A black coffin wrapped in a pink bow, a masked person dressed in pink with nothing but a shape for a face and a giant doll that says “무궁화 꽃 이 피었 습니다” (Mugunghwa kkoci pieot seumnida) are the haunting images that are fixed in the minds of those who have seen Netflix’s recent show 오징어 게임 (Squid Games). With a worldwide audience of 142 million households, Squid Games has quickly become a cultural phenomenon in just the past month. But what about this Korean-produced show has captured the attention of so many?
When asking students about their thoughts on Squid Games there were two consistently different answers that students had. “I watched the first two episodes and had to stop. I thought it was so disturbing. There was so much death, and even beyond the brutal killings it was just sad to see all the depressing lives of the contestants.” said Alma student Kyla Fischer (‘23). Where on the other end of the spectrum some students had nothing but positive things to say about the show.
Whether you binged the whole show when it came out, just watched a few episodes, or only had heard about the show through the internet, Squid Games has made its way into your life in one form or another. The over circulation of the Honeycomb challenge and an abundance of different merchandise already being sold in stores has helped to push the popularity and revenue of the show. According to a Netflix revenue report, the show has generated almost 900 million U.S. dollars. Netflix also announced that on October 12th Squid Games had become their most watched show reaching 111 million viewers (Hirwani).
In more recent years Netflix has released an abundance of hit shows such as Stranger Things that is about to release its fourth season and the show You that just dropped its third season. However, Netflix has not just focused on American based shows. According to Times magazine, about 45% of Netflix’s content is international based, with many of the productions made not in English. However, most of the shows that are in the U.S. Top ten category of the Netflix homepage are in English. So, how has a show almost entirely in Korean broke all the streaming service’s records?
Much of the addictive factor that both attracts and deters so many is the show’s use of controversial topics. Westernization and the idea of white supremacy are some of the repeating themes throughout the show. “This is a Korean show that has more American themes than Korean themes in it. For instance, Americans are typically viewed as greedy and have a lot of racial tension. Squid Games showed that with the character Ali, the other players were shaming him for being a foreigner.” said Alma student Abigail Ely (‘24) when asked about the topic.
A crucial theme of the actual games in Squid Games is that every player is equal. However, in any society some people will always be looked at worse than others given how fit they seem for their environment. Having a noticeable difference such as race, age, body type and gender can create discourse among group members. As a result, some contestants already had an advantage over others without having to do anything.
Women were an evident group in the show that were shown to be not as capable to compete as men. However, many of the characters such as Kang Sae-byeok and Kim Joo Ryoung used being a woman to their advantage. “I think women had an equal fight. For instance, Kim Joo used the traits of being a woman as a way to cheat in the game and gain allies from the men contestants.” explained Abigail Ely.
Whether Squid Games brought you contentment or discourse, it can be argued that the show made its audience wonder about deep and complex topics. From its use of character development to show inequality and its overall fight for greed and power, Squid Games has paved a new road for show content. The overscale popularity that the series brought Netflix will help in creating new interest in international film and has redefined the boundaries creators can push past both technically and morally.