Squid Game is a South Korean TV series that has been hugely successful worldwide.
The plot is as simple as it is cruel: many people, 456, participate in a series of games for children with the aim of earning a lot of money knowing that there will be only one winner. Those who are eliminated will be killed and you cannot withdraw from the game.
The interpretation given by the director himself, Hwang Dong-Hyuk, is a critique of modern global capitalism and the inequalities that this entails, which forces millions of people to fight for survival. Without going very far from home, just think of the many immigrants who daily risk their lives to escape from a country in war or simply not to die of hunger or disease. Or poor countries that don’t have the vaccine to defend themselves against covid. And if in the last period of time we are concerned about getting vaccines to these countries, it is not because thousands of people are dying but because we do not want them to get sick because in the long run they would contaminate us. It’s quite creepy!
But today I want to talk about SG from a different angle, because there’s been a lot of talk about the danger of showing certain scenes to teenagers and especially to children. Let’s get one thing straight: it is definitely not suitable for children because it is violent, cruel, it shows in an extreme way the loss of human reality, the very violent dynamics of the mors tua vita mea, and therefore it is not appropriate for children to see it because they would be distressed. But the thing that struck me was the arguments brought up to support the right opinion to advise against, if not to prohibit, the vision to younger people.
Let’s take a step back and go back to the TV series because in my opinion the director chooses the children’s game not casually, making adults do it, to represent what happens when you lose your creativity or, to put it another way, when you lose your inner child. He chooses the children’s game taking away the imagination and putting the profit in, the game no longer serves to have fun, to be with others, but is aimed at a profit, to win money and become rich. And it’s very well represented how the gain, the rationality, when it gets into the interhuman relationship, turns it upside down. The other loses their human dimension to become “something” that serves to achieve something else. SG tells us how sometimes you become an adult by nullifying the child’s irrational creativity dimension by becoming so cold, cynical and calculating.
I said before that I was very surprised to read of so many colleagues who rightly urged parents to stay close to children while seeing certain violent scenes but the strange thing is that some said that they should explain to their children that those scenes were not reality but the fruit of a fiction. Others have said that there is a risk that children replicate, imitating, violent gestures.
But have you not seen that for children it is enough to have a piece of wood to make it a spaceship full of Martians, the Red Bull of Verstappen, the sword of the knight who saves the girl, a ship that crosses the oceans, etc. etc.? what would the child think of his mother if she told him “Look honey that is a piece of wood, it is not the Red Bull…” I think the baby would get spooked and start thinking that his mother isn’t all right!
Or try to think of the dad who tells his girl not to kill her friend who lost at hopscotch, explaining that Squid Game is a fiction.
Behind the concerns of many colleagues there is the idea that human development takes place through learning and imitation. Obviously, we can think that with regards to certain behaviours or abilities this is true. Let’s think, for example, when we have to learn a certain sport, certain movements, we try to imitate those of the teacher. But if we extend this discourse to the deepest dimensions as well, it doesn’t work at all because this way the identity and creativity of the child are denied. When you equate the acquisition of certain behavioural abilities to intentionality, you combine pears with apples. To hurt another child is not the result of imitation of a gesture but presupposes a violent intentionality.
Obviously, I do not want to avoid the discourse of emulation, so evident in adolescents in many situations such as anorexia, cutting, violent behaviour, but it is clear that there must be a “fertile ground” for these emulations to occur. Very different and much more serious discourse would concern introjective identification, an unconscious pathological dynamic that is not realized in manifest behaviours but in unconscious thought. And it certainly does not rise up after watching a movie! But the topic would be too long to be addressed here.
I also heard that parents should educate in empathy because children do not distinguish good from evil and seeing certain scenes carries the risk that they do not develop a moral. Well no, this is completely wrong! SG, rightly, implies exactly the opposite! There is no need to educate, to teach, but if anything, there is the need not to destroy the creativity dimension of the child and be able to respond with as much imagination to their requests.
Now there is a proliferation of interventions aimed at education: ranging from sex education, to emotional education, to that of empathy and I could go on. But what is the idea of the child and of human beings in general, behind these interventions?
Why do we have to educate? When we talk about creativity, empathy, affections and emotions there is nothing to educate, they are not things that are taught or managed with rationality.
There is, if anything, to wonder why these affections and emotions are sometimes so violent and without apparent relationship with reality, or completely absent and then I think that the cause is to be sought in the unconscious thought, in that irrational that obviously can get sick or get completely destroyed, as in the case of our TV series. And then it must be cured or found back but not get educated. Education is a containment, a control, a management of something that is considered substantially unmodifiable. The idea is that reason must curb, mitigate, orient the underlying irrational dimension that is considered unmodifiable and animalistic and therefore we need to take care of the reason itself to make the human being “sociable”. SG in its crudeness rightly proposes the opposite.
What the director, perhaps unconsciously, tells us is that in this society the adult risks to be as such because of the loss of the irrational dimension, of creativity, of play. It is the adult who must recover their inner child, destroyed by rationality. And instead we want to educate, that is, bring the child to the adult and not vice versa. I remember once again the famous phrase of Picasso: it took me four years to paint like Raffaello, but a lifetime to paint like a child.
Thanks to Chiara Fanasca for the translation of this article