Netflix’s ‘Squid Game’ arrived at the right time in the Jewish calendar – the forward
This article contains spoilers if you’ve always avoided seeing “Squid Game”.
“Squid Game”, a Korean-language Netflix series, was a surprise hit; While executives expected it to be a major hit with its native audiences, it is currently on its way to becoming the platform’s most-watched series, with ever-growing interest, according to Ted Sarandos, co. – CEO of Netflix.
The plot is a kind of “Hunger Games” that meets a Japanese game show. Over 400 people have been invited to compete for money without being told exactly what they will be doing; after consenting, they are picked up, drugged, and taken to a mysterious facility where they wake up in a giant room full of tiered beds and dressed in matching tracksuits marked with their assigned number.
The first game, a version of “Red Light, Green Light”, reveals the problem: when you mess up, you are instantly knocked out of a game with a ball, effectively knocked out of the field by masked guards and cremated; your family is never informed of your death. With each death, the prize money increases, pouring into a giant piggy bank lit by spotlights; the life of each person is calculated at 1 million Koreans won, or approximately $ 84,000. Yet despite their horror as over 200 of their contestants are murdered in this first match, the contestants keep playing and each successive match is worse and more moral.
Why would anyone agree? The answer, of course, is desperation; each candidate is deeply in debt, often with a parent or child depending on them or the expectations and honor of their families. They feel like they have no choice but to risk their lives and their morals by playing a deadly game.
It is therefore normal that “Squid Game” was released just at the beginning of the shmita year.
The Shmita years, which are first mentioned in Deuteronomy, occur every seven years and require us to reset both the land and the society by leaving the fields fallow and forgiving the debts. Today, most people believe that Shmita laws really only apply in Israel, and only when it comes to agriculture. Even then, the letter of the law is embraced on the mind; for example, greenhouse agriculture is not impacted because plants do not grow in literal soil.
Some Jewish activist groups use the texts of shmita to inspire or guide their work on climate change or social justice. But the idea of literally following the laws, literally forgiving debt, or shutting down the economy is unimaginable today. If we gave up debt, the economy would collapse! I mean, right?
On the flip side, most millennials are drowning in college debt, and crowdfunding to pay insurmountable healthcare bills is basically its own category of so-called heartwarming but actually dystopian local reporting. The US government, which has trillions of dollars in debt, nearly defaulted on its bills this week.
Like its fellow Korean-language hit, “Parasite,” multiple Oscar-winning “Squid Game,” is essentially a class war horror film. It confuses the idea of the American dream, that we are or have ever been on an equal footing, also capable of being successful, and that there is something like fair play in our economic system.
The games are run by a shady cabal of rich, disguised men from all over the world – they speak English, not Korean – who seem to believe they are leveling the playing field, giving desperate contestants a real chance at success, and they jealously do the integrity of the game.
When a competitor cheats by making deals with the masked and anonymously numbered guards in order to get clues about the content of the next game, he is hanged in public and the playmaker sincerely apologizes to the competitors for their inability to keep the game fair. Of course, anyone who stumbles in the next game will die, often murdered by their comrades, but that’s fine; it’s by the book – they all had an equal chance of winning, or killing each other, so that’s fair.
At one point, the contestants try to quit – they are allowed to end the games provided the majority agrees – and they return to their normal lives only to find that their days are almost as horrible and full. of moral dilemmas than games. Almost everyone comes back; as long as they’re in debt, even gambling madness is worth it.
Of course, nothing about this is fair. The indebted may be on the same level as each other, but they are still just toys for those in power, pitted against each other by wealthy puppeteers who amuse themselves in the struggles of humble competitors.
It can be almost impossible to imagine simply forgiving a debt or actually observing shmita in our modern capitalist society. But “Squid Game” is a clear story of what happens if we say no.