Word: The next article accommodates spoilers about “Squid Sport.”
Is the Netflix Korean sensation Squid Sport an allegory for late capitalism? The response to the present is just like medieval morality performs that tried to hammer house 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 regulation and customary sense, however are required in allegedly simply, democratic, ultra-advanced capitalist societies.
And so, I’m undecided between a pink button and a inexperienced button of the kinds that determine in Squid Sport 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 primarily based on viewers response alone. However possibly it isn’t in any respect allegorical, in that Squid Sport makes what little covert evil and hypocrisy might stay in our world so graphically, unmistakably overt.
Options to capitalism
This collection socks us with what cultural theorist Mark Fisher referred to as “capitalist realism” — the impossibility of imagining an outdoor to the political-economic system by which most of us dwell, not to mention a substitute for it.
However when requested if he intentionally got down to expose the dehumanizing and even deadly results of late capitalism, Squid Sport creator Hwang Dong-hyuk laughed off the suggestion that his blockbuster collection delivers any “profound” level or message.
“The present is motivated by a easy concept,” he advised the Guardian. “We’re preventing for our lives in very unequal circumstances.”
Hwang referred to his personal expertise of the 2009 international financial downturn as an inspiration for the collection, which noticed financing for his movie tasks 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 may go to maintain himself and his household alive. He didn’t must look far to seek out cautionary tales.
The again story of Squid Sport‘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 staff 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 accrued 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 residing in a Squid Sport world,” Hwang advised the Guardian, with out pretension or exaggeration.
Squid Sport: 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 thousands and thousands of staff displaced and discarded worldwide, Squid Sport’s protagonist Gi-hun tries to remain afloat within the service and gig economies, with a fried hen restaurant that rapidly 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 an enormous deal), whereas Gi-hun can solely pay for a scorching canine and fish cake fast-food snack, and a tragicomic inappropriate present clawed out from an arcade recreation.
An inveterate gamer and perennial optimist with an endearingly expressive face, Gi-hun lives on the cusp of the Large Payoff — whether or not off-track betting, withdrawing cash from his mom’s checking account or accepting an invite to play a recreation of ddakji in a Seoul subway station.
However like all video games of probability within the nine-episode collection, 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 each 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 file numbers of viewers have flocked to Squid Sport. The collection is essentially the most watched Netflix collection ever, beating out earlier rankings champion Bridgerton. Bloomberg Information estimates Squid Sport’s price to Netflix to be near US$900 million.
The entire collection, nevertheless, 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 ceaselessly often called “the Squid Sport man.”
An unidentified Korean part-time meals supply driver advised the Guardian: “You need to pay to observe [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 big money owed? I can simply look within the mirror.”
Why certainly would anybody in monetary straits like every of the gamers within the collection need to watch Squid Sport? I’ve searched the web, with out success, for a ballpark variety of the 142 million households that tuned in globally who might have signed up for a Netflix free-trial interval to take action.
Hwang is at the moment in discussions along with his streaming empire paymasters over potential further seasons in addition to his different movie tasks. Contemplating business development predictions, what is going to some viewers pay or sacrifice to maintain watching Squid Sport?
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 may acknowledge their very own difficult scenario in a personality’s story, whereas one other sees struggling of an unimaginable type.
These divergent vectors of identification might decide whether or not there may be or isn’t any profound or hidden that means to Squid Sport. They could additionally affect new, grotesque video games of probability, manipulation and life-or-death subsequent season. We’ll have to remain tuned to seek out out.
Elaine Chang doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or group that might profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their educational appointment.