'Squid Game' rings true in our new reality

'Squid Game' rings true in our new reality

The warning does come across like a sick joke. Following the popularity of Netflix’s series Squid Game, deputy police spokesman Pol Col Kissana Phathanacharoen told parents to beware of violence seen in the show.

The deadly survival game series, complete with fights to the death, murder and assaults of all kind, could cause youngsters to develop copy-cat behaviour which could in turn lead to violence and crime, Pol Col Kissana said.

The caution over fictional violence is ironic coming from the Royal Thai Police Commission which has been targeting anti-government protesters, many of them youngsters, with water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets almost daily.

It is the police force that insists it has strictly abided by international crowd control standards even though at least one protester was blinded after a rubber bullet hit him in the eye.

It is the same police force, one of whose members, a former chief of Nakhon Sawan police, was caught in a leaked video clip suffocating a drug suspect by putting six plastic bags over his head during questioning.

It begs the question of why the police force should feel so concerned about Squid Game when the reality is more grim.

Also, the deputy police spokesman may not understand what the show is about.

For the police, everything may pivot around law and order. For many other people, citizens around the world, the very “order” which the state has been using to justify its many forms of control, is coming under question.

The Squid Game series strikes home with millions, if not billions, of people worldwide because it speaks about the desperation of people who can no longer fight against the system, who would rather trade their lives for the promise of a fairer chance to stay alive even if the downside could be deadly.

It is the kind of desperation that many people nowadays can easily identify with.

It’s not just capitalism that is defeating people who don’t have enough money but the entire social, economic and political structure that is biased toward certain groups of people at the cost of those who have less or disagree with the predominant power.

The sentiment may be similar to the rage and discontent that is driving youngsters to go out and face down the police force every day even though they know they will never win.

That the South Korean series has become a global hit, topping the charts in more than 90 countries, should remind us about the state of societies and the growing sense of desperation among “losers”.

Indeed, the script for Squid Game had been repeatedly turned down since 2008 when it was first proposed.

The story was described as “bizarre” and “unrealistic” at the time.

What is terrifying is that it took only 13 years for the brutal survival game story to hit home with audiences around the world.

“Sadly, the world has changed in that direction. The series’ games that participants go crazy over align with people’s desires to hit the jackpot with things like cryptocurrency, real estate and stocks. So many people have been able to empathise with the story,” the series’ writer and director Hwang Dong-hyuk told the Korea Times.

Undeniably, the Covid-19 pandemic played a big part in creating the conditions that made the survival game series resonate.

The deadly virus has turned the world as we know it into a whole new environment.

There is no safe place. There are no safe people either. Your parents, siblings, friends or colleagues can turn into carriers anytime.

There are not enough resources to cover everyone either. For most people, the Covid-19 pandemic is the first major epidemic we have ever had to deal with.

It’s probably the first time we saw people being left to die while waiting for medical treatment.

It’s true people die every day, thousands of them, and we are not even aware of them. But Covid-19 made a difference.

With the disease’s fatality rate and ever-connected social media, we got to see live streaming of people languishing at home while trying to contact help lines. We were also provided with photos and stories of people who literally dropped dead on the street.

The reality happening in the background, somewhere we don’t know, see or hear, is one thing. The reality being displayed right in our face, as shocking and vivid as it was terrifying, is another.

When tragedy occurred before our eyes through the media it became undeniable. The game of survival — the many dilemmas that demanded people make a choice of who could use the limited number of respirators and who could be left to die — became reality.

It is the reality, the “new normal”, that provides a perfect backdrop for the “bizarre” Squid Game to ring true.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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