I think about Squid Game a lot. Like, way more than I should, considering I didn’t enjoy the show all that much. It’s hard to avoid nowadays, especially with the high-profile reality show emulating the horrific circumstances of the original series, the finale of which just came out.
Last week, after one of my regular horror movie watch parties with my friends, the group’s resident Netflix fiend convinced us that we need to watch Squid Game: The Challenge so we can fully grasp how abjectly horrifying it is. She started out skipping through each episode to the parts she judged most pivotal – by the end, the two of us were sitting on the couch at five in the morning, watching the season’s penultimate episode with bated breath and cursing at the contestants.
God, I Hate That This Show Exists
Squid Game: The Challenge is an excellently-made reality show that diabolically adapts and changes the games from the show enough that it surprises audiences as much as it surprises the contestants. It masterfully manipulates its contestants, and the footage of its contestants, to create clear villains and heroes, showing us who acts out of a desire to help the collective and who acts in self-interest. It does everything a great reality show should do. It even does an incredible job of bringing the TV show’s themes to the forefront, showing the audience exactly how torturous and cruel it is to be putting contestants through so much turmoil over a shot at winning millions of dollars. It also should never have been made, let alone renewed for a second season.
I’m not surprised Netflix did this – the reality show was the most-watched show on Netflix, globally, in the first week of its release. It is as popular as it is soulless. The show eschews explicit anti-capitalism themes and sentiment because it’s at odds with the concept, but capitalism’s consequences peek through anyway, in the ruthlessness that contestants treat each other with and the creeping sense of dread and horror that comes with the knowledge that each of the eliminated contestants has a lot at stake.
That viral clip of contestant 299 curling up in a ball and trying not to throw up after getting eliminated haunts my dreams.
Netflix is almost winking at the audience, saying, ‘we know we’re replicating the horrible cycles of making desperate people fight over money for an audience’s entertainment – we just don’t care’. It knows very well that it’s making media that flies in the face of the original series’ message. What’s scarier is that it doesn’t matter, because it’s counting on its audience to love consumption more than they care about what Squid Game tried to tell them. Its audience loves it so much that it immediately warranted a second season, and a video game where “players will be able to compete with friends in games they’ll recognise from the series”. There are no further details about the video game as of yet, but I’m hoping it’s actually a fever dream I’ll eventually wake up from.
And this is our fault. It’s mine, too, for watching the show and giving Netflix those delicious views it so craves. We told Netflix that no, it doesn’t matter that you’re missing the point of the show and that capitalism drives so many of us to desperation and violence, because we love that sweet, sweet content. Make more! Make a video game, we’ll play it! Make more money off an anti-capitalist screed. It’s the bleakest possible outcome that this becomes one of the most profitable franchises Netflix has, and it’s the one we have. Irony is dead, and we killed it with clicks.
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