Netflix’s Squid Game says a lot about the era we live in

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By Pierre Haski / Television series have already become geopolitical “objects”, since they tell us things about the world, but also because they are a component of soft power, i.e. the ability of states to persuade and exert cultural influence on others without use force.

The Squid Game has what it takes to find space in geopolitical magazines. For those who don’t know, the South Korean series has broken the record for the best debut on the Netflix platform, with over 100 million subscribers worldwide watching it in less than 1 month.

So better than “House of Cards” or “Lupine”, two other non-American hits produced by Netflix. This phenomenon is interesting, first of all for what “Squid Game” tells us about the era in which they are living.

But also because South Korea and its 50 million inhabitants have developed a cultural industry that has a planetary impact, from the famous music group K-pop to aggressive marketing and quality cinema, which was awarded the Palme d’Or at the Festival of Cannes in 2019 for the film “Parasite”.

This “squid game” is cruel and violent. The series features indebted characters who participate in a game whose outcome is simple: win or die. Some have seen it as a critique of rampant capitalism, or as a denunciation of the stark inequalities in South Korea, a once-poor country that has experienced tremendous economic development.

South Korea has an influence far greater than its size.

But “Squid Game” is also an invitation to surpass yourself. Of course, competitors compete against each other, but above all against themselves and their limits. Given the success of the series, many studies will surely be published to analyze its meaning, the perception of young people (which will inevitably be different from that of adults) and aesthetics.

But “Squid Game” is also an unexpected success, because the series’ creator, Hwang Dong-hyuk, was unable to find local funding before convincing Netflix, and has captured the general public thanks to a term that is already went viral.

So we have a combination of South Korea’s ability to tell stories, and the universal reach and power of Netflix. So a double soft power. South Korea experienced dictatorship before democratization and the economic boom that has made it the 11th economic power in the world.

In 1997, at the time of the Asian financial crisis, the government decided to invest massively in the cultural industries, a choice that proved successful. Today, South Korea is the most connected country in the world, and this gives it an edge in the digital age, as explained on October 13 by Angeliki Kacaru in the special issue of Asia Trends magazine dedicated to South Korea.

This country has a very large influence compared to its surface area, which makes it a soft power giant compared to neighboring China, an economic power that, however, is unable, due to its political rigidity, to rival the influence of the cultural industries.

A particularly visible aspect at this moment, characterized by the aggressive measures of the Chinese regime, which prohibits men who are considered too “feminine” from appearing on television.

South Korea, located in the center of a delicate geopolitical zone, has been able to find the right recipe for a national culture that knows how to speak to the rest of the world, an asset that is considerable in the 21st century. “Squid Game” is expected to bring other successes. / “France Inter” – Bota.al

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