It feels like everyone on the internet is watching Netflix’s runaway hit Squid Game, and that includes a North Korean propaganda site, which praises the series for “exposing the reality of South Korean society, where weak meat and corruption has been on the rise and scoundrels are commonplace.”
The commentary comes from Arirang Meari (via Insider), and it’s exactly what you’d expect from a totalitarian state mouthpiece. The piece slams the inequality wrought by South Korean capitalism and a society where “people are treated like chess pieces.”
This is not the first time that North Korean propaganda sites have done something like this. According to Reuters, a North Korean daily also praised Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite for doing the same thing when it won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2020. It’s just, who exactly is all this grandstanding for?
As you might imagine, North Korea doesn’t have Netflix. (Though, it did create a Netflix-like app called My Companion 4.0 in 2017.) And though North Koreans do have access to smartphones, they’re limited to something called kwangmyong, or a state-controlled intranet that doesn’t have access to the outside world. Internet access as we know it in the U.S. is limited to those with special permission. Basically, the average North Korean citizen isn’t likely to have access to Squid Game. So either the propaganda is aimed at citizens, or it’s poking South Korea and the outside world... which doesn’t give a hoot what North Korea thinks about capitalism.
It is possible that Squid Game might make it across the 48th parallel. Activists have been known to send balloons with leaflets or USB drives containing K-dramas as a means of exposing North Korea’s bullshit. It’s a dangerous past-time, however. Those caught watching South Korean dramas face getting imprisoned, sent to labor camps, or executed. In 2014, at least 50 people were reportedly publicly executed for doing just that—including 10 officials from leader Kim Jong-Un’s own party. Kim Jong-un also recently called K-pop a “vicious cancer,” a move that was spurred by the fact that South Korean pop culture—of which Squid Game is a part—is becoming increasingly popular with younger North Koreans.
Even if a person was brave enough to watch contraband content, it’s still a bad look for the regime. One of Squid Game’s fan-favorite characters, Kang Sae-byeok, is a North Korean defector whose main reason for entering the dystopian tournament is to earn money to bring her family to South Korea. Sae-byeok also hides her North Korean accent when speaking to South Korean characters, and is derided as a “commie” or “spy” when other characters notice. That’s in addition to the fact the whole series negatively portrays arbitrary violence and executions over rule-breaking.
The irony of all this is truly next-level self-ownage. Then again, perhaps no one writing the propaganda has watched the actual show.