Lately, the internet has been abuzz with one thing in particular: Squid Game. Released in September, the South-Korean series has gained massive popularity worldwide and has even taken over Bridgerton’s title as the most-watched show on Netflix, with a reach of about 111 million accounts on the platform. Based on a bloody survival game, the series depicts the miserable lives of debt-ridden people who are encouraged to compete in various childhood games in order to win 45.6 billion won. However, they are unaware that by partaking in the competition, the only thing the games would cost them are their own lives. The nine-episode series features extreme brutality, and through gory details, tries to convey the societal difference formed as a result of capitalism, consumerism, and debt.
While the series is altogether quite binge-worthy, one thing that cannot be ruled out is the possibility of the show normalising violence. The insane success of the series makes one speculate on how, despite the graphic imagery, we as a society seem to have enjoyed the show so much; and how pop culture interest has shifted from comfort shows like Friends, The Office, Gossip Girls, and the like, to shows like Squid Game; in spite of the extreme gory and disturbing themes they present. It is worth contemplating on how our minds are being conditioned whilst being familiarised with such content, and what kind of mentality we are handing down to our younger generation. The following are some of the reasons on how the show could be contributing to the causal representation of violence in mainstream media:
The Use Of Colour Psychology
Colours are known to evoke certain emotions, reactions, and thoughts, which is why the theory of colour psychology is heavily prevalent in the film industry. In the various sets of Squid Game, we see lovely hues of pastel pink and yellow, sunlit rooms, bright skies and colourful playgrounds. All of these colours are associated with feelings of love, innocence, calm, joy, youth, etc. According to the art director of the show, the sets were designed “to look cute and sweet” – a striking contrast to the barbaric events that actually take place within those sets. It can be presumed that such a method was applied by the producers in order to balance out the violent imagery and death portrayed in the show, consequently making the gore tolerable and somewhat enjoyable. On the other hand, it also makes the violence more out of place; an anomaly in an otherwise perfect looking atmosphere.
Desensitisation refers to the process of making an individual less sensitive towards a problem by making them more accustomed to it. In this case, getting used to the violence portrayed in the media. Fear and anxiety are innate human responses towards violence; however, research has ascertained that with constant exposure to graphic depictions in mass media, one is bound to become less emotionally responsive to such imagery. This is evident in our very own society. As South Asians, we are so used to everyday conversations, events, and headlines centred upon violence that we have, to some extent, become indifferent to all of it. This could be precisely why our community seems to have enjoyed “Squid Game” so much. No matter how gory it might seem at the beginning, viewers eventually get used to the repetitive point-blank shots, brutal assaults, and grotesque close-ups of dead people; ultimately disregarding the barbarism and thoroughly enjoying the show.
Empathising With The Characters’ Actions
The stories of the characters in the series have resonated with viewers worldwide. Debt being the primary incentive for the participants to compete in the games, viewers cannot help but place themselves in the shoes of the characters and empathise with their actions. Squid game presented the ugly reality of human beings, and how far one can go when their life is at stake – Sang-Woo and Gi-Hun tricking their partners in the marbles game, participants throwing each other in the glass stepping game, and Sang-Woo killing Sae-Byuk just so that the games won’t be terminated. While such actions should be denounced, viewers are able to relate to the characters’ situations and justify their actions based upon their personal circumstances, hence advocating material gain over any sense of morality.
Impact On Children
Even though Squid Game is rated for mature audiences, children are pretty much exposed to the show since bits and pieces of the graphic violence and games are scattered all over social media in the form of memes, YouTube videos, TikTok trends etc. Various schools around the globe have issued warnings to parents, urging them to tighten control over the content exposed to their children on all major media platforms as students have started to imitate games from the violent series in playgrounds, leading to conflicts between them. Research suggests that media violence causes an increase in physiological arousal, such as blood pressure and heart rate. Eventually these pent-up energies find their outlet in physical and verbal aggression. Hence it comes as no surprise that young audiences are exhibiting violent behavior and negatively impacting playground games.
Needless to say, there is no “cover” for violence. It is up to directors and producers to take responsibility for all the above-mentioned reasons which help to further normalise representation of violence in media, especially violence that is perpetrated by people against other people. That being said, Squid Game is a binge-worthy show which we thoroughly enjoyed, but the question remains: should we have enjoyed it as much as we did?