Squid Game: Of real-life wealth injustice

By Nur Sa’adah Batrisyia

“The world is getting much harder to live in, even in the last 10 years, wealth disparity is growing, nations are facing economic strife,” the director of Squid Game told CNN

With Malaysia ranked fifth in the world of Pandora Papers*, Squid Game appears like a knight in shining armour exposing the real-life of wealth inequality. 

Squid Game is a Korean drama-slash-horror that signifies the theme of a dystopian society. A fictional society that is governed without law enforcement and people are allowed to kill one another without being held accountable. It holds the highest viewers record by ranking first on the world’s most trending Netflix original series. 

A survival show that used children’s games as the theme, the global audience was left captivated because who can imagine this children’s game can be this brutal and gore? Unlike Alice In Borderland that is fundamentally based on science-fiction, the Squid Game gives a breath of fresh idea and original concept of a Korean children game. The director of Squid Game, Hwang Do-Hyuk who attempts to create a survivor movie by utilising the innocent image of childhood nostalgia, was proved successful after Squid Game beat Alice In Borderland in Netflix ranking despite the same genre. 

In my view, this sensation drama exposed the vulnerable spot of Korean society. It highlighted the intensity of competition, debt, and the inability to pay it off, and most importantly, wealth disparity. The same message was also addressed in Parasite and Gangnam Style music videos. 

Squid Game in relation to Pandora Papers, the injustice

Squid Game portrayed the limitation for the lower class or middle class to break the social hierarchical system. Modern societies nowadays measure wealth through career, income, and social status. However, the absurd reality is that it is unachievable for underclass members to break the social stratification due to: favouritism, discrimination, nepotism, and cronyism.  

Let’s take a look at the fundamental reason for Pandora Papers, the motive for politicians, businessmen, and well-heeled influential figures to open offshore banks. Aside from the obvious reason to dodge taxes, it is also to maintain the wealth among family members and their heirs. Parallel with the Malay’s phrase: Tujuh keturunan pun tak habis harta (Seven generations will not run out of wealth).

Leaked financial documents of offshore companies involving Malaysian businessmen, politicians, royal families, drug dealers, criminals, beauty queens, celebrities, tycoons and others. It contains the secret to their wealth.

Now, what is the connection between Pandora Papers and Squid Game? It is the privilege. The privilege for wealthy people to earn a higher income, and have greater “access to exclusive investment opportunities or better financial managers”. Pandora’s papers not only exposed influential figures for hiding illegal wealth but also exposed “financial crime enablers” for helping their clients to hide trillions of dollars of money. In reference to Squid Game, these wealthy elites obviously are Player 001 (Oh ll-Nam) and the VIP. Player 001 is the mastermind and the VIP help to fund the game through inhumane gambling activity. These people are sumptuously rich and only God knows how they earn such an unthinkable amount of money. 

The only difference between the elite group in Pandora Papers and Squid Game is the reason for them to use the money. One is for illegal business, assets expansion and money laundering purposes while the other is for entertainment. 

It is ironic how wealthy people could think of various unimaginable ways to waste their money while the poor would put their life at stake for the sake of money. I guess it is true when they say having more money is linked to greater life satisfaction despite non-material things do make us happy too. 

K-drama’s message unmask the problem of modern society 

While a certain Malaysian politician keeps accusing k-drama for contributing to suicide, Squid Game was able to counterattack this statement through its blunt narrative. In fact, the Squid Game (and Parasite) message highlights how money-oriented individuals can exploit and navigate desperate people to play their sadistic games.  

In an interview with National Broadcasting Company (NBC), a Korean security analyst named Jung said, Squid Game story reflects an acutely rooted perception of how society looks at failure, especially individual financial failure.

His comment is interconnected to a scene in Squid Game, where Seong Gi-Hun repeatedly praises Cho Sang-Woo as a pride for their hometown. Sang-Woo is a Seoul National University (SNU) graduate who is currently working as an accountant. However, regardless of the perception his childhood friend has against his beautiful career life, he is a failure. A failure who is in debt six billion won for playing stocks while burdening his mother for putting her house as collateral.  

In another scene at the beginning of episode one, Seong Gi-Hun was seen miserably running away from the loan shark but his menacing action resulted in nosebleeds. The idealism that drives one to borrow from a loan shark is the result of inequalities from every corner of life; education and employment. It is the product of capitalist greed. But I do not blame him. At the end of the day, we are all thinking about how to maximise our profit. Aren’t you?

There is no denying that the resonance of Squid Game’s message affects the global audience in an emotional way. It is also surreal how the Squid Game is rooted in reality. The dire condition of this pandemic has driven desperate people to seek extra cash resulting in them choosing debt. Either taking loans with the bank with high interest or borrowing from the loan shark, both does not guarantee good consequences. For students, high student debt may impose the tendency for one to take unreasonable action that may provoke humanistic value

In short, it is plausible how art imitates life. ***

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