On Sept. 17 2021, Netflix released the series Squid Game. On Sept. 12 2022, the show was nominated for 14 Emmys, and won two: one for director Hwang Dong-hyuk (Outstanding Direction in a Drama Series) and another for lead actor Lee Jung-jae (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series). This was the first time a non-English show had won in the former category, and the first time an Asian actor had won in the latter.
Squid Game captured the world at large upon its release. Its theme of capitalism forcing the working class to take massive risks to survive rang true for people worldwide, especially in South Korea where the national debt outweighs the GDP. The series diverges from other battle royale stories like The Hunger Games by demonstrating that everyone competing in the games could have backed out, but had so few options left that there was no point to going back home. This allows audiences to empathize with a much larger group of contestants, which creates tension when these characters are pitted against each other.
Since Squid Game released, there have been a number of parodies and clearly derived recreations. The most prominent Squid Game imitator by far was the video “$456,000 Squid Game In Real Life!” released by YouTuber Jimmy “MrBeast” Donaldson in November 2021. Like in the show, 456 contestants competed, though they were eliminated much less lethally. The video has since garnered over 288,000,000 views.
While some criticized this video and other recreations, saying that they miss the point of the show, Hwang has stated that he doesn’t have an issue with them.
“I watched some of it. I loved it,” he said in an interview with ET Canada. “It helped me promote the show, too. So I want more people to do it.”
This seems to also apply to Netflix, the distributors of Squid Game, as they have announced plans for a reality show titled Squid Game: The Challenge. Like Donaldson’s video, the show will have real-life contestants competing in the Squid Game challenges, though unlike the video it will consist of ten episodes and feature a $4,560,000 prize. This is in addition to an upcoming mockumentary titled The Best Show on the Planet set in the Squid Game world.
Some critics argue that Netflix recreating the games has the same predatory power imbalance displayed in the fictional games:
“The Squid Game reality series is perhaps the most absurd example of ‘folks existing in a boardroom missing the entire point’ I have ever seen in my entire life,” commented Mike Cecchini, editor-in-chief of Den of Geek.
“While there’s sure to be plenty of applicants, the idea is attracting a predictable amount of criticism,” wrote Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, staff-writer at the Daily Dot. “Namely: Why would you want to recreate a contest that’s all about murder, torture, and exploitation?”
Hwang was aware of these critiques, though he has stated that he is not as concerned about this potential contradiction:
“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,” Hwang said in an interview. “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.”
Squid Game has had a huge pull on pop culture shortly after its release, and judging by the accolades, tie-ins and planned second season, it seems that it will not be remembered as a flash in the pan.