Han ’23: Why didn’t I like Squid Game?

It was a Friday night. I was in a familiar state – too tired to go out, too awake to fall asleep, and far too lazy to get a head start on my readings for next week. At that time my phone flashed with a notification from Netflix. Something called “Squid Game” had just come out. The description read: “Hundreds of cash strapped players accept a strange invitation to participate in children’s games. Inside, a tempting prize awaits – with deadly stakes. It sounded interesting, or at least interesting enough to be put in the background while I browsed a cluttered email inbox and folded my laundry. Plus, I had nothing better to do, which was a good reason to watch Netflix like any other. With an internal shrug, I hit play.

Now, according to Netflix, 111 million accounts have watched “Squid Game” since its release on September 17, making it the “biggest series ever made by the streaming giant in Canada. launch. It also topped Netflix’s’ Top 10 ‘list in 94 countries, including South Korea, the series’ home market, and the United States, becoming the first-ever Korean series to do so. And of course, the show was a huge hit on the internet, spawning a million viruses. memes and, in a way, to make tracksuits ”hot. “In fact, ‘Squid Game’ has become so prominent that the North Korean government has taken over the show’s portrayal of the dog-eating dog nature of capitalism as reflecting the reality of”bestial”Nature of South Korean society. It also elicited a mostly positive critical reception, with a 91% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. “Squid game” is tall, addicting, and generally rated as pretty good. What don’t we like?

My first reaction was that “Squid Game” was a fun, but ultimately mundane and time-honored Friday night watch. But as the internet fervor around “Squid Game” grew, I found myself less and less enthusiastic about it. I felt more and more the suspicion that the growing popularity of the series would lead to cultural misinterpretation and, in turn, appropriation.

Although the series is entertaining, there are many aspects that didn’t particularly appeal to me. First, the show relies heavily on graphic violence. Where he could have used this violence to construct an original vision of growing inequality, debt and class conflicts in South Korea and abroad, “Squid Game” uses gore to be nothing but a shock factor (certainly effective). As the New York Times television critic Mike Hale Put the, these are just “empty and bloody calories.” Series director Hwang Dong-hyuk noted that the show is not only a critique of the brutality of capitalism, but also of our inclination to consume the humiliation and survival struggles of others as entertainment. But, if it relies on gratuitous violence to attract attention, is “Squid Game” so different from the types of entertainment Hwang tries to criticize? More generally, graphic violence seems to be the common thread running through many of Netflix’s most successful Korean-language series, including not only “Squid Game” but “Kingdom” and “Sweet home. “Identifying this common theme made me wonder if a Korean show that has something smart to say could find international commercial success. without relying on the gore.

But once the shock of gore draws you in, “Squid Game” fails to bring a new perspective to its well-trodden themes. Korean cinema and television have long focused on the impacts of income inequality, and many longtime viewers, including myself, have come out of “Squid Game.” without thinking that he was adding anything particularly new to the cultural arena. Anyone who has watched a lot of Korean movies and television will notice that “Squid Game” relies on tired tropes that invoke a capitalist dystopia to criticize income inequality. Like a Korean critic remark, “Too Much in ‘Squid Game’ reminds you of every other movie you’ve ever seen.”

I can look past the lack of originality and free gore in “Squid Game”, but the series’ explosive international popularity – carrying with it the potential for cultural appropriation – was harder for me to bear over time. . Like many Koreans, just a few years ago, I could never have imagined that a Korean-language show would be so popular, especially in the United States. Certainly, the last few years have illustrated the growth in the global attractiveness of Korean pop culture, to the point that it has become a central part of South Korea’s strategy to cultivate “”sweet power, ”Or non-militaristic influence born out of cultural capital. But the more popular Korean cultural exports become, the more I’m afraid people will appropriate or misinterpret them. For example, inaccurate English subtitles increase the risk that foreign audiences will misinterpret Korean culture, taking second-hand translations at face value that inevitably dilute the script’s cultural meaning and symbols. In addition, the need for TikToks to explain how to dress up as “Squid Game” characters for Halloween without being racist shows that the cultural appropriation in the wake of the show’s popularity is a real risk.

When “Parasite” became an unexpected hit with audiences and critics, I wrote a column about how proud I was in the film’s Oscar triumph. Now, I instinctively find myself hating “Squid Game”, an incredibly successful and pretty good TV show, mainly because I’m worried that its popularity will lead people to make incorrect assumptions about Korean culture. Things have changed since I wrote this column. Namely, Korean cultural exports have become even more popular. This growing popularity made me realize that sometimes visibility isn’t always empowerment. Sometimes it just makes you feel exposed.

Bliss Han ’23 can be contacted at [email protected] Please send responses to this notice to [email protected] and editorials to [email protected]

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