Squid Game, Uni & Being Human
I finally sat down on a Sunday to binge the show everyone was talking about, Squid Game. As I opened Netflix, I sat on the floor, unprepared for just how much I related to the show that so many themes. The biggest theme is that poor people are an expendable commodity. This very much reminds me of life as I know it. I am a Black American graduate student. If you know anything about America or its university systems, you know that student loans are a thing that plague almost every student. If you know anything about America at all, you know health care isn’t free, BIPOCs are paid less (especially women), and racism is threaded throughout our society which makes access and wealth highly unattainable. Because I am a Black woman attending a well-known university in California, Squid Game made me uncomfortable. Although the show is about the Korean economy, it very much resonates with America’s capitalistic and “cutthroat” nature. We create a workplace that encourages unhealthy competition and “doing whatever it takes,” to get ahead. While watching, I started to think about my background- growing up poor. I thought about the cost of my education, my own health issues, and the cost of living. I thought about the question that plagues all students post-graduation- “what are you going to do?”
And like most students, I have a goal or two but I’m uncertain if those goals will be met. I am not doubting my abilities to make things goals a reality, however I know there are other factors that determine my success and comfortability. For example, Cho Sang-Woo, although a character with hidden villainy, he embodies the hapless, hopeless university student who just couldn’t catch a break after graduation. The world outside of university is much different than students are told. Cho Sang-Woo was highly regarded and expected to be successful. When the odds stacked against him, it was counteractive to what he expected for himself. Bright-eyed students with potential ignored and wasted.
While watching the realization that debt will always haunt me in some way hit me like a ton of bricks. I sat down to watch a television show to potentially escape my real-life stresses, only to find a mirror to a soon-coming financial crisis. Squid Game is a commentary on how we treat poor people. The show uses childish games as competition when that is the ultimate metaphor. The games are like the obstacles in our everyday lives. Once we overcome one, there is another that seems to hit a little bit harder. The games seem to get worse as they progress and started to have a domino effect. The results of the game started to affect other players in the game. The tug of war required players to choose a team, to rely on each other and ultimately be responsible for each other’s death. The game of marbles was self-reflective and, in a sense, applauded selfishness. The player literally must choose themselves above all else and not in a metaphorical, self-help way.
There was one scene that stood out significantly to me in the game of marbles, player 420 or Ji-Yeong said she only came to the games because she had nowhere else to go after her prison release. She had a small part, but it was so impactful to me because of the way prisons are designed. It’s a powerful representation of how former prisoners are kind of disagreed upon release.
Society doesn’t think humans should be competing in a risk it all, life or death game, overtly. Subtlety we are given messages about the value of poor people and the worth of their families, assets, and contributions to our society. People living in poverty are pushed to their limits physically, mentally, and emotionally. Overt messages like not providing healthcare because one can’t afford it. People are discharged from hospitals regularly despite having the same health issue persist. Gi-Hun’s mother died because of her inability to receive healthcare.
Useless advice poured into millennials, only to make them feel badly about buying things that make them happy. “If you just skipped that coffee,” or “if you ate at home more,” then you too could be a millionaire. As if everyone wants or needs to be a millionaire. We have been brainwashed to believe that money is what we need to survive.
The concept of being a millionaire or billionaire and hoarding wealth is well presented in the show. The VIPs had so much money they had nothing else to do with it besides bet on human beings in a life-or-death competition. Too true to our current world.
Money doesn’t always provide happiness. Money doesn’t always provide us with memories that flash in our heads, randomly, on an afternoon. A memory of a friend laughing, a time at university when you stayed after to class to just talk, or simply a hug from a relative. Money doesn’t provide us with the scene or the feeling. It gives us a false sense of security and a means to consume.
Squid Game is a perfect allegory to what we need to change about our current state of being because it is literally ruining the world. The show revisits themes of being human and the importance of valuing human beings for than what they can do, produce, or how they owe. Squid Game made me think about my own life and reconsider my value to the world. I am worth more than my time at university or even my contributions to that university. It’s a bloody and often gory examination of what needs to change in our lives.