After weeks of hype, headlines and memes, the South Korean show “Squid Game” is now officially the most successful show Netflix has ever launched.
“‘Squid Game’ has officially reached 111 million fans — making it our biggest series launch ever,” the streaming platform said on Twitter on Wednesday.
The brutal show, about several hundred people competing in a gameshow-like fight to the death for a pile of cash, managed to break this record in just 27 days since its premiere on September 17.
The previous record holder was the British drama “Bridgerton”, which was streamed by 82 million viewers in the 28 days after its launch in December 2020.
If you aren’t one of the 111 million to have watched: The show centres on around 500 people from a wide variety of backgrounds – all of them apparently in debt and all competing against each other in what appear to be harmless children’s games to win millions in prize money. But soon it turns out that the losers won’t make it out alive.
So how is it that a show about a violent rat race where people are murdered every few minutes now trumps Netflix’s cheerful period romance?
In its home country, “Squid Game” struck a chord primarily because of its overt social criticism.
“One reason why Netflix’s record-breaking hit drama resonated with so many people is that it is also a social commentary on real-life incidents in Korea,” writes the daily Korea Herald.
Growing inequality, discrimination against social minorities and extreme pressure to perform: almost all major social problems are addressed in “Squid Game.”
In an interview, director Hwang Dong Hyuk said he wanted to portray the “survival game as a metaphor, a parable for modern capitalist society.”
It’s no coincidence that this year’s most successful show comes from South Korea, of all places. Since the end of the 1990s, the government in Seoul has been specifically promoting cultural exports as an economic growth industry. Most recently, the country has produced major international successes, above all with the boy band BTS.
Internationally, the series has attracted a huge audience, not only in the West, but also in China. On the online platform Weibo, a microblogging service comparable to Twitter, more than 2 billion users have clicked on the hashtag for “Squid Game,” according to media reports.
This is despite the show not being officially available on China’s strictly regulated internet.
This betrays the levels of content piracy with “Squid Game” in China, something that has turned into something of a diplomatic dispute between Beijing and Seoul.
Jang Ha Sung, South Korea’s ambassador in Beijing, has demanded that the Chinese authorities intervene against file-sharing sites that illegally distribute the series, according to Korean broadcaster KBS.
Globally, the Netflix series has also led to a significant increase in interest in learning Korean. In early October, the company “Duolingo,” which offers online language courses, announced that since the series launch of “Squid Game” in September, it had registered 40 per cent more users for Korean language courses in the United States than in the same period last year.
However, the show is also making waves in schools, and students at a school in Erquelinnes, Belgium, reportedly acted out their own version of the series, with the losers getting downright beaten up. The school administration eventually had to turn to the students’ parents on Facebook.