The Cultural Phenomenon of Squid Game

456 players. Six ruthless survival games. An unimaginable prize pot that could magnificently change their lives. Debt-ridden and desperate, there’s little opportunity for the players to make better lives for themselves on the streets of Seoul in South Korea until they’re given an invitation to the games. If the majority chooses to compete, their lives will be in their own hands. Playing traditional South Korean children’s games, following the masked guards’ rules, and facing the horrific consequences of being eliminated, anyone can win the games – if luck and chance work in their favour.

Becoming Netflix’s most successful series launch worldwide, in its first 28 days, the Korean dystopian survival-thriller Squid Game was streamed by 111 million users. An overnight sensation, it’s fought its way to the top, beating Netflix’s previous successes including British regency-drama Bridgerton

Building up the hype and introducing the ‘Squid Game World’, a pop-up installation in Seoul’s Itaewon Subway Station to celebrate the show’s release in September was used to ramp up the show’s ratings – scarily highlighting the near-future possibility of a world where such inhumane games could exist.

An exceptional achievement for Korea’s entertainment industry, the show’s success proves that Netflix’s recent investments in Asian productions are paying off. It is ironic then, that while the show has become an instant success for the media conglomerate, its dystopian haze boldly criticises the household debt crisis and subsequent social failures caused by South Korean style capitalism, as well as the capitalisation and financial corruption of the global economy.

Another example of how Western attention is being drawn towards Korean culture after the Academy-Award winning success of Korean comedy-thriller Parasite (2020), and the increasing popularity of K-Pop music, riding the ‘Korean Wave’ the nine-episode series Squid Game is a triumphant breakthrough, allowing for increased opportunities for our screens to expand beyond the captive grip of Hollywood production to a future of televisual cultural diversification.

Channelling South Korea’s vibrant culture, from its enthusiasm for the arts to its fusion of the traditional and modern, Squid Game’s unique, quirky, and dramatic style makes the show an alluring watch. Through setting and costume, it makes artistic gambles by including creative elements such as a giant robot doll, a colourful labyrinth of doors and stairs, extravagant masks, and pink suited men. Taking the world by storm with its unexpected style influence, Squid Game-inspired makeup is trending on TikTok, tracksuits are back in the fashion game, and costume inspiration has been pinned just in time for Halloween.

Bold, brave, and daring, Squid Game valorously lays its cards on the table, unafraid to question whether ‘money makes the world go round’ and whether ‘fortune favours the brave’, unafraid to compete with American productions and sit in the dystopian hall of fame.

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Lily Boag

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June 2022
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