The brutal survival drama has already topped the streaming charts in over 90 countries. According to Netflix, the series reached 111 million fans in just under a month since it premiered on September 17. In the meantime, the hostile neighbor of the production country has also reacted to the hype surrounding the “Squid Game”.
North Korean propaganda website Arirang Meari wrote that viewers were drawn to a show depicting the “sad reality of a bestial South Korean society” that abides by the “law of the jungle,” the Tuesday article said.
“Hell-like horror” of capitalism
The Wall Street Journal, which reported on the North Korean article on Thursday, described North Korea’s “love-hate relationship with South Korean pop culture”. For a long time, USB sticks with South Korean pop music, films and TV programs smuggled into North Korea circulated. According to reports, the consumption of such content is strictly prohibited by Kim Jong Un’s regime.
Arirang Meari justified the popularity of the series by saying that it “shows the reality of South Korean capitalist culture”. The show illustrates “a world where only money counts – a hell-like horror,” the article said.
In June 2019, the North Korean propaganda website DPRK Today stated that the Oscar-winning South Korean film “Parasite” showed people that the capitalist system of South Korea was “a rotten, sick society with a malignant tumor”.
“Parable for modern capitalist society”
“Squid Game” sees itself as a criticism of the South Korean conditions. Discrimination against social minorities is discussed just as much as the prevailing extreme pressure to perform. In an interview, director Hwang Dong Hyuk said that he wanted to portray the “survival game as a metaphor, a parable for modern capitalist society”.
“One reason the record-breaking hit drama from Netflix caught on with so many people is because it is also a social commentary on real-life incidents in Korea,” wrote the Korea Herald newspaper to explain why the series did Zeitgeist has met.
It is no coincidence that the currently most successful series comes from South Korea of all places. The government in Seoul has been specifically promoting cultural exports as an economic growth industry since the late 1990s. Most recently, the country had great international successes, above all the boy band BTS.
Diplomatic disputes with China
The series reached a mass audience not only in the West, but also in the People’s Republic of China. According to media reports, more than two billion users clicked on the hashtag for “Squid Game” on the online platform Weibo, a microblogging service comparable to Twitter. The series is officially not even available in China’s strictly regulated Internet.
The very obvious piracy with “Squid Game” ultimately turned into a diplomatic dispute: According to the Korean broadcaster KBS, Jang Ha Sung, South Korea’s ambassador to Beijing, asked the Chinese authorities to intervene against file-sharing sites that illegally distribute the series.
Worrying imitation effects
The great success of “Squid Game” has also led to a significantly increased interest in learning the Korean language. At the beginning of October, the company Duolingo, which offers online language courses, announced that since the series launch of “Squid Game” in September, 40 percent more users have been registered for Korean courses than in the same period of the previous year.
But there have already been dubious imitation effects. According to media reports, students at a school in Erquelinnes, Belgium, re-enacted their version of the series, with the losers being beaten. The school management finally had to contact the parents of the students via Facebook.