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  • Tammi Joy Chenard

The Squid Game

Updated: Oct 27, 2021

There’s a good chance you’ve either heard of or seen, Netflix’s new series called Squid Game. The North Korean series, which is available in English dubbing, or Korean with English subtitles, was released on Sept. 17, 2021, and it quickly became Netflix’s most-watched show of all time, racking up 111 million views in only one month. While I’ve heard it said that its success is odd and nearly unexplainable, I think it’s simply a multi-pronged approach that appeals to a broad swath of the audience on multiple subtle levels.

The premise of Squid Game is actually quite simple: Childhood games are turned into a televised contest in which losers die brutally, while one contestant goes all the way to the end to win billions. Although the specific details of the games are unique, it’s easy to articulate the general premise with a short “it’s like the Hunger Games”, which should bring a look of complete recognition to the face of anyone asking what this new obsession is all about. This creates familiarity and rapport immediately, which serves as a great introduction and allows the series to move swiftly to the action.

Squid Game is based on the woes of South Korean society, which has a real problem with personal debt, but it also appeals to working-class Americans, living paycheck to paycheck and racking up a debt of their own on credit cards at astronomical rates. Living in the machine of modern society, and the impossibility of any real upward climbing to a better life is relatable to many people across the world. Many understand the appeal of signing up for a glorified game show in which there’s a 99% chance you will die in glorious splendor as people place their bets - because there’s a 1% chance to be filthy rich, and solve your otherwise unsolvable problems.

I would bet that there are many people all over the world who also would completely understand the characters who successfully escaped, only to return to the games after realizing their futures were hopeless without the huge jackpot at the end. Better a quick death, with a chance at winning, than a slow, torturous existence, frantically scrambling to pay back debts which never seem to diminish but only grow steadily larger, year after year.

Season One (there are no solid plans for season two that I can find) consists of nine episodes of one hour each. That’s nine hours, which is binge-able in one weekend of sort of dedicated viewing. That’s not too much of a commitment on the part of the viewer, but enough time to feel like you have really bonded with the show. You are invested, but not for too long, I mean, not for a whole week or anything. Who has time for that?

Not only does Squid Game resonate on an economic and societal level, but there are a variety of characters involved that appeal to a broad spectrum of the potential viewing audience. There’s a working-class dad in a ton of debt, a refugee who has nothing, a highly educated man who’s fallen on hard times, a tough tattooed criminal, and a grandfatherly elderly man.

There is someone for everyone to empathize with and root for. Someone to feel sad about while watching them get riddled with bullets. “ Oh no, not him,” you very well may think. “He was so likable, so relatable. Oh well. Now I like that one.” Can’t get too attached when only one will come out alive. Truly, a roller coaster of emotions, and it absolutely keeps the audience glued onto that couch until those nine hours have ended.

When it ended for me, I was forced to take a deep, dark look into my soul and wonder just what is wrong with me as a human being, for liking the experience so much. Am I any better for liking this spectacle than the rich people in the show who bet money on the human misery and absolute carnage? Yes, I am better because I know it’s fake and I know that’s all corn syrup dyed red and not blood, but the point still stands, we are bloodthirsty beasts, and money makes the world go round.

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