Netflix has met with a little bit of backlash after deciding to create an ambitious reality show based on its hit fiction series Squid Game. The premise of the new show is simple enough. Squid Game: The Challenge will be the largest reality television show ever produced, featuring 456 entrants. They’ll perform tasks, play games, and form alliances along the way. All of this is in pursuit of a $4.56 million dollar cash prize.
Anyone who’s seen Squid Game can probably begin to see why this sounds a little backward. Squid Game inherently and overtly critiques capitalism and the way it drives people to do insane things for money out of pure desperation. The people who are competing in the challenge aren’t putting their lives on the line because they’re greedy, but because there’s no other option. Most characters in the show come from poverty, or at the very least, weren’t raised in the lap of luxury. They’re only competing in the deadly game for the chance at a better life.
Could one not argue that the reality show is then the exact same thing as the plot of the original series? While of course, the stakes are a little bit lower because there’s no real death involved, that may be a shallow reading. What if some of the contestants are on the verge of homelessness, or in need of an expensive operation? The motivations behind competing on the show could be infinite. Maybe the reality show is only really one small step removed from the art it’s simulating.
Now that that existential economic dissection of the factors at play is over, let’s look at what the creator of Squid Game had to say about the reality show. Hwang Dong-hyuk seems to have a far laxer view of the whole thing than a lot of people. Variety reported a statement he made backstage at the 2022 Emmys, which is as follows:
I think that even though our show does carry quite a heavy message — and I know that there are some concerns of taking that message and creating it into a reality show with a cash prize, However, I feel like when you take things too seriously, that’s really not the best way to go for the entertainment industry. It doesn’t really set a great precedent.
What Hwang Dong-hyuk said is true, and it can’t really be argued with. These kinds of conversations about the media we consume, how ethical they are, and how they affect the people involved in their production aren’t the most fun. It’s not entertaining. But at the end of the day, it’s important.
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