And it wasn’t because of the violence.
*If you are averse to spoilers, please do not read on. This post also contains references to violence and death.*
The newest Netflix hit, “Squid Game,” was created by Hwang Dong-Hyuk. It is a fictional Korean series based on a Korean childhood game that is played on a field shaped like a squid.
In this show, poor Korean residents who have reached a point of desperation are recruited to play on a game show called “Squid Game”, in which the consequences for losing are deadly and the prize winnings increase as the amount of contestants decreases.
In watching this show, I found myself rather…unsurprised. I expected many of the show’s twists and turns almost to the detail, some of which I won’t reveal here. What I do want to focus on is Episode 7, “VIPS.” In this episode, a small audience of rich men, many of whom are White (one is Chinese–or speaks Mandarin), are given the opportunity to watch the game show from a safe and luxurious distance. The viewers–that is, us–learn that some of these men had been betting on impoverished contestants the whole time, playing a game to see who would win.
I recently learned that the English subtitles are far less robust than the actual Korean dialogue. If this is the case, then my analysis is based on a very basic understanding of the show.
With this being said, the crux of my thinking about “Squid Game” comes from the verse, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” – 1 Timothy 6:10, New Revised Standard Version
Normally, I would interpret this as “people do evil things in order to acquire money.” However, what I saw in “Squid Game” was desperate, poor people who gambled away the only thing they had left–their lives–in an attempt to improve their situations. I saw characters who were originally from all walks of life and socioeconomic strata, but now found themselves faced with debts they could not repay.
I could spend time describing the opulence of the VIP room, and the bacchanalian behavior of the VIPs. They embodied the proverbs that speak of exuberant wealth, greed, slothfulness, and gluttony. I could try to put words to my thoughts about the lifelike statuesque figures that oozed with a sexuality that was meant to be objectified and leered at rather than owned and proudly displayed. (I still can’t tell if they were living people or just artistic fixtures).
However, I choose to focus on a society in which “the love of money” refers more to the acts of a group of people who do not need any more money than they already have. They, secure in their stations, participate in an “evil” that is so deftly concealed from the public that even law enforcement does not know about it.
“Squid Game” reminded me of a combination of “The Hunger Games” and “The Purge”. Each gunshot that eliminated a losing player was like the cannon that symbolized the death of a tribute. And the elimination of all of these contestants was like an underground, carefully concealed purging of poor people who have nothing left to contribute to society.
It would be unconscionable of me to suggest that the main reason the competitors agree to be on “Squid Game” is for the “love” of money. It does seem to be the case later on, when, as contestants lose fellow teammates and even family members, they choose to continue playing the games. I can’t even venture a guess as to what I would do if I were in their position. Imagine me, hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt that I cannot earn enough money to pay back quickly enough while also taking care of my basic needs and those of my family. Do I continue playing, knowing that I am likely to lose my life in the process, just because this is a guaranteed way to earn millions? Or do I stop, with no change in my financial status, but the knowledge that at least I have my life?
The problem is that people have to make that choice to begin with. I know nothing about the Korean economy or the social context out of which “Squid Game”, the series, arose. However, this theme is universal. How do societies allow people to become so far gone, so ignored, that they fall through the cracks and see something like “Squid Game” as their only option?
I hear an opposing argument, that if these people had not been reckless with their money, they would not be in this situation. I would answer that with “not all poor people,” as if the person whose debts come from medical bills is worth more than the person whose debts come from horse racing. However, this is not true. There is obviously more money to go around if people like the VIPs exist. Unfortunately, the amassing of wealth on one side means there is not enough for those who really need it.
What’s that other verse? To those who have, more will be given, but to those who don’t, even that will be taken away?
“For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” – Matthew 13:12, NRSV