But one nation isn’t giving rave reviews: North Korea.
A North Korean propaganda website, Arirang Meari, reported on what the international response has been to the South Korean survival drama. Viewers have been drawn to a show that highlights the “sad reality of a beastly South Korean society” that adheres to the “law of the jungle,” the Tuesday article says.
“ ‘Squid Game’ gained popularity because it exposes the reality of South Korean capitalist culture,” the article says. The show illustrates “a world where only money matters—a hell-like horror.”
The story of “Squid Game” revolves around financially strapped adults playing traditional South Korean children’s games on a secluded island for a cash prize of about $40 million. The losers die. The games shown in “Squid Game” aren’t widely played in North Korea, defectors say.
On Wednesday, Netflix said “Squid Game” has attracted 111 million viewers globally since its Sept. 17 debut, leapfrogging the 82 million people who watched “Bridgerton,” making it the company’s largest-ever series launch. By Netflix’s metrics, anyone who watches a show for more than two minutes is considered a viewer.
In an interview late last month, Hwang Dong-hyuk, the director of “Squid Game,” said he wanted the show to examine how the global wealth gap is widening.
“The rich are becoming richer, while the poor become poorer,” Mr. Hwang said. “It’s a story anyone could relate to.”
North Korea has a love-hate relationship with South Korean pop culture. Many North Koreans have long had access to smuggled USBs that contain South Korean pop music, films and TV shows, trading them in secret among friends and family. Consuming such content is strictly banned by the Kim Jong Un regime, defectors say.
Mr. Kim has acknowledged that South Korean culture is seeping into his cloistered nation. This spring, he admonished people in his country for using South Korean words borrowed from K-Pop and Korean dramas. So-called “antisocialist” behaviors—such as dressing like South Koreans or watching South Korean television dramas are prohibited—and can even land a violator in prison, according to the spy agency in Seoul.
Mr. Kim’s propagandists have enjoyed attacking South Korea’s high-profile cultural exports. In March, the Arirang Meari website said two popular K-Pop groups, BTS and Blackpink, were treated as slaves and endured “miserable lives” that were equivalent to living in prison.
In June 2019, North Korean propaganda website DPRK Today said the Oscar-winning film “Parasite” was making people realize that South Korea’s capitalist system is “a rotten, sick society with a malignant tumor.”
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North Korea has long been criticized for mistreating its citizens. In March, the United Nations adopted a resolution condemning the Kim regime’s human-rights violations for the 19th straight year. The U.S. has vowed to hold the regime accountable for operating political prison camps, among other misdeeds.
Outside of pop-culture jabs, North Korea has recently been expressing more openness to the South. The two Koreas recently reopened a cross-border phone line. Mr. Kim, in a Monday speech at a national defense exhibition, chastised South Korea for participating in joint military drills with the U.S. But he reiterated that “South Korea is not the target of our armed forces.”
Access to South Korean dramas or music varies between the rich and poor in North Korea, said Hong Min, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, a government-funded think tank in Seoul. While wealthier citizens use marketplaces in North Korea to get access to USBs containing South Korean content, those living on the outskirts rarely have any access, said Mr. Hong, who has interviewed recent defectors.
“The Kim regime reacts sensitively to South Korean content flowing into North Korea because it influences the minds of Pyongyang’s most economically active population,” Mr. Hong said.
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