Why does the dark and deadly fascinate us? Why are humans obsessed with movies and games that depict the suffering of fellow beings? Is it voyeuristic pleasure or a deep fear and relatability?
What does it say about us humans when the whole world gets hooked onto a dark social satire with visceral, violent content? A show that plays upon the desperation of impoverished and deprived people, enticing them with the possibility of deliverance through wealth — if they participate in deadly twists on childish games! Why are we so fascinated with watching humans driven to so much suffering that they are willing to court death in a wild gamble for survival?
I refer to the present South Korean global sensation ‘Squid Game,’ which has taken over all No 1 slots, spawned memes, Reels and Tik Tok challenges, inspiring global trends. (Spoiler Alert!) The web series borrows its name from a Korean alley game called so because it is shaped like a squid (calamari) — cephalopods that have eight arms and despite having multiple hearts, still kill each other for food. But the series is about survival games with deadly twists — and do take the word ‘deadly’ seriously!
Obviously the show is a critique of our success-obsessed society and the imbalance between rich and poor. It is a reflection on social injustice and our indifference — 456 humans are driven to play a game of death and survival in the hope of winning $38 million, while others feel entitled to watch their fellow beings squirm in fear and misery. And that includes us, the audience! We cannot deny our voyeuristic pleasure in watching the show! And even a deep-seated fear because we can relate to that suffering.
All characters dressed similarly, looking like each other and equally desperate – this should not be unfamiliar to us! Is that not what we have become? A society that has learnt to look and sound like and hide behind each other, rather than nurture our differences!
Perhaps the timing of the show is equally responsible for its success, with the Pandemic having rendered the world helpless, desperate, and rocked by financial instability. The show premise is also a huge commentary on our present systems. Clearly people rate their chance of survival or success in these systems so low that they would rather take a chance in a game that could kill them! As a young Korean guy says in an interview, “My friends and I have started investing in stocks hoping to make life-changing money. We hear of so many financial frauds. This series is wholly relatable to me!”
Internet is divided on the show. While some find it too violent, others love it! Says a young Korean girl, “It shows selfishness and ugliness that people like to hide.” Says another “When people voluntarily go back to the killer games rather than face reality, many of us can relate to that.”
Frankly, initially I found the series weird and needlessly violent and almost quit. But my son Saurabh’s words made me look at it from a different perspective, when he said, “The whole story is so unique and weird. It’s unbelievable but at the same time very believable. All participants could have left anytime but return because life outside without money is so much worse. I can bet many people in real life would do this.
“Plus notice all the weird juxtapositions — the kiddish games while something extremely dark is unfolding. Or the fact that the game organisers – as bad as they are – are so fair (they even do a democratic vote). Plus, the story moves slowly, but only until it doesn’t. You just don’t know what to expect!”
And his next words clinched it for me, “Embrace the weird.” That to me is an irresistible challenge! And I intend completing the series now!
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Disclaimer Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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