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Voices: This Morning’s bleak energy bill game feels like an episode of Squid Game

The Independent logo The Independent 06/09/2022 Emma Flint
this-morning-energy-bills-prize.jpeg © ITV this-morning-energy-bills-prize.jpeg

When Squid Game aired in September 2021, it instantly became a hit among viewers, quickly becoming Netflix’s most-watched series. It was escapism – albeit deadly, dystopian escapism. Little did we know that the deadly fight for financial aid depicted on our screens would start to become a reality for many of us.

On Monday 5 September, viewers were horrified to watch asThis Morning held a competition where the main prize was paid energy bills. That’s right – gone are the days of us longing for luxury cars or a holiday abroad, our prizes are now the means for survival. It’s nothing short of a dystopian nightmare, playing out before our eyes.

The bright lights of the TV studio, accompanied by the glittery Wheel of Fortune-esque set-up, felt incredibly reminiscent of Squid Game visuals. Consider the bright colours of the giant animatronic doll, Young-hee, or the colourful staircase set; imagery that would typically signify fun suddenly transitioned into something sinister given the brutality of the show.

What we saw from This Morning was simply a watered-down version. The plastered smiles of Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby as they introduced their segment, seemingly lacking any sincerity, makes for chilling viewing.

Schofield opened by saying: “This week we’ve got our usual cash prizes, but you could also win some extra cash to pay your energy bills until the end of the year. That’s four months of energy bills taken care of.”

To which Willoughby exclaimed: “Wow, that’s very important right now.”

It reads like a badly written script, a script that continued to get worse once a caller named Alex was offered the chance to spin the wheel. To try to soften the inhumane tone of the game, Schofield assured Alex that they would get “some money” even if they didn’t win the paid energy bills prize. Such assurances held little warmth, the words more an afterthought than genuine empathy or concern.

Even if we remove the setting from this analogy and focus solely on the prize itself, the painful similarities are still there. This Morning viewers were calling in, essentially competing against one another for the chance to win a basic necessity; how is that not like Squid Game? The whole basis of the South Korean show is that people battle it out, risking their lives (and often losing them) to fix their financial hardships. Although This Morning wasn’t physically hurting anyone in their competition, the fact that people are expected to die this winter because they can’t afford heating or food makes it a deadly game of risk nonetheless.

The nation’s pain and struggle was turned into a jovial affair. Cheers from the studio crew when the winner bagged their prize were the sound of pain being turned into sport. Perhaps the crew genuinely felt relief that they’d “helped’’ in some way. However, the question must be asked of why that “help” came at the expense of our dignity. Although there’s no shame in admitting you need financial help, that admission shouldn’t be turned into a game. For many of us watching, all we saw was desperation utilised as a means to entertain. Instead of our plight being taken seriously, this competition segment turned it into a joke. It trivialised it.

As you’d expect from such an out-of-touch and distasteful display, the internet is alight with fury. If you google This Morning, the top suggestion is “This Morning energy bills”. People are angry at the crass way ITV handled such a sensitive subject, but they’re also angry at how tempting taking part in the competition was.

One Reddit user posted: “One half of me looked on aghast at how crass and depressing this was. The other half of me strongly considered looking into how to get on the competition because f*** me, not having to worry about my next 4 months’ energy bills would be low key life-changing rn [sic]”.

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It’s a sentiment many of us can relate to. We don’t want to see our lives mirror dystopian fiction, yet we’re in a position where any aid, even ones that treat us like pawns, becomes appealing. Arguably, that’s what makes This Morning’s new prize so terrifying: it’s dangling a carrot we can’t ignore.

Some have defended the show’s decision, claiming “it’s not really ITV’s fault people are broke, and there’s a good chance they’d [the winner] have spent the cash on energy anyway”. The Reddit user in question is likely correct that any money would go towards energy bills, but they’re missing the point of why this prize is so troubling: it commodifies poverty.

We’re no longer playing for cash prizes, we’re playing for our bills. The subtle shift in marketing speaks of a much larger and deeper issue with how our society functions; to explain that away so off-handedly is part of the reason our country is in this position in the first place. Our government has shooed away our cries for help time and again, and even now it’s still loath to implement any real change that would help us.

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