently to better reflect the current economic landscape, particularly one shaped by the pandemic.

Many can relate to the characters’ sense of helplessness when faced with the reality of their situation outside of the game.

Following the first challenge, the surviving players are given a choice of continuing with the competition. After spending the next several days back home, a majority of the group chooses to risk death and return.

These events transpire in the second episode which, despite being mainly set in the outside world rather than the game arena, is aptly titled “Hell.”

“Squid Game” has received a lot of backlash for its often-times over-the-top gory visuals. Characters are seen dying at the hands of faceless functionaries and mercilessly slaughtering each other in the din of night.

However, the brutish violence depicted in the show only signifies the level of inhumanity the contestants are willing to endure for a chance to survive, as opposed to the inhumanity they must endure among  regular society with no chance at survival at all.