Dystopian images of Korea

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Dystopian images of Korea

 A ‘Squid Game’ event in New York, Oct. 26. [PARK HYUN-YOUNG]

A ‘Squid Game’ event in New York, Oct. 26. [PARK HYUN-YOUNG]

PARK HYUN-YOUNG
The author is a Washington correspondentof the JoongAng Ilbo.


On October 26, an event based on Netflix drama “Squid Game” was held in Manhattan, New York. The New York branch of the Korea Tourism Organization selected 80 viewers to play the games featured in the series.

There are mainly three results based on viewers’ exposure to “Squid Game.” First, K-pop fans became interested in Korean dramas. Second, those who watched Korean movie “Parasite,” the winner of four Oscars last year, also watched the Korean series. Third, “Squid Game” became the first Korean cultural content that some audiences ever experienced.

They enjoy Korean culture but don’t know much about Korea. After watching the show, a viewer said, “I am happy I don’t live in Korea.” “Working-class life in the U.S. is hard, but it is different in that opportunities are still open to those who try.”

Coincidently, “Squid Game” and “Parasite,” both of which achieved great success internationally, present similar food for thought. Key themes of both pieces are the gap between the rich and poor, polarization, income inequality, class clashes, restricted upward mobility, infinite competition, youth unemployment and deprived opportunities. To those who started to learn about Korea through dramas and films, the nation’s image is dystopian.

As the two works drew attention, the dark sides of Korean society such as Korea’s suicide rate, the highest in the OECD, and high income inequality based on the GNI coefficient, 11th of 39 countries, become known to the world. In fact, income inequality in the U.S. is in 6th place, more serious than Korea. But one of the reasons that Americans don’t descend into dystopia may be the abundance of jobs.

When the unemployment rate soared to 8.5 percent, Occupy Wall Street protests took place in America in 2011. In 2019, shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic, the unemployment rate dropped to 3.5 percent, the lowest in history. These days, employers are struggling to fill positions even by offering to pay more.

Another participant I met at the event said, “I was surprised to see how competitive Korean society is.” Cultural creators have showed off their talents in storytelling, directing, sophisticated visual and stage arts. It is up to politicians and administrators to make Korea a country people want to live in.
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