Not Just "Squid Game": Why Social Inequality Movies and TV Shows Are Becoming Popular and How Science Explains It

"Squid Game" has become Netflix's all-time record-breaker. Hwang Dong-hyuk's series about poor people participating in children's survival games was watched by more than 110 million people in less than a month, a project that earned Netflix nearly $1 billion, which can surprise even winners of live casino games. It turns out there's a scientific explanation for this. That's why social issues are once again in particular demand in movies.

The Problematics of "Squid Game"

The Problematics of "Squid Game"
The Problematics of "Squid Game"

Squid Game doesn't really deal with social issues - it's more of a cultural critique of capitalism, it has a traditionally pessimistic message. The audience is told that capitalism is a destructive system where people will eventually sell and betray everything for money. We could phrase the same thing differently. Capitalism turns everything into an object of purchase and sale, and hence money is the greatest value. If we study the manifestos of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, we find similar passages: nothing is sacred, both artist and scientist have essentially become victims of capitalism.

Another Korean Masterpiece

Speaking more broadly, we can recall the immensely popular movie Parasite. It posed the problem of the relationship between the rich and the poor. Indeed, we can say that social problems have again become popular in culture. There are reasons for this. They are formulated differently by different theorists and analysts, but the point is that we are dealing with a new process of social structuring of society. In essence, it revives the class structure, which had been thoroughly forgotten in the model of an equal society, the main part of which was the so-called middle class.

The middle class is the largest class, there are the poorest groups, there are the very rich, but it is the majority. And its presence removed the problematic that was the main reason for the popularity of Marxism in the 19th century - social stratification.

In today's developed societies, the middle class model does seem to be disappearing. This is happening under the pressure of the new economy, new technologies, new types of employment, and so on. What will replace this model? There are different points of view on this matter.

German sociologist Andreas Reckwitz says that a new upper class - the creative class - is emerging. It consists of well-educated people who adapt flexibly to changes in technology and the economy. Representatives of the new elite are employed in IT, design, and other similar segments. At the same time, a new lower class is emerging; it is above all struck by its education. This is essentially the sphere of simple, unskilled services, like couriers, cab drivers, those involved in cleaning services.

We can see that the pandemic exposed this structure: it turned out that people of some professions sit at home and quietly do their jobs, nothing much has changed for them, but at the same time others were forced to become pizza delivery workers for them. In this way, the pandemic played a catalytic role, making the features of the new structure clearer.

Because of this, social sensitivity reappears. Popular TV series and films diagnose a growing interest in such issues. It is absolutely correct to say that the demand for social reflection and the raising of these questions exists and will continue to grow.

Not only in Asia

We talked about films and series from South Korea - "Squid Game" and "Parasites," but this trend can be seen all over the world. A typical example is "The Joker." It is a portrait of a socially and psychologically degraded man who can not cope with his problems, he manages to do so only in the form of a radical denial of the world. That is, superhero cinema also deals with this problem in its own way. There is a disintegration of the most powerful American middle class, which reacts to the loss of its positions with radical actions.

The economy and the technology of production have changed. Middle-class society was a mass-industrial society, where a person understood that once educated, he would build a career in a factory, a company, and so on. Now we are dealing with a post-industrial society, with extremely elevated institutional dynamics, where this kind of thing is becoming impossible. We find ourselves in a world where we have to change professions all the time. It is impossible to build a long-lasting career, and the institutions that guaranteed and sustained careers have weakened or disappeared. This phenomenon is reflected not only in movies, but also in literature, and is reflected in the popularity of authors who write about the new global inequalities.

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