By Jane Elliott
The Korean TV drama Squid Game is Netflix’s most popular show ever, having reached the number one spot in ninety countries. It tells the story of a diverse group of characters, all heavily in debt, who agree to compete in a series of traditional children’s games with untraditional stakes: losers are killed and the final survivor takes the entire jackpot.
Fictional survival games – often variations of gladiatorial combat – appear in classic episodes of Star Trek and The Twilight Zone from the 1960s, and the 1980s movie The Running Man (starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and very loosely based on a Stephen King novel; a new, more faithful adaptation is currently in production). But the trickle of such titles onto our screens through the 20th century has grown to a flood since Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale was released in Japan in 2000. The high-water mark before Squid Game was probably The Hunger Games franchise.
But to criticise Squid Game for its similarities to other survival game stories is a bit like criticising Notting Hill for being a rom-com…
This is an extract from a piece published last month at the London Review of Books Blog, which can be found at https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2021/october/red-light-green-light.
Jane Elliott teaches English at King’s College London. Her most recent book is The Microeconomic Mode: Political Subjectivity and Contemporary Popular Aesthetics.
Blog posts on King’s English represent the views of the individual authors and neither those of the English Department, nor of King’s College London.
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