I started watching the show out of curiosity like many people did. I ended up being glued to my tv for 10 straight hours. The pace, the suspense, the superb acting (please watch the show in its original south Korean version with subtitles because the English dubbing is quite awful!), the colors and the tension overwhelmed my tiny brain. As I was watching the show, time became an abstract concept (isn’t it already?) and the night turned into dusk. At some point, I looked outside my window and I saw dawn had come along. Sunlight followed as the ending revealed itself and I couldn’t help but gasp. Frankly, the show is quite original, bloody, unforgiving, and quite different from all the feel-good movies we are used to from the American cinema and tv series. American audiences are used to getting a happy ending, where the hero wins, and the villain is vanquished but not this time. The ending, which I won’t give away for those who haven’t watched it, was profoundly nuanced and somewhat shocking than most endings in the tv series universe.
Like any great show, it made me think. I felt uncomfortable after watching the show. It wasn’t because of the blood or the violence; I have seen way more violent shows and movies. I felt extremely uneasy because of the premise of the show, which seems like a real-life situation; people burdened by substantial debt compete in a series of games and they get eliminated (literally, eliminated by getting killed when they lose) and the winner goes home with a significant amount of money in their pockets. All the competitors believe their lives will change for the better once they’ll get rid of their debt, which makes total sense. Nevertheless, the debt usually accumulates because of the way we live our lives and how the banking/financial system was set up by money-hungry lenders who get richer the deeper others go into debt.
It might be a simple way of looking at the show, but the central problem is the debt and its dark consequences. Moreover, debt doesn’t fall from the sky. It comes from the way society has been set up and is continuingly shaped by people at the top, who get richer with every passing year while the rest of the population gets poorer, more desperate, more isolated, more stressed, more hopeless. The numbers support this theory, because “according to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, the world’s richest 1 percent, those with more than $1 million, own 43.4 percent of the world’s wealth” and “ultra high net worth individuals” — the wealth management industry’s term for people worth more than $30 million — hold an astoundingly disproportionate share of global wealth. These wealth owners held 6.2 percent of total global wealth yet represent only a tiny fraction (0.002%) of the world population”. Enough said.
I assume, and I am quite certain I am right, every person reading this text has some sort of debt, regardless of how substantial it might be. We all have debts. Even the richest people have some debt lying around in their portfolio so it’s easy to assume the average citizen has debt whether it’s credit card, student loans, car loans, personal loans, mortgages, etc.
Debt is literally everywhere and the main problem with debt, aside from the amount, it is the interest. You pay interest daily, monthly, or annually on every debt you might have right now. The interest is the fuel that keeps the engine running forever. The interest is this inextinguishable fire that burns continuously. The interest is what kills you over time.
Allow me to give you an example; if you have a credit card debt of 12,000$, on which there is a standard 21.99% annual interest rate, it means you pay 2,639$ in interest annually, which amounts to 220$ per month. Mind you, the minimum monthly payment required is 3% of the balance or 360$. So, even if you pay the minimum payment of 360$, since the interest is 220$, that means you are paying back only the difference which is 140$ towards the capital!
If you keep making the minimum payments, you will pay off the debt in 52 months, which is 4 years and 4 months! I mean…I didn’t make this stuff up! It’s math! It is simple. I won’t even get into the amount of interest you pay on a mortgage (even if the interest is lower but the amount owed is 10 to 20 times higher than credit cards!). Once again, in the show, debt made people’s lives miserable and since the lending system is, for lack of a better word, predatory, people will do pretty much anything to get out of debt since the latter is crushing them, literally. How well can you live, how happy can you be if debt is choking you?
To be fair, we cannot blame entirely the system. As painful as it is, people must also look at themselves and identify what put them into debt. We must own our shortcomings, mistakes, and behaviors. Moreover, in the show, the chosen contestants aren’t all do-gooders and/or angels. Some of them are degenerate gamblers, thieves, criminals, loan sharks, and so on. Yet, they participated in the game all the same, willingly I might add. Debt, its consequences, and desperation are powerful agents that can push any human being to the brink of insanity or to participate in a game they believe to be harmless.
The series is an amazing dive into society’s rules, woes, and the current state of capitalism. The show also criticizes how this current financial system has marginalized so many people and how extreme capitalism has shredded social safety nets. Through the show, we can see human evolution at its best and at its worst simultaneously; killed or be killed, the survival of the fittest, people helping each other, protecting each other, etc. We can see how our humanity, this empathy and natural reflex of caring about others that’s imprinted in our DNA, has been eroded. When we get obsessively attached to things, we forget people and we forget our own selves. In the show, a father forgets and neglects his daughter and his mother, because he is away, gambling and losing. A son forgets to help financially his struggling mother because he is busy embezzling money from his employer so he could be rich. A sister is forced into the game to help her little brother and her family.
Besides, as the series goes on, we find out this horrifying show was set up by rich people. Imagine rich people watching poor people compete to the death because they are simply bored. Well, if that isn’t the pinnacle of dehumanizing others, I wonder what is? Is it even a coincidence to see the guards wear masks so they can stay anonymous, so they can become simple blunt instruments with motives than seem emotionless? How about seeing the players being assigned numbers instead of their names? What is more dehumanizing than taking your name away and assign you a number? That’s stripping you of your identity, of who you are, so you can be a number, a thing, something that can be easily discarded, ignored, erased, deleted, nay killed…Think of your employee number, your social security number. It’s dehumanizing a bit, not to the scale of the show but it is dehumanizing.
Art is subjective, for sure. There are so many themes in this show such as survival, desperation, poverty, betrayal, family, ethical questions about the value of human life, capitalism, wealth, and so much more. I saw one predominant angle while watching the series. I am sure other people saw perspectives I might have missed or willfully ignored. Whatever angle you see, you cannot ignore the main reason that brought people to such a desperate state; how the social and financial systems have been designed and how unfair they are to the majority.
There is this rapacious attitude from the institutions and corporations, this predatory attitude, this always wanting more mentality that’s always attached to things and far less in people, that made me think. In the end, how much do you need? How much should anyone have? How much can you accumulate to feel it’s enough? Spoken like a poor person a millionaire might say and a billionaire would surely say. Perhaps, my mentality is directly linked to the size of my bank account. Who knows?
I had a terrifying thought after watching the show. What if this game is already played somewhere in the world? What if that was based on show’s creator’s personal experiences? What if the near future becomes identical to what we saw in the show? What if? The inequalities aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and they are getting wider with time, so we might have more desperate people in the future. So, what if this “squid game” becomes something standard in the near future? There are no guarantees it will not happen because no one knows what the future holds. Imagine the “squid game” becomes something mundane soon. That’s simply and utterly terrifying!
Just one man’s opinion.
Now smile and go on with your day.