Okay, Squid Game, AKA the internet’s latest obsession, is a masterpiece. It’s already becoming Netflix’s newest hit show, receiving over 100 million streams. Just take a look at your TikTok “For You” Page — it’s probably filled with videos about Squid Game (or at least videos using Squid Game audios).
As an avid TV-watcher, Squid Game instantly caught my attention. Still, I wasn’t quite convinced it was the right show for me. I’m less of a drama fan and much more into the feel-good comedy with a strong female lead (think 30 Rock or Parks and Rec). Yet, over fall break, I bit the bullet and gave Squid Game a try after having an in-depth conversation about it with a friend. I felt like if I waited any longer, I’d miss the bandwagon.
As soon as I pressed play, I was hooked. I could spend hours dissecting this show. Unlike my opinions on most things, if you ask me why I like Squid Game, I’ve got so many reasons that I might not even sound coherent in my response.
And it is violent. Not everyone should watch or needs to watch this show, and it’s important to understand that it is disturbing before you press play. Still, I don’t think it’s fair to write the show off as nothing more than an exploitatively violent show with little substance behind the violence, because that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I won’t lie, I was taken aback as I watched the first episode, “Red light, Green light,” as I watched hundreds of people being executed. Immediately, I began thinking about the violence. Why show the violence? Why not just imply that people died? What role does physical violence serve?
The show is an allegory for modern-day life under capitalism. That much is evident in its concept that impoverished people living on the brink of debilitating debt must fight to the death. And don’t forget, there’s only one winner.
This show demonstrates how detrimental capitalism can be through everything it aims to do. Contestants become little more than the numbers on their tracksuits, representing how capitalism devalues individuality. The game organizers force contestants to play deadly versions of children’s games. In doing so, these children’s games and thus the innocence they represented is exploited for entertainment purposes. This reminds audiences just how pervasive capitalism is: it will kill any innocence and joy, tarnishing and exploiting it.
If this critique of capitalism is one of the show’s central themes, is it not fair to say that the violence is another angle? Today, many shows and films utilize violence, often to the point of excess. In fact, I’m not a fan of these movies and TV shows that prey upon viewers’ fears just for the sake of doing so. However, I think that Squid Game does violence right. It is disturbing, but it’s not without reason.
The show’s gore represents the pain and suffering people experience every day. The show’s violence operates on multiple levels that compound. There’s sheer horror in watching someone’s brains get blown out. However, there’s also a deeper, more sinister violence, almost a final twist of the knife. The violence isn’t pointless — it reminds the audience that there is real loss and pain in the world.
These contestants are not passively falling over, they are being gunned down. There’s also something horrific in the fact that hundreds of people who have names, identities, and families are reduced to nothing more than a pile of corpses. As the show argues, this is what capitalism does, and there’s nothing passive about it. It is the capitalist society that devalues human life, and that disregard for life is true violence.
So yes, the physical violence is disturbing, and it’s not exactly fun to watch people dying. However, to say it’s meaningless or overly-done is to erase and ignore the fact that people live in Squid Game’s daily. This violence is worse; it’s deeply terrifying and wholly unsettling. It will leave you thinking for days, weeks even.
Although many would dispute me, the show’s violence is meaningful, and reflective of existence under capitalism. The gore is visceral and shocking, but not for the sake of shocking the audience. The brutality translates to real pain: Squid Game’s violence is only an extension and reflection of our reality.