The Squid Game: Why Is Netflix Criticizing Meritocracy’s Global Phenomenon?

The squid game is perhaps at its best when viewed as a critique of merit. (Photo Credit: Instagram/ @squidgame__)

The squid game is perhaps at its best when viewed as a critique of merit. (Photo Credit: Instagram/ @squidgame__)

by Matt Bennett

squid game, Netflix’s latest runaway success, has set new records for views and sparked a flurry of comments, memes and moral panic about screen violence.

The program follows 456 contestants through a series of deadly competitions. At stake is a cash prize of billions suspended over the contestants’ dormitory in a giant Perspex piggy bank. People who play sports are destitute and remain in debt. Some suffer from gambling addiction, others have become embroiled in mass violence and some are facing the threat of deportation. This desperation drives them to risk their lives to win the fate hanging over their heads.

squid game Undoubtedly serves as a satire of physical inequality in South Korea. The problem has reached a point where candidates for the country’s 2022 presidential election are considering relatively radical policies, including a universal basic income and a sweeping overhaul of the legal system.

but although squid gameSocial criticism of the U.S. is most clearly aimed at extreme inequality, its satire being most effective when it targets a theory that has supported, justified and perpetuated such inequality. squid game It’s probably best when viewed as a critique of merit.

promise of meritocracy

Meritocracy is a matter of debate for the moment. A significant number of recent important studies by sociologists, economists and philosophers have focused on the role of merit in legitimizing the level of inequality we face today.

We have been sold the idea that a meritocratic society would be a place where our material well-being is determined not by class, race, or gender, but by a combination of our ability and effort. Meritocrats believe in fair social competition, an equal playing field and rewards for people talented and hardworking enough to move up the social ladder.

But not everyone can win in a competitive society. The dark side of meritocracy is that it justifies inequality on the basis that better people have earned their status, with the implication that even the worse ones deserve a lot. And once people have come to believe that their society is, in fact, genius, it is much more difficult to establish political resistance to inequality.

The political promises of meritocracy peaked in the 1980s and 1990s, and have waned since the 2008 financial crisis, along with economic optimism that helped make merit plausible. Meritocracy is still plaguing contemporary politics. Just last year, for example, Kamala Harris Vice Presidential Campaign This included the assurance that everyone “can be on the same level and compete on the same level”. And some statistics indicate that a growing proportion of the public believe that they live in a quarry.

The problem with past promises of meritocracy is that they have either turned out to be false because we never really get meritocracy, or are empty because meritocracy doesn’t really give us what we expect. squid game Either/or exposes both sides of this unhappiness.

false qualification inappropriateness

in the middle squid gameCompetition is a code of ethics that, according to the shadowy figures running the sport, provides unavailable opportunities to competitors outside of the sport. In his (translated) words: “These people suffer from inequality and discrimination in the world, and we give them one last chance to fight and win on an equal footing”.

surprisingly, the reality of squid gameits competitiveness falls short of its qualifying ideal. The hope of a level playing field is undermined by the same social factors that corrupt a competitive society outside sport. form of groups; Women are left out; Elderly players are left out.

Ali Abdul catches Seong Gi-hun during a game of red light, green light.  (Photo Credits: Netflix)

Ali Abdul catches Seong Gi-hun during a game of red light, green light. (Photo Credits: Netflix)

The game’s only player from outside Korea, Ali Abdul, is patronized, betrayed and exploited. In the first game, he literally puts the program’s protagonist, Seong Gi-hyun, in a stunning visual allegory for prosperity’s dependence on cheap foreign labor in developed countries.

Not everyone has a fair chance of winning.

violence of true merit

but what an injustice squid game Is competition really unfair? If the contestants were indeed “on the same level,” would the panic disappear?

squid game Can be completely meritorious and at the same time completely deformed. It is a winner-take-all competition, where only a small fraction of players will rise to luck, and where a negligible difference in performance can mean the difference between success and failure, and also the difference between life and death. It is possible.

Compare this with the polarized labor markets of countries such as the US, where middle-income jobs have been replaced by a small number of high-earning roles for winners and increasingly poorly paid jobs for those left behind. In fact, even societies embracing real merit, such as America, have created few opportunities to win, while losing out puts millions of people in poverty.

squid game It is also a competition in which the poorest of the society are forced to play. Although the rules of the game allow players to opt-out at any time – they also allow for a democratic vote on whether to continue – the misery that awaits them outside the game can be attributed to it. Doesn’t make a real choice.

The winner takes everything, the losers die, and the participants have no choice but to play. squid gameRadical meritocracy is a satirical version of the inequalities that have emerged in a competitive society. But it only shows, in an exaggerated form, the dangers of both false and true meritocracy that currently implicate millions.



Matt Bennett is a Senior Research Officer in Philosophy at the University of Essex.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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