Netflix isn’t available in North Korea and you can go to prison if you’re caught watching South Korean dramas. However, that hasn’t stopped mouthpieces for the totalitarian regime from weighing in on Squid Game, the hit South Korean show in which debt-ridden people play children’s games for the chance to win cash and are killed if they fail. Last week, Arirang Meari, a North Korean propaganda website, opined that Squid Game reflects the “sad reality of the beastly South Korean society”, where “corruption and immoral scoundrels are commonplace”. It added that the global hit, which is Netflix’s most-popular series yet, illuminates “the reality of living in a world where people are judged only by money”.
Congratulations to the critics at Arirang Meari for understanding the not-so-subtle message of Squid Game: runaway capitalism is bad. Alas, I am not sure executives at Netflix are particularly bothered. They are far too busy raking in all the cash that Squid Game has made them. As it turns out, a scathing critique of capitalism may help push Netflix into becoming a trillion-dollar company. Squid Game has boosted Netflix stock’s market value by $19 bn since it launched in mid-September, according to Bloomberg. It has also created $900m in “impact value”, which is a metric Netflix uses to assess the performance of individual shows. The streaming platform is shamelessly trying to squeeze every last penny it can out of the show: it’s even selling Squid Game hoodies on its online store.
Netflix isn’t the only company capitalising on Squid Game’s success. Walmart, along with pretty much every fast fashion company, is flogging Squid Game-inspired merchandise. Meanwhile, the YouTuber and multimillionaire who goes by the name Mr Beast has announced he is going to “recreate Squid Game in real life,” and is selling branded hoodies to raise the $2m he expects it will cost. Squid Game may be a critique of capitalism but its steady commodification is a depressing reminder that capitalism always wins.
Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist