Instigator / Con

THBT: On balance, the competitions in Squid Game (2021) are not an accurate representation of capitalism in South Korea


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After 2 votes and with 8 points ahead, the winner is...

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Contender / Pro

BoP is shared. PRO argues that SG is not an accurate representation of capitalism in SK. CON argues that it is.

Definitions to be used in this debate:

Squid Game - A South Korean survival drama television series created by Hwang Dong-hyuk for Netflix.

Accurate - 1. Free from error, conforming exactly to truth. 2. Deviating only slightly or within acceptable limits from a standard.

Capitalism - A system in which the voluntary exchange of goods and services is legal.

South Korea - An East Asian nation on the southern half of the Korean Peninsula.

(Only RationalMadman can accept.)

Round 1
Like many stories that serve as symbols, Squid Game uses South Korea’s movie themes of hyperviolence in their pop culture to invoke a point of view of SK’s version of Capitalism. It seems exaggerated, as most movies and TV shows are but the realism of the show’s inner message is still relevant.

If I can show that the Capitalist state of South Korea grew so competitive, that a lot of deaths followed those who were left behind. Then I have proven that Squid Game is an accurate allegory for the brutal conditions of SK. This requires a more figurative interpretation of the series. 

Pro must show that the criticisms raised by the show’s satire on Capitalism are unjustified and perhaps even unwarranted. 

Inequality in SK

The Asian Financial Crisis from 1997 originated in Thailand and spread through the western and south-asian parts of the continent, causing significant damage to the economies. Loans of $118 billion were supplied to South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand in the midst of the growing chaos. 1

In Squid Game, there are competitors from multiple backgrounds. While a lot are poor, homeless, some are wealthy or privileged who joined the Squid Game. Outside of it, the economic competition and getting ahead is based primarily on the kind of background a person is born into, much like South Korea in real life.

  • “It argues that an individual’s socio-economic achievements are strongly influenced by their father’s background, thus, outweighing other family background-related factors. Individuals receive unequal opportunities owing to a combination of region, father’s background, and their own gender, thereby, affecting their socioeconomic achievements.” 2

Competition in SK

  • “It was at this point, when South Korea was near the bottom of the global economic ladder, that it became a contestant in a ruthless global competition similar to the fictional Squid Game. Like most of its fellow competitors, South Korea was impoverished. It was willing to do almost anything to succeed. And it knew that the rules of the game were rigged against cooperation. In fact, the only way to win the game was to bend the rules.” 3

Shady wealthy people can be seen baiting potential victims at train stations in the TV series. In the later episodes, we see American businessmen visiting and secretly taking pleasure in these gladiatorial games. But in real life, when Americans immigrated to South Korea after Kennedy established the Peace Corps, the poor class of South Korea suspected their neighbors of being spies. These Americans were volunteers from the United States who abandoned their privileged lifestyle to help the poor. 
This also alludes to the promises made by these mysterious companies that offer a billion dollars to homeless korean citizens in debt. 4

If we stop and consider that everyone’s lives were on the line in Squid Game, we can observe how this refers to the high-stakes environment South Korea’s economy is. The self-inflicted stress from these conditions and circumstances causes premature aging and has led to an increased mortality rate for Koreans.

  • “South Korea is a highly competitive society in nearly every aspect. From kindergarteners to housewives, people of all ages, genders, and social status center their lives around strengthening their competitiveness. Education and employment are key areas in which this tendency can be observed, with younger generations spending prolonged hours at a myriad of private institutes to be accepted into prestigious universities and ultimately join top-tier companies.According to the 2022 Ipsos Global Health Service Monitor, stress is considered to be one of the largest health concerns among respondents in Korea (35%), following only Argentina (39%) and Switzerland (39%).”
  • “Transitioning from an aging society to a super-aged society in just 25 years. The 2022 Ipsos Global Health Service Monitor survey also shows that Korea recognizes aging as  the biggest challenge facing their country’s healthcare system (51%), preceded only Japan (52%).” 5

Because of these factors, one of the leading causes of death in South Korea is suicide. 6

Hidden Message of Squid Game

Following our main character Gi-Hun’s position, as a gambler in debt. People want to believe that his tragedies are self-inflicted when he was actually put in this situation after an incident caused him to lose his stable career at a factory, forcing him into a severe amount of desperation that eventually led to bigger and bigger risks. 
The Capitalistic philosophy is that hard workers can eventually find meaning by becoming exceptional and that people with no money are not valuable. What inspired Squid Game was the Ssangyong Motors strike of 2009.
The layoffs of 1000 workers left so many unemployed and people rioting. Which led to a death toll from people either committing suicide, or dying from heart attacks/brain hemorrhages because they couldn’t afford healthcare. What’s worse is that the transition from unemployment into finding work again was nearly impossible. Doctors reported that the survivors obtained PTSD.
One worker who died from a heart attack left his wife under so much stress because he had no money in his bank account.
I originally had a more elaborate Round 1 but I have under 15 mins left to finish this Round and need to convert what I've written into sheer bullet points. This is fair as it's a 4-Rounder and I believe my side is the easier side. Some of my points are 'rebuttals' to Pro but that's why I'm not fleshing them out, it's a case outline, my constructive has inherent rebuttals.

  • Competitions in Squid Game are only that, not the participants, their life or the depiction of it in the series.
  • Glass Tile Game is so utterly ruthless and luck-based, there is no equivalent in SK's Capitalism. This is also true for the way Marbles suddenly pitted those very close against each other, that doesn't happen in SK's capitalism, the opposite maybe does (needing to ditch your teammate to get further etc).
  • SK's capitalism is hybrid system with many socially progressive things in place such as public education, public health insurance (only the insurance, not the healthcare, they have something like what Obamacare was planned to be, in place)
  • It is normal for people who are 'losers' financially to be able to live with their parents and not be totally ridiculed and shame for it. It's nowhere near as stigmatised against to be a 30 year old (even male) virgin who lives with your parents if you're SK. Obviously it's weird, usually you will have gotten a chance or two to get laid but generally, it's totally fine there and in many Asian cultures to live long-term with your parents until you truly can afford to move out or the parents pass away.
  • SK actually has an increasing lifespan issue, the issue instead is the elderly are being neglected in cases where they have no family to rely on. SK's degree of 'socialism' in the hybrid system in place assumed that the elderly have family to take care of them. Japan is much superior to them at care for the elderly, in contrast, so it is something to work on. The competitions in Squid Game imply that you either die fast or get rich/lucky, even if the dying is taken to be metaphorical it's just not true. There is a high rate of poor people in SK living well into their 70s at least and the life expectancy of the middle class and up is getting to 90, putting it on par with the oldest in the whole world.
I did not use sources to prove this, I've decided to let Pro decide what to attack or not attack. I will go much harsher in Round 2.
Round 2
Pro’s original phrasing.: 

“The debate is about the games in Squid Game, it is not about Gi-hun's backstory or anything of the sort. The scope is the games, their structure and how the win condition, rules etc all work vs capitalism in South Korea. It has nothing to do with the series depicting characters and their backstories.”
The competitions are the main focus of the scope. 
Gi-Hun being a competitor thus makes him part of the competition. 

You cannot understand the competition without understanding.:
  1. The competitors.
  2. The host.
  3. The audience.
  4. The games.
The backstory of the competitors is just as relevant as every other detail because the people participating are a very specific demographic, they aren’t random. They all have something in common. We also need to know who the creators of the game are to get an idea of who is pulling the strings behind the scenes. 
Gi-Hun is important because he’s a stand-in for the average Korean citizen struggling in debt.

Furthermore, we must also get an idea of who the audience is. Basically, who is investing in these games and what inferences can we make based on who is thriving entertainment from people risking their lives?

Lastly and most importantly, we need to know what the games are. And what are the rules? The choice in the game itself is irrelevant, but the rules, the odds, and the stakes of the competition are what make each game so important.

Without understanding his backstory, situation, or that of the other competitors, how can we identify the similarities/differences between the Squid Game competitions and SK Capitalism? Their circumstances are relevant to argue my side because their circumstances are what led them to partake in The Games.

For this debate to be in good faith, nothing within the series, Squid Game, must be considered off-limits so long as I can use it to support my side. All the evidence and obscure details must be presented in its full demonstration. Pro may dismiss my arguments as irrelevant if they go off-topic, but any attempts to obscure my side by changing the framework must be considered with skepticism for several reasons.:
  • There is only one truth. A half-truth is as good as a lie.
  • The discussion isn’t as simple as clipping a few scenes to draw a comparison.
  • Crucial information remains that is too subtle to be transparent to viewers on first glance.

Case in point, you have to consider the whole spectrum of information and follow where it leads. The resolution specifies the main subject is Squid Game competitions and SK Capitalism, but you can’t lump everything into those two categories and just deny everything else. 

This is selectively choosing evidence which we call.:

Cherry-Picking - Cherry picking, suppressing evidence, or the fallacy of incomplete evidence is the act of pointing to individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position while ignoring a significant portion of related and similar cases or data that may contradict that position. 1 

The Economy

Although South Korea is a mixed economy, many of its citizens are still struggling from the harms of capitalism. The economy made the switch in 1961 when it started seeking out funding from foreign investors. This is how the Chaebol maintained their wealth and power, but this is also how the shady company in Squid Game became a thing.
By having white men and foreigners from other nations as their audience, they were able to obtain the necessary funding to keep these gladiatorial events going. The same can also be said for the Chaebol and SK’s government's desperation for foreign investment.

Notice how in Squid Game, all the competitors (with the exception of a few) are either middle-aged or old. I said before the competitors are just as relevant because they are a certain demographic and this is not a coincidence. SK’s poor citizens are also middle-aged or elderly. Despite the lifespan having extended, plenty of seniors aren’t living sustainably, but surviving in poverty.

Parents can’t reach out for money from their children because their children are also struggling financially. Which is the same theme in the version of South Korea’s living crisis in Squid Game. 
Much like the Glass Tile Game where the competitors were killing themselves, SK’s suicide rate is increasingly high because they realize there is no actual way to live.

The Marbles Game also had one of the competitors intentionally kill themselves, so that the other could survive. How does this compare to SK’s economy?

“About a quarter of them live alone, and high levels of isolation and depression have led to a dramatic rise in elderly suicide, from 34 per 100,000 people in 2000 to 72 in 2010. Anecdotal evidence suggests many decide to take their own lives to avoid becoming a burden to their families.” 2 

The Authority & Enforcement

“The Korean economy operates on the basis of chaebols, corporate conglomerates owned by a handful of wealthy and powerful families. Once commended for lifting the nation out of poverty, chaebols now act as the epitome of monopoly capitalism in South Korea, fraught with corruption and free from consequences.” 3

Guess who controls the games? The Elite. 

The Game has its own anonymous enforcers dressed in masks that will make sure people who break the rules face the consequences. This is synonymous with South Korea’s habit of violent retaliation towards protesters or citizens demanding equality and rights. As shown in The Games, even its own enforcers may be killed off. And in real life, politicians are subject to punishment when they do not fall in line.:

“South Korea has a long and continuous history of anti-labor practices, often extreme and sometimes violent. Just last month, the president of the country’s largest labor union confederation, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), was arrested and imprisoned on the pretext of violating COVID-19 safety regulations at a labor rally in Seoul. In all likelihood, he was targeted for exhibiting a degree of labor militancy that disconcerted the government. He is the thirteenth president of the KCTU in a row to be jailed.”

“Though Squid Game nods to the more recent 2009 Ssangyong Motors strike, violent class struggle has run through Korean history for decades. In 1976, for example, women workers at the Dong-Il Textile Factory began a fight for a fair and democratic union election that lasted nearly two years, during which they faced immense police brutality and assaults from strikebreakers. The struggle culminated in an attack from Korean Central Intelligence Agency–backed anti-unionists who dumped human excrement on the women workers attempting to vote in the union election. Dong-Il exemplifies several themes of Korean labor history at once — anti-labor government policy, corporate warfare against workers, violence against women, and the yellow company unionism of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU). The last fifty years of Korean labor history since then have been no less brutal.”
Round 3
Values of The Game/South Korean Capitalism

In one of the scenes, the operator who is responsible for running the system known as The Frontman presents himself and executes one of the enforcers for violating one of the very important rules of the game, fairness.

Fairness does not mean equality. Fairness only means everyone is presented with the same opportunity without discrimination. Equality means everyone shares the same advantages and disadvantages. While The Game prioritizes fairness, it completely neglects equality. Because some participants are physically stronger than others and able to utilize their superior strength to leverage control over weaker players. While the weaker players are provided with the same resources as their other players, the game does not make special accommodations to those that are inferior.

The same is also true for South Korean Capitalism. Everyone has the same opportunity by which to compete, but their success is determined either by their background or status. A common theme with The Games is a person being left behind immediately and  the same is true for the Capitalism in SK.

While SK's system prioritizes fairness, it makes no considerations at all for equality and the lack of it is the real common denominator. Here is a quote about the meritocracy of South Korea.:

“A society that mobilizes disparity and inequality to compel lives of brutal competition is neither just, happy, nor efficient. We need must focus our attention not on unfairness but on inequality itself and encourage renewed civic interest in the topic,” Park writes.

Round 4
Pro has conceded.

Vote Con.
2-day deadline is bs