Has Netflix's “Squid Game” gone too far?


Fact Box

  • Squid Game debuted on Netflix on September 17, 2021, and in the first 27 days was watched by 111 million users. 
  • A South-Korean survival drama, Squid Game’s premise is “456 people who are deeply in debt and have been chosen to compete to win 45.6 million won (about $38.4 million USD) by playing deadly versions of traditional children's games.”
  • Multiple New York state schools banned students from wearing Halloween costumes inspired by Squid Game, citing the show’s “mature content and violence.” 
  • Squid Game director Hwang Dong-hyuk first conceived of the series in 2008 when struggling financially himself and escaping into the world of manga comic books about surviving death games.

Maha (No)

Despite being “bloody and violent,” Netflix’s Squid Game has gained enough acclaim to drown the voices of its critics. In fact, there are guides on how to watch the show while avoiding the gore because this is one show viewers shouldn’t miss out on. 

And here’s why. 

There’s actually more to the show than just violence. Which, by the way, may be comparatively less gruesome than some Hollywood releases. 

While it focuses on Korean culture, Squid Game features different situations that all audiences are quite familiar with, like debt and divorce. The exploitation of immigrants is also one of many social issues American audiences may relate to.  

The show also offers insights into human nature--apparent through the characters Cho Sang-Woo and Seong Gi-hun. Despite being forced into the same dangerous predicament, Sang-Woo exhibits moral failure, whereas Gi-hun chooses kindness and compassion. This may come as a surprise considering the backgrounds of both characters. 

However, Squid Game boils down to being a realistic take on the power of poverty. 

All contestants are facing poverty due to class divide, income inequality, or debt. With money to gain from eliminating others and winning by any means necessary, the contestants show little hesitation before allowing others to die. 

These themes reflect growing evidence that links income inequality and poverty to homicide. Further confirming this is the fact that Philadelphia has both the highest poverty rate and murder rate per capita in the 10 largest cities.  

So, if anything, Squid Game has gone as far as to be a reality check about truths most would rather remain ignorant of.  

Samir (Yes)

Squid Game owes much of its success to word-of-mouth and social media marketing. But that has not stopped Netflix from marketing the show to a broader audience--especially kids, even though they are not the target demographic. And it is for this reason that the streaming giant has gone too far with the survival drama. 

You can’t tell from the colorful displays used to promote it, but Squid Game is ridiculously violent. Particularly insidious is its reliance on children's games from the Korean peninsula as a plot device. That approach serves as a subtle yet subversive way to expand its viewership among children.

Despite its TV-MA rating, children's mental health experts are cautioning parents to act. Dr. David Anderson from Child Mind Institute argues that 'the level of violence is horrifying--more than most shows.' He advises that parents stand firm against their kids watching it until late adolescence--being sure to explain why.

Since the show's premise and marketing are centered around children's games, it is, by design, subliminally targeting kids. And the result has been that children are increasingly mimicking the violence from the series. Schools are even warning parents about students hurting each other as they act out scenes. 'This essentially means [kids] imitate behaviors that they see by watching others,' explains counselor Rebecca Cowan.

Squid Game is hardly the first show to feature gratuitous amounts of sex or mind-numbing physical violence. But its cross-cultural success means that parents everywhere need to sit down with their children and talk about the importance of making good choices regarding the content they consume. Kids are too impressionable and not discerning enough to know that Squid Game has gone too far.

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