Watching “Squid Game” evokes a sense of connection between its audience and viewers. Despite the series feeling like a dystopia, the viral Korean survival Netflix series actually represents a modern world filled with inequality, injustice, and corruption.
In “Squid Game”, 465 contestants are invited to play a series of children's games in order to win an enormous cash prize. The catch: being “eliminated” from the game means dying. While contestants are brutally killed off one by one, international elite and wealthy businessmen watch the games for fun.
The creator of the show, Hwang Dong-hyuk, has been revealing his intentions of the show as a critique of the current systems we live under. In an interview for the Hollywood reporter, the South Korean director stated he “wanted to write a story that was an allegory or fable about modern capitalist society, something that depicts an extreme competition, somewhat like the extreme competition of life.”
The injustice of this “extreme competition” is portrayed through the reasons why people join the games in the first place: a debt crisis. Situations like these reflect reality, as household debt in South Korea averaged 190% of household earnings in 2019, almost doubling the US average according to sources. No one should have to live in life-crippling debt, and no one should be desperate enough to risk their own lives to live debt-free.
The most well-known characters within “Squid Game” also depict the inequality immigrants face. Kang
Sae-byok, commonly known as player 067, is an escapee from North Korea who has a younger brother in the foster care system. Out of North Korean migrants who live in the south, who are majority women, a report found that 1 in 4 report sexual violence and make 2/3rds the South Korean average in income.
A similar inequality is seen in another immigrant character, Ali Abdul or player 199, who is a Pakistani immigrant worker whose boss was withholding wages from his workers. Abdul’s case represents exploitation of migrant labor, leaving over 70% of agricultural migrant workers unhoused according to a government survey. Additionally, migrant workers in South Korea are often tied to their work status due to their temporary visas, putting them at the mercy of their employers.
It’s not just immigrants who face the wrath of capitalism under “Squid Game.” Capitalism’s crushing effects on unions are represented by Gi-hun, player 465 and the main protagonist of the show, and his flashbacks to union strikes. Both South Korea and the United States have a history of union busting and peaceful strikes ended by violent police raids. Gi-hun isn’t an immigrant, but is still indebted and coerced into playing the games due to his conditions.
Plenty of viewers know immigrants and immigrant workers who face similar desperate situations as Sae-byok and Abdul. In both the United States and South Korea, immigrant workers contend with extreme exploitation, violence, and deportation despite playing a leading labor supply for both countries. The show does an exemplary job at building characters and a storyline that helps viewers ultimately see the corruption that lies within their own world.