Netflix’s new hit show ‘Squid Game’ tackles economic inequality

December 17, 2021 — by Sarah Thomas and Kavya Patel

As of 2016, upper-income families in the US had 75 times as much wealth as lower-income families.

This wealth gap has only increased in recent years, leading many to criticize our current economy, often mentioning the effects of late-stage capitalism, the extreme wealth gaps and inequalities caused by the system.

Netflix’s new South Korean series, “Squid Game” has sparked conversations among younger viewers about the lasting effects of late-stage capitalism. 

The show follows 456 debt-ridden players risking their lives for a game with an ultimate prize of around $38 million. The show is a commentary on capitalism and the unfair environment it creates for the lower-class people. It is an exaggeration of real life, highlighting how being impoverished endangers one’s basic needs for health and safety. 

 For example, people who earn minimum wage in the United States, and don’t have health insurance, work incredibly taxing hours and often face unfair treatment from their managers. Yet, because of their dire financial situation, they have to endure the harsh conditions of their jobs and are unable to escape from these inhumane circumstances.

Similarly, all the players in the show go through their own financial struggles, such as Ali’s effort to support his family and Sae-byeok’s goal to protect her younger brother since he is living in an orphanage. The multitude of realistic depictions about the player’s background highlight that despite struggling to survive, capitalism still pits the lower class against each other and worsens the already-competitive environment. 

The series’ director, Hwang Dong-hyuk, said that he created “Squid Game” with the intent of satirizing capitalism. He was heavily inspired by the Lehman Brothers crisis, the Korean economy and his own financial struggle when he began writing the show in 2008. 

He intended “Squid Game” to reflect the invisible societal hierarchy, and also hoped to inspire viewers to start to think about the effects of late-stage capitalism, increasing income inequality, and the prevalence of various social issues like racism and the lack of mental health resources. 

A study in 2016 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the number of impoverished people, though increasing in the past few years, showcased an decreasing trend in the number of people who were unemployed in the US. This evidence demonstrates that even though impoverished people are working, it’s not enough to survive over the poverty line. 

Among students here, “Squid Game” has also inspired discussions about class differences and what they mean for students who are more privileged. 

Shortly after the release of the show, sophomore Maia Shama said she felt that watching the show made conversations about classism less stressful, especially in school.

“[“Squid Game”] was written in such a digestible format, [which] made it easy to talk about. Since it was so popular, it was kind of shoved in our faces,” Shama said. 

Shama said she felt that media similar to “Squid Game,” like “Parasite” and “Sorry to Bother You,” all made complicated issues easier to talk about for younger people because of the entertainment aspect of the show. 

For sophomore Sannidhi Boppana, “Squid Game” also acted as a medium to introduce a new conversation to Saratoga. 

“The show, for me, was a wake-up call. [In Saratoga], many people live in a good environment with houses and cars that are relatively nicer. Every time something like this comes out, it’s good because people can become more aware of their own privilege,” she said.