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‘Squid Game: The Challenge’ and the Irony of Capitalizing Anti-Capitalism

By Rachel A. Beard, Crimson Staff Writer

The original “Squid Game” series captivated audiences with its stark portrayal of societal inequality and the desperation fueled by capitalism. Its narrative, deeply rooted in anti-capitalist themes, has ironically transitioned into a new sphere: “Squid Game: The Challenge,” a reality show that raised questions about the commercialization of critical social commentary.

“Squid Game: The Challenge” morphed the scripted survival drama into a competitive reality show. This transition invited mixed reactions, with some viewing it as a dilution of the show’s core message while others saw it as an innovative expansion of the franchise.

The show featured 456 contestants competing for a record-breaking $4.56 million prize, the largest case prize in reality TV history. It mirrored the original “Squid Game” series in many ways, including the vast number of participants and the same types of challenges, albeit without the lethal consequences of the fictional series. This large-scale competition included contestants from various nationalities, with a broad age range from 18 to 74 years old.

Contestants lived in large, dormitory-style rooms with metal bunk beds, reminiscent of the living conditions in the original series. The psychological challenge of living in close quarters with other competitors, along with the physical challenges, formed a crucial part of the show’s appeal. The entire competition spanned over 17 days for those who made it to the end, with the living conditions and number of beds decreasing as the show progressed​.

Though the show did not have the same fatal results as the original series, there have allegedly been injuries on the set. Contestants of the reality show have threatened legal action over injuries sustained on set, including conditions like hypothermia and nerve damage. This has been a significant point of contention, with claims of poor health and safety standards during the “Red Light, Green Light” challenge, one of the show’s primary attractions.

In “Squid Game: The Challenge,” the reality show’s engagement with the original’s anti-capitalist critique was complex. While the show replicated the drama and suspense of the scripted series, its approach to the underlying social commentary varied. Some elements appeared to gloss over the deeper economic critiques, focusing instead on mere spectacle and competition. Yet, there were moments where the show subtly nodded to the themes of desperation and inequality. This dichotomy raised questions about the balance between entertainment and meaningful social discourse in reality TV adaptations.

The reality adaptation of “Squid Game” also had a mixed reception. For some, it enhanced the original’s legacy, introducing the narrative to new audiences and contexts. For others, it represented a commercial exploitation of a series that critically examined capitalist excesses. Public reaction varied globally, reflecting diverse cultural interpretations of both the original series and its reality version. A review in Vox highlighted the irony of the show and emphasized how it went against the intended message of its source material. This varied reception underscored the show’s role in the ongoing cultural conversation about wealth disparity and human dignity in the face of economic desperation.

Adapting a narrative-driven, socially conscious series like “Squid Game” into a reality show format is a trend reflective of broader industry patterns. It highlights a tension between artistic integrity and commercial interests. While such adaptations can democratize content, making it accessible and relatable, they also risk diluting the original message. This trend raises important questions about the future of entertainment: How will the industry balance commercial success with staying true to a narrative’s core message? And what is the role of entertainment in reflecting or challenging societal issues?

—Staff writer Rachel A. Beard can be reached at rachel.beard@thecrimson.com.

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