Just how big a hit is Netflix’s original thriller series “Squid Game”? Big enough that North Korea’s communist dictatorship is claiming the show offers a parable about the dangers of capitalism.
The South Korean drama, which debuted on September 17, is now the number one hit in more than 90 countries and has quickly become Netflix’s most-watched original show of all time. Dubbed in English for American viewers, it centers on a group of debt-ridden adults who are recruited by a shadowy organization to play children’s games to the death in exchange for big payouts.
As first reported by Reuters, state-run North Korean news outlet Arirang Meari said on October 12 that “Squid Game’s” dystopian storyline warns of the “hell-like horror” of capitalist cultures where “only money matters,” and added that in free-market nations “corruption and immoral scoundrels are commonplace.” The article also claimed the show “makes people realize the sad reality of the beastly South Korean society in which human beings are driven into extreme competition and their humanity is being wiped out.”
“It is the current South Korean society where the number of losers in fierce competition such as employment, real estate and stocks increases dramatically,” the article said.
It’s worth noting, however, that one of “Squid Game’s” main characters is playing the games in order to earn enough money to help her family get out of North Korea — something that, given the show’s popularity, may explain why the government there would have an interest in shifting focus to other elements of the plot.
Openly highlighting a South Korean show is an unusual occurrence in North Korea, where citizens face fines, prison time, and even execution for watching South Korean entertainment. Reuters’ report notes, “A sweeping new ‘anti-reactionary thought’ law was imposed late last year, including up to 15 years in a prison camp for those caught with media from South Korea.”
The fact that the regime’s propaganda outlets are discussing “Squid Game” so openly is especially ironic given that its state-controlled intranet doesn’t allow citizens to access Netflix.
Clearly, Kim Jong Un’s government is willing to bend the rules if it feels it can score political points. Last year, for example, a Japan-based pro-North Korea propaganda paper praised the Oscar-winning South Korean movie “Parasite” as a masterpiece that “starkly exposed the reality” of class divides in South Korea.
That said, North Korea’s reading of the show may not be totally out of left field. “Squid Game” creator and director Hwang Dong-hyuk told Variety last month that he did plan for the series to “highlight the growing wealth gap in the modern world.”
“I wanted to write a story that was an allegory or fable about modern capitalist society, something that depicts an extreme competition, somewhat like the extreme competition of life,” he said.
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