In Netflix’s Squid Game, Debt Is a Double-Edged Sword

Morgan Ome in The Atlantic:

For the chance to escape severe debt, the characters in Netflix’s hugely popular survival drama Squid Game would risk anything, even death. Take the protagonist Seong Gi-hun. Unemployed, he spends his days in Seoul gambling on horse races and has signed away his organs as collateral to his creditors. His deficits, both financial and personal, hurt the people closest to him: He hasn’t paid child support or alimony to his ex-wife; he mooches off his elderly mother. On his daughter’s birthday, Gi-hun can afford to buy her only tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes) and a claw-machine toy. He has little left to lose.

In order to win back his dignity and family, Gi-hun accepts a mysterious offer to play a series of six traditional children’s games for the chance at winning millions of dollars (45.6 billion won, to be exact). He finds himself among 456 contestants who are also in extreme financial distress, including his childhood friend Cho Sang-woo, now a disreputable businessman; Abdul Ali, an undocumented worker from Pakistan; and Kang Sae-byeok, a North Korean refugee. At one point, Gi-hun says to Sang-woo, a graduate of the prestigious Seoul National University, “I was slow, crazy incompetent … But you’re with me in this place. Isn’t that interesting?” The messaging is not subtle: Anyone, whatever their background, can be humbled by debt. In this arena, every player has a supposedly equal opportunity at striking gold if they successfully complete the games, which have a bloody twist to them. But the show suggests that humans are constantly in a state of indebtedness to a cruel system—whether that’s a macabre competition or a punishing societal structure.

More here.