The Magical Realism of “Squid Game” Shows the Contradictions of Funny Money and Shady Contracts

Note: The following article contains spoilers for “Squid Game”.

In the hit Netflix series Squid game, players participate in deadly children’s games in order to win money.

By some shady calculations, the lives of players are valued less than their debt. A huge plexiglass piggy bank hanging over their barracks rubs that indignity on the face of every knocked-over survivor as it fills up to the rate of 100 million won – roughly $ 105,470 – per eliminated candidate. This jackpot eventually accumulates for 45.6 billion won.

The piggy bank in Squid game fills over the heads of the competitors.

The games are six competitions based on children’s games, and participants play to win and survive. The price awarded to each actor is only part of the accounting and quasi-legal maneuvers that lead them to Squid gametheaters of cruelty and macabre comedy. In addition, the players signed contracts agreeing to pay and play.

Contracts and payments

Before participating in these games, the protagonist of the show, Seong Gi-hun, has the choice of a loan shark to postpone the payment of his gambling debts by signing a “waiver of physical rights”, which would allow the levy of its organs.

Later in the episode, a well-dressed man approaches Gi-hun at a subway station with an offer Gi-hun cannot refuse: an invitation to play a game of chance for real money. he wins or a slap if he loses.

After a series of losses and searing punches, Gi-hun’s luck turns. But as he rejoices in his winnings, the man debits Gi-hun’s consolidated lifetime debts and the interest accrued to date from banks, payday lenders, gangsters, and other predatory lenders. The uprights are lined with the coldest facts from Gi-hun’s life, including his divorce.

Cornered, Gi-hun agrees to sign a player consent form, making him the 456th participant in the games for higher payouts.

Ddakji is a Korean game of chance that requires a player to use their folded paper token to flip their opponent’s token.
(Shutterstock)

Likewise, the agreements made before the consent form, both armored and fragile like squid silk (a popular Korean snack), appear in the stories of other players. These include Ali, the selfless and confident Pakistani migrant worker cheated by his boss, and Kang Sae-byeok, who fled North Korea with his brother with the help of an unscrupulous smuggler.

But no one needs to flee Earth’s most sinister totalitarian state to see how Squid game hardly exaggerates how reduced some people are to what they owe.



Read more: ‘Squid Game’ is influenced by survival comic horror and real debt


Magical realism

In the novel by Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez A hundred years of loneliness the famous “banana massacre” pays homage to the strikers against the United Fruit Company in 1928, who were shot dead by the Colombian army. In García Márquez’s novel, the grievances that precipitated the strike include the banana company’s payment of workers in tokens, redeemable only in the company’s commissaries (and then only for the Virginia ham which never materializes). But as the workers had been hired on a “provisional” basis, a court ruled in favor of the company: “the workers did not exist”.

In the same way, Squid gamecompetitors do not exist beyond the profit and pleasure generation potential of their desperation, amplified for the entertainment of the scary and dazzled VIPs wearing masks and the captain of the games, who enjoys a scotch and a big band interpretation of “Fly Me to the Moon” as he watches players stomp dead bodies to the finish line of Game 1.

Like García Marquez’s A hundred years of loneliness, Squid game can be understood as a work of magical realism, because its most whimsical elements are presented as raw facts.

In 1997, it was revealed that the pilot responsible for the Korean airline flight 801 crash slapped his co-pilot in the face upon hearing his respectful and hesitant warnings as nothing but insubordination.

Bogus meritocracies and questionable contracts are not unique to South Korea. In 2010, retail giant Walmart was sued for ending the secret life insurance policies on its employees.

Broken promises

The paper promises like Squid gamePlayer consent forms are cynical nods to individual consent and free and equal agency. Clause 3 allows players to suspend games by popular vote, and in the second episode, it is enacted when a close majority vote is held to cancel the games, only for most of the players to return, unable to resist. to the possibility of debt. emancipation.

It looks like many bogus contracts where human lives are exchanged for work or money, like those signed by Korean “comfort women” during WWII as in voluntary exchange for their bodies.

Jeannie Suk Gersen talks about it New Yorker article on the history of comfort women.

In Squid game, collective agreements seem built to be broken, but in one direction. Episode 5 features Gi-hun’s flashback to a strike against his former employer, including police beatings of protesters. This scenario was based on the actual automaker Ssangyong and the 2009 layoff of 2,646 factory workers, only some of whom were compensated after a long battle in Korean courts.

Squid game also highlights the continuing inequalities in education due to poverty. Spirited No.212 player Han Mi-nyeo laments that although she is smart, she hasn’t had the opportunity to study. This can be contrasted with Gi-hun’s childhood nemesis Cho Sang-woo (player # 218), who rose through the social ranks at the prestigious Seoul National but is wanted for embezzlement.

Magic money

This money is itself contractual – certified in its printed status as “legal tender”- slaps Squid game fans in the face every time the payments fall into the piggy bank.

Capitalizing on the show’s gigantic popularity, cryptocurrency crooks stole some US $ 2.15 million buyers by raising the price of tokens to play a still non-existent online game based on the series. The scammers cashed in on November 1, just after the fictitious money – called Squid – hit US $ 2,861 per unit.

But what is it that distinguishes real money from fake? Is debt as real as it gets and is the possibility of wealth a necessary fiction?

Unlike the guards engaged in their side scramble to sell the organs of dead players, the audience views the desecration with as much indignation as they empathize. We could also share a sad laugh at the end of the carnage in Episode 1, recalling that the The billionaire trio of Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Elon Musk soars to the moon.

The show’s magical realism draws on the blend of cutting-edge technology and traditional hierarchies of contemporary South Korean culture, but the inequalities depicted also reflect global truths about how we value human work and life.

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About Bernice D. Brewer

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