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Netflix hit ‘Squid Game’ is so big North Korea is using it to slam South Korean society

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 10/13/2021 Jennifer Hassan
Contestants vying to win the Dalgona Korean candy challenge in a scene from "Squid Game." Squid Game, a globally popular South Korea-produced Netflix show © Youngkyu Park/AP Contestants vying to win the Dalgona Korean candy challenge in a scene from "Squid Game." Squid Game, a globally popular South Korea-produced Netflix show

“Squid Game” is now so big that even North Korea’s propaganda machine can’t resist weighing in with an opinion on the nine-part show that Netflix just announced has become the most-watched series launch in its history.

While the dystopian series has gripped viewers around the world with its gruesome tale of economic despair and deadly childhood-inspired games, a North Korean state-run website says the production serves to highlight the “beastly” nature of “South Korean capitalist society where mankind is annihilated by extreme competition.”

In a post published Tuesday, the website said “Squid Game” reflects an “unequal society where the strong exploit the weak.”

In the series, hundreds of debt-ridden contestants, including a North Korean defector, enter the games in a bid to win a climbing, multimillion-dollar cash prize they hope will turn their lives around. The catch: If they lose a game, they die.

The series has resonated deeply in South Korea and beyond, especially among those frustrated with income inequality, unemployment and financial challenges. The director has said the production’s relatability has been a key to its success.

The streaming giant confirmed Tuesday that the series, which director Hwang Dong-hyuk began writing a decade ago, has become the most-watched launch in Netflix’s history since it premiered in September.

“Squid Game has officially reached 111 million fans — making it our biggest series launch ever!” Netflix tweeted. The show’s skyrocket to the top knocks period drama “Bridgerton,” which drew just over 80 million viewers, from the No. 1 spot.

North and South Korea have remained technically at war after the Korean War ended in 1953 in an armistice but without a peace treaty.

There have been other flash points over culture. In June, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un branded South Korea’s entertainment scene — including K-pop — “a vicious cancer.” He accused it of corrupting the “hairstyles, speeches and behaviors” of North Koreans, the New York Times reported.

North Korea has also long been critical of its neighbor’s capitalist system, which it maintains compares poorly with what it touts as its own egalitarian socialist paradise. Life in the North, however, is marked by widespread poverty and food shortages, with isolated pockets of wealth for those connected to the ruling party.

Life inside the totalitarian state has driven many to flee across the border for a better life.

North Korean escapees relate how the secretive country has changed under the ‘Great Successor’

While the widespread popularity of “Squid Game” has triggered a wave of entertaining memes on social media and inspired an array of costumes for Halloween, its global success has not come without complications.

In recent weeks, several countries have grappled with issues stemming from the show — including one woman in South Korea who was bombarded with calls and messages from strangers after her number was shown on a games invitation card handed to the series’ protagonist, Seong Gi-hun.

“I’ve been unceasingly getting calls and texts 24/7 to the point where my daily life has become difficult,” she said.

This week, British police were forced to reassure drivers that a sign on an English motorway that featured the same shapes shown in “Squid Game” was, in fact, harmless and not related to the series.

“It’s just directions for diversion routes during the roadworks,” Thames Valley Police tweeted Monday.

British schools have also issued warnings to parents regarding the show, reminding them that its themes of a violent, sexual and adult nature are not appropriate for young students.

Grace Moon in Seoul contributed to this report.

Read more:

Dear ‘Squid Game’ fans, please stop calling the phone number shown in the series

‘Squid Game’ is No. 1 on Netflix and South Koreans are using the survival drama to talk about inequality

Why does ‘Squid Game’ resonate so well in the U.S.? It may be its portrayal of economic despair.

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