Are We Really TikTalking About What We’re Watching?

By Vaishnavi Vasishta

From over a hundred million views to nine hundred million dollars in revenue, Squid Game has reached the heights of its squid fame. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that the world is coming together to appreciate this show and place it at the forefront of pop culture. However, are we missing the bigger picture? The issues addressed by television and movies fail to be acknowledged when portrayed by the mass audience on social media since they’re enamored with a surface-level thrill. 

Many modern drama shows use the allegory of a dystopian universe to highlight real problems. Set in South Korea, Squid Game centers around a group of people in deep debt, who have been invited to play a series of six children’s games for a chance to win money. The twist? You lose, you die. What the show tries to highlight is the greed that exists in our society, the stark class difference between the über rich and desperately poor, and the cruelty of the new liberally capitalist Korea. The stories come from personal experiences, something a mass audience could relate to. As mentioned by Forbes Magazine, the creator of the show, Hwang Dong-hyuk, wrote the story from a place of financial insecurity. He says, “I wanted to write a story that was an allegory or fable about modern capitalist society, something that depicts an extreme competition, somewhat like the extreme competition of life.” 

Film has a unique storytelling capacity. Messages can be of any kind, from political to comical. Creators want their audiences to interpret their work and acknowledge this. We as consumers do this by sharing our experiences on social media. Hwang Dong-hyuk’s message in Squid Game is far from subtle. Every time the rich are portrayed in this show, they are surrounded by extravagance. The long robes and bejeweled masks of the investors are the exact opposite of the monochrome tracksuits donned by the players. Their betting on the outcomes of the game shows the ugly side of wealth through the eyes of Hwang Dong-hyuk– the rich prey on the poor. It seems increasingly obvious that the point of the show was to highlight wealth disparity. So why are TikTok creators and consumers focusing on all the wrong things?

People focus on aspects of the plot and use them as a vehicle to deliver a different message. They take what they think will go viral, and use it to make lighthearted content about something that isn’t necessarily lighthearted. Take Bella Poarch for example. In a recent TikTok of hers, she is playing Red Light, Green Light. She runs up to the doll when it sings, and freezes when the music stops. Suddenly, PnB Rock’s High comes on. She starts dancing, and in line with the rules of the game, she gets “shot”. This video got over 54 million views and 5 million likes. However, the entire premise of the video is insensitive to the show as a whole. There were a few comments that highlighted this insensitivity, with one user commenting, “No one would dance if they were doing red light green light in squid game :/” It’s clear that modern audiences tend to focus on fragments of film and television, often avoiding their primary message, and do not reflect deeply in their online discourse. 

The app cannot be blamed in this case for how social media users perceive TV shows. Its users and creators control mainstream content. TikTok is not trying to be TED, so it has no obligation to promote serious videos or even encourage making them. But if the algorithm can control which videos are promoted, I have to ask if television and film  have a responsibility to be informative to their viewers and pose serious questions. Squid Game is a step in the right direction since it is an entertaining informed comment on society. 

Whether we want to or not we’re always taking something away from the media we consume. That doesn’t necessarily mean we have to learn something every time we watch TV. It’s unreasonable to expect that all media will be educational and impactful in “the right ways”. As users, if we try to be aware of it, we can make our media consumption and social media content more informed. If a show has a serious message, we don’t need to ignore it for the surface-level glamor. We should have conversations about what art is trying to convey to an audience in order to better educate ourselves. 

Conversation would first acknowledge the intent of the creator. Beyond this, it promotes discourse on current issues and exposes audiences to new perspectives, which is critical in expanding our belief sets as individuals. Discussion of the messages conveyed by art raises awareness of the ideas art highlights. Engaging in these conversations would help you form conclusions that could lead to social change. Even if it does not, being aware is a significant step forward. Especially in this time and age, we have access to art from all over the world. This gives us plenty of opportunities to educate ourselves on different cultures and issues in different global contexts. 

I say enjoy the drama and the thrill of movies and TV shows. Marvel at the absurdities. Acknowledge the underlying themes. Tell your friends you think Player 067 is hot. Just don’t make a TikTok about getting murdered because you like to dance.

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