SMALL SCREEN: This weekend we’re watching: A brutal K-drama critiquing late-stage capitalism

‘Squid Game’ takes the trope of a dystopian survival game to an atypical conclusion – the illusion of choice in our dog-eat-dog, money-driven world.

2021-09-23 10:55:00 PM

‘Squid Game’ takes the trope of a dystopian survival game to an atypical conclusion – the illusion of choice in our dog-eat-dog, money-driven world.

‘Squid Game’ takes the trope of a dystopian survival game to an atypical conclusion – the illusion of choice in our dog-eat-dog, money-driven world.

Squid Game. Image: NetflixThe illusion of choice shifts the thematic significance of the competition. Rather than a rebranded take onLord Of The Fliescommenting on the innate immorality of humanity, the moral imperative ofSquid Gameis the immorality of late capitalism.

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To get to their fatal game, the contestants must walk single file through a freakishly child-like geometric labyrinth of stairs reminiscent of M.C. Escher’s famous lithographRelativity. This colourful, unnerving scene evokes the futility of our daily rat race, with people walking aimlessly up and down, focussing so hard on getting somewhere that they melt into a homogenous mass of disposable bodies.

Squid Game. Image: NetflixThe giant kitsch sets are likely a reference to real game shows likeTakeshi’s Castle, a Japanese sensation of the late eighties in which contestants often humiliated themselves attempting silly tasks designed for failure in the hope of winning riches and a fleeting moment in the spotlight. headtopics.com

Squid Gameis not all about the challenges – it’s still a K-drama, so most of the screen time is spent on the interactions between the contestants and their backstories, rather than the violent games themselves. Actual reality TV shows are much the same. While

Survivorpits contestants against one another in physical challenges, the bulk of each episode is filled with politics and social dynamics rather than the challenges or the survival itself. The stress of survival (metaphorical or not) provides the context for what we’re really after – gossip and insight into human nature.

People are fascinated by competition, but there is usually a built-in safety net much like the thin film of sci-fi that siphons our guilt at revelling in the losers’ defeat. We can laugh at the contestants onTakeshi’s Castlebecause they are not physically hurt and they are there of their own volition. We can even watch men beat one another to a pulp in boxing matches with a clear conscience because we feel content that they have made their own choice to be there.

But we are seldom aware of what these choices actually looked like for the individual people who made them, nor do we witness the consequences they face once their moment in the spotlight is over. The capitalist narrative around choice is blind to context and unsympathetic towards the ambiguity of the real world. It is wrong to condemn drug addicts, the unemployed or convicts by blaming their situation on bad decisions when their alternatives may have been depression, an abusive employer or starvation. headtopics.com

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Squid Gamestruggles to tie up its messaging regarding human nature, but it makes a clear point about our susceptibility to manipulation towards evil within a hierarchical system that pits us against one another. It may be premised on overused tropes, but those who are interested in such metaphorical commentaries will be pleased to see that there are no punches pulled.

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