In this blog post, I would like to analyze the global phenomenon which is Squid Game, but more importantly, the philosophy of Squid Game. In this post specifically, I will be discussing it’s commentary on capitalism and a few things we can learn from it.
What I like about Squid Game so much is that they really like to hide small themes in their films without being too forceful. Yes, there’s you can enjoy squid game with the TV series as a masterpiece of entertainment, of enjoyment. And there’s also this subtle, more subtle, philosophical, political side of Squid Game where it does or provides commentary on issues, like prominent issues like communism, capitalism, and different ideas like gambling as well. So this is the aim of this series. Today, we’re going to be talking about Squid Game in its relationship to a critique of the capitalist kind of system or the structure that we see and talk about some of the merits and the ideas about that.
Now, I think there’s a few areas which we could approach capitalism in Squid Game and it’s really from the perspective of the VIPs, the guards and the prisoners. Now, I don’t want to spoil the Squid Game series too much, I would tell you some of the parts which are necessary for our analysis. But of course, if you haven’t watched that game, and you really really don’t want to risk any spoilers at all, then here’s a warning for you. But if you know basically what happened in the squid game, or at least everything up until the final plot twists, then I think there shouldn’t be a spoiler-free situation for you.
So now let’s start off with the VIPs. Because we can essentially see the capitalist system as something where there’s a free market economy, which naturally leads to a certain kind of hierarchy, a structure of the rich and the bourgeoisie, and the poor as the plebians are peasants. You see that there’s a structure which naturally forms under a capitalist system, the people who hold the best capital, either that capital is in money, or is it whether they have a certain service, which is of note, maybe it’s like a doctor having the medical knowledge, they naturally move higher up the food chain, or the structure in place, and those who unfortunately do not hold that much of this capital or such a strong command in the economy or this free market and cannot sell their services for the same amount of money would naturally fall in the lower structures.
Now, of course, this is a way, way simplified version of capitalism. But that is just kind of the idea that you get in capitalism, and essentially what we see in most societies around the world, especially America, the West, Europe, and in Hong Kong, or in South Korea, most of these countries where you normally experience that exchange of money where the government normally just puts their hands off most of what’s going on in the world, or at least in the economy. Yes, these capitalist systems aren’t completely capitalist or completely laissez-faire or completely without the federal government, and there’s no really pure ideal representation of the capitalist system. But we can use them as good examples of what Squid Game is talking about through the VIPs. The VIPs represent the richest in the world, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, for example. This is essentially what we see in Squid Game. What Squid Game missing is that, well, there are some VIPs, who control a lot of the capital and as a result, have a lot of control over the people and the way the world works, such that some of the times when you have so many connections, so much money, you almost are almost equal to the government in the world. And I think that that is very definitely a very poignant or a very powerful critique of the capitalist system, or whether you want to say that it is actually a good thing of the capitalist system or something bad—I really think it is up to personal judgement. But one of the aspects which are key to a capitalist system is indeed the ability for people to use their free choice in order to do almost whatever they want with the money and the capital that they have. And the best example of this would be at the beginning of the game where all the captives or the prisoners or whatever you want to call it freely sign the documents. You could say, well, are those documents like kind of legal or not? And that’s a completely different discussion, but you have them sign these documents, freely choose to take parts of this game. They follow this mentality “I freely choose to put myself on the line to fight for this certain prize pool, in the same way, the VIPs put the money down for the prize to be won.” And that is on them as well.
So there’s this kind of free exchange of money, although, of course, it is on certain terms. And that is exactly at the core of this capitalist system from the very beginning where you can freely choose to almost do anything you want. And, of course, in a legal sense, you probably cannot sign your life away to a game, I think there was a lawsuit, I can’t remember what the name of it was, but about someone who freely chose to get his body eaten, and there were some problems of it.
Of course, there is indeed that potential for the contract, out of necessity, to lead some people to do crazy things and really go way beyond and be used by those who are above and that’s exactly what we see, of course, Squid Game takes it to the extreme, you’re signing your life away. But, in reality, we realise although you might not be signing your life away when some in a sweatshop pay to work crazy amounts of hours for various wages there’s an extreme part of the human dignity being put away and you’re moving towards more of a machine in a sweatshop.
Now, this is not a critique, necessarily, of what is going on in sweatshops, because sometimes, yes, you have to admit, and it’s a sad part of reality, that these people would rather have their jobs than not work a sweatshop and starve to death. And that’s perhaps the similar way as kind of this exchange for the life. Yes, they might even save their life, because they might starve to death. They don’t have a job, but they’re going to explore their opportunities (no matter how unbalanced the situation may be). So there is a two-way switch, which is really unfortunate. But something which is part of this capitalist economy, which is developed by the dynamic between these VIPs and the contestants.
Now, the second thing about capitalism that we want to talk about is the guards. These are kind of like the bourgeoisie, we can see in Squid Game that they’re don’t necessarily have freedom, they’re living in these compartments that are not the best situations. They too, like the prisoners, have their order, they have to follow their job, they have to follow the VIPs. But they do have control over the contestants, because they have guns, they can shoot the contestants in the sense that they can enforce order with the contestants. And, as a result, there’s this hierarchical structure. Yes, there’s some sense of arbitrariness within whether you where you fall in the strikes, especially between the guards and the contestants. But somewhere in between you notice that the guards also, themselves, do not have full control. They are the people who do earn enough to sustain your life, but fall greatly short of the CEOs, the billionaires that you see. Perhaps, they are the decent people who float around in the middle of society, they go around their daily lives, they have a job, they work hard to feed themselves, they don’t have any crazy financial, monetary need. But at the same time, they still sometimes will have to listen to the top, those billionaires, the CEOs. And sometimes part of that job description is indeed to enforce laws on those below them. And a good example of this would be a school system, the Prefects have to listen to the teachers. The prefects themselves, although have more power over the plebians, the students in this situation, do not necessarily have complete control over their own lives. If a teacher tells them to do something, they have to do it, whether they agree with it or not. I’m a Prefect myself in my school. If a teacher tells me to hand out a punishment to a student, even though I like the student, or I don’t think that punishment is deserving, I still have to hand out that punishment. And that is the role of the guard. Yes, the guards might be part of that system. Yes, they might be benefiting from that system. But at times due to the structure of that system, they have to go along with some things that they don’t necessarily want to do. And is an excuse for their bad actions. Maybe yes or no, let me know in the comments below. What do you think about the role of the guard, but I definitely think that the guard has a role to play in this kind of capitalist system. And it’s something that is very interesting, and we have to focus on or just is worthy of thinking about.
But now let’s talk about the contestants. I think the contestants are a very interesting part because these plebeians, those people on the lowest part of the capitalist hierarchy, they do indeed sign up for it. They realize that their life outside this hierarchy is even worse. It’s this idea that “yes, we might not like the capitalist system. But if we are not part of the capitalist system, then what then? We’re not going to be able to earn money because we’re no longer having the contracts, we’re going to starve to death!”
And that’s exactly what we see with the analogy found in the contestants after they vote to leave for the first time, they vote to leave. And then what happens? they realize that their life is no better than that was inside the game. So they decided to go back into the game to compete for more, that’s exactly what we see in this kind of structure at the bottom as well, they don’t have a choice to do otherwise. But they have to then follow the system of the structure, which is already set up. And one of the many has the chance of becoming a VIP, there is a way for you to jump from the bottom to the top via winning or working hard. Now, necessarily, that idea of the concept of working hard to get your reward is not as strong in Squid Game. But still, there is the idea that you can go from the bottom to the top via winning, and although it is very rare in the game is that one in 456 players, there is still that chance to get to the top and that is something that you have to think about and is part of the capitalist system. Yes, it is somewhat unfair, yes, there are some problems with the system. But at the same time, that is not to say that under a capitalist system that all hope is lost, there is that ability to reach the top. And it is part of that ability, which allows you to dream on and continue playing.
A good example that is very appropriate in this situation, would be a family example where my great-grandparents went to America during the gold rush to make a living for themselves. Of course, there’s always an American Dream idea where you go to America and make a future for yourself, Sicilians, a lot of people from Asia went as well. And it’s this idea that yes, it might be very rare, might be very difficult to reach the top. But at the same time, it is indeed possible to reach the top if you try hard enough. And yes, it might be very rare, but sometimes it is that small opportunity, which is actually the very beautiful part of capitalism. Yes, it is difficult, but then, at least there is the possibility to go from the very bottom to the very top.
I hope you enjoyed this discussion, feel free to let me know if you want more or have any further ideas for yourself.