(Disclaimer: Major spoilers ahead)
ADUN SPEAKS | The premise of Netflix’s wildly popular show, Squid Game, is simple enough: 456 players compete in a series of Korean childhood games to win 45.6 billion won (roughly RM160.4 million). Lose a game, instant death. Why would anyone play?
1. The illusion of choice in late capitalism
The players have nothing to lose. They are all economically desperate. Seong Gi-Hun (player 456) is a kind-hearted deadbeat dad and gambler who steals his mother’s ATM card to bet on horses.
There’s a North Korean deserter who wants to smuggle her family, a securities trader wanted for embezzlement, and a Pakistani undocumented worker cheated of his salary.
Amidst this setting is class inequality. Despite tremendous economic prosperity since 1961 (dubbed the “Miracle on the Han River”), South Korea’s youth unemployment rate peaked at 27.2 percent in January 2021.
Suicide is especially common among senior citizens living on the edge of poverty, like Gi-Hun’s mother who is forced to work despite her advanced age and illness. South Korea’s economy is dominated by chaebols – conglomerates owned by a few powerful families, such as Samsung (Lee family) and Hyundai (Chung family).
Chaebols are interlocked with government interests, sparking “too big to fail” concerns during the 1997 Asian financial crisis. They also are accused of monopolistic practices due to protectionist policies.
Malaysia, too, faces a similar conundrum, albeit in the form of...