Squid Game: Capitalism’s New Front

Squid Game has taken the headlines of post-Covid television, drawing an audience of almost three times the population of South Korea. In the wake of its success, its creator Hwang Dong-hyuk has confirmed work on the second season of the show saying, “you leave us no choice”, suggestive of a lack of choice, a lack of authority over his own creative product/political discourse. More evident than ever is the show’s position within the capitalist market it criticises.

The visual appeal may turn the heads of those not artistically inclined. Everything is very immediate. Childish shapes and vibrant colours meld with everything to give it a sinister touch. The show is accessible and, for this reason, Dong-hyuk’s handling of difficult subject matter should be attentively criticised. We should ask: is the means of showing mass-killing and the exploitation of the poor appropriate and sensitive? And by this I mean we should hold those responsible to account. The biggest danger for the show is the transformation of the spectacle of murder into something purely for entertainment’s sake. Cheap shocks keep people interested and hooked, for Netflix and co. to profit as the Games do from its VIPs.

And all this is potent when, at times, its representations become Holocaust-esque: scenes of mass body burning, but dressed up with a cute ribbon like an artisan bakery. There is a possibility that the sinister aspect of the image is outweighed by the beautification of death. The visual design has gifted the show an identifiable brand, especially before the money-making halloween. Unsurprisingly, merchandise already exists – official and unofficial. People can buy costumes, dress up as their favourite murderers from the show, or poor desperate person. Even with such an obvious message of anti-capitalism and exploitation, why does the official merchandise not shock anyone? It would be insensitive to commercialise any of the images associated with the Holocaust or other massacres.

Even without merchandising, the show has been enough to increase Netflix’s market value by $19bn. And people have already made games replicating it. YouTuber MrBeast’s plans to make a real life Squid Game. The capitalist critique has been quite the hit for capitalism. As long as there is no murder, it appears to be okay to commercialise or make suffering entertainment. If anything, it appears that MrBeast has completely missed the point of the show, thinking: ‘what a great idea for my channel.’

Before I find myself digressing too much, I want to look at the show’s promised second season. As I said earlier, the show’s creator claims: “There’s been so much pressure, so much demand,” leaving him with no choice to write another season. If Squid Game was created for political purposes, the global commercial market’s influence on it is all too clear. Let’s not kid ourselves, the cliffhanger at the end signals that it was always a possibility. I am unsure if he even believes in his own show. When faced with its own enemy, the show crumbles. It possesses no internal strength to resist its distributors. A stand-alone series in my opinion could have been far more effective. But based on the reports, its lack of internal strength is not necessarily the overwhelming power of Netflix, but the creator’s impulse to satisfy demand.

So, what is next for the show? More killing, more horror to drive the affective responses to keep it as entertaining as the last. How long till it numbs and naturalises its homicide to the point it fails to move us? Or satisfy its audience’s hunger for a happy ending, and let them reenter the world they live satisfied, not indignant with capitalism. Murder is not a spectacle. With the horrors it contains, Squid Game is either entertainment or critique; in its case, it can not be both. The show requires a strong dignity to stand up for what it preaches. Sacrificing for entertainment’s sake hurts the political.

Saying that, there is every potential for the second season to justify itself. But based on its raw, formulaic plot and predictable characters, I am confident I shall not be surprised. I have already participated in its hype. I will not set my eyes on it again. This article screams the modern age’s yearning: do we really need to make another one? Nothing more needs to be said. Representing Murder and exploitation for entertainment and money-making is as bad as the games it depicts. Season one by itself does well to criticise capitalism. Leave it be. 

Even if the creator of Squid Game is genuine, he still comes across as a politician high on their applause.

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