- Sarah A. Son
- The conversation*
Round 6 is anything but a typical Korean sweet water TV series.
In a scathing reference to life in South Korea today, viewers are presented with a story of violence, betrayal and despair.
It all revolves around a series of ghoulish games in which players literally fight to the death.
Despite the ultra-violent content, Round 6 has captivated audiences around the world, becoming the most viewed series on Netflix in at least 90 countries.
The drama takes viewers on a suspenseful journey over nine episodes, in which a group of people mired in debt and personal woes participate in a series of six survival games, inspired by traditional South Korean children’s games. .
The losers will die in a relentless process of elimination, and the lone winner will get 46.5 billion South Korean won (approximately 214 million reais).
The first episodes reveal the circumstances that led the central characters to lose everything.
The viewer is faced with a series of very different lives, but each one is mired in debt and misery.
A man who finds himself unemployed and then goes into debt because of failed business ventures and gambling joins an unsuccessful fund manager.
An old man dying of cancer plays alongside a North Korean defector.
A Pakistani migrant worker and gangster, along with hundreds of other equally disgruntled individuals who have fallen out of favor with South Korean capitalism, are betting all their chips.
Round 6 joins other recent South Korean film productions, in particular the 2020 Oscar-winning film, Parasite, by offering a scathing critique of the socio-economic inequalities that afflict the lives of many citizens of the country.
More specifically, he talks about the worsening of the family debt crisis affecting the middle and lower classes.
debt and inequalities
South Korean household debt has risen sharply in recent years, reaching over 100% of its gross domestic product (GDP), the highest in Asia.
The richest 20% in the country have a net worth 166 times that of the poorest 20%, a gap that has grown by 50% since 2017.
There has been an increase in debt to income and a recent rise in interest rates.
This has left in an even more precarious position those who do not have the resources to deal with unforeseen events, such as a sudden layoff or a case of illness in the family.
The Gini Index, which measures the distribution of national wealth, puts South Korea at about the same level as the UK – and in a better position than the US.
However, rising youth unemployment, rising house prices and the global pandemic have reversed the modest reduction in inequality seen in recent years under the progressive government of Moon Jae-in.
And it’s not just families who go into debt to pay for housing and education, a vital expense for the middle class that hopes to ensure their children’s access to college.
In August, the South Korean government announced new credit restrictions aimed at reducing youth debt.
Millennials and 30s owe the most to their income.
But attempts to restrict borrowing have led some people to turn to lenders with higher costs and risks.
This choice leaves a lot at the mercy of debt collectors, so for a slight change in circumstances, they are not able to keep up with the payments.
Although few can end up in the hands of gangsters who threaten to sell their organs, as shown Round 6, the burden of crushing debt is a growing social problem, not to mention the leading cause of suicide in South Korea.
Players, winners and losers
Inclusion in Round 6 other figures representing disadvantaged minorities in South Korea also highlight the consequences of socio-economic inequalities for these groups.
The cruel exploitation by the employer of a factory of a migrant worker forced to join the game is representative of the barriers to social advancement for those in South and Southeast Asia.
North Korean defectors also emerge as individuals who must fight on multiple fronts to achieve both financial stability and social inclusion.
The series pokes fun at Christianity, repeatedly expressing the growing shift in public opinion about South Korea’s rapid development in the 1970s and 1980s and its connection to the growth of the church at the time.
The so-called Protestant work ethic was the cornerstone of the economic “miracle” of South Korea’s authoritarian era, in which three decades of ambitious economic plans transformed the country into a high-income economy.
Throughout this period, worldwide success was seen as a sign of blessing, and mega-churches were at their peak.
However, corruption was rampant among politicians and families. chaebol (large family-dominated business groups) who served as church elders while embezzling funds and building their private empires.
Unsurprisingly, disillusionment with some members of the political and church elite has led many in an increasingly secular country to challenge the veracity of Christianity’s claim to serve the poor and oppressed in South Korea.
Of course, this is not an exclusive South Korean story.
People from different societies around the world can relate to the characters in Round 6, its problems and its humanity.
Economies similar to South Korea face many of the same challenges, exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic.
Round 6 Bluntly reminds the winners of every stage, and the show’s global audience, that those who often succeed succeed at the expense of those who fail because of weakness, discrimination, a bad decision, or just plain bad luck.
The final episode suggests the possibility of a second season, but even if that doesn’t continue, Round 6 makes it clear that the larger story the series represents is far from over.
* Sarah A. Son is Professor of Korean Studies at the University of Sheffield, UK.
This article was originally published on the academic news site The Conversation and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Read the original version here.
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