Suburban Squid Game

A glimpse of the chalk outline made her do a double take. Usually, Vonda was not so appraising while out enjoying a long-distance bike ride, but this vision couldn’t help but stop her. She had to literally backpedal on her beat-up Huffy (don’t knock the cheap brands, she would often defend) to confirm her eyes were seeing what she thought they were. And yes, lo and behold, there it was: the now indelible chalk setup demarcating a squid game. Like everything else, the Americans had co-opted it. Suddenly, it was something to not discriminate about when it came to Asian culture. Although the outline is simple enough to create, Vonda was struck by its accuracy. The perfectly drawn giant square with the two circles, two thinner rectangles and a triangle shape added. 

She kept reading articles about how parents shouldn’t let their children watch the show, yet you couldn’t stop children from doing anything once the internet was unleashed upon them. Tantamount to that scene in The Little Mermaid when all the merpeople-turned-polyps are grasping at Ariel. The parents in this neighborhood, in fact, seemed to be all for embracing the series thanks to the macabre ability it had to rekindle enthusiasm for games of an “analog” nature, spurring a physicality in children perhaps not seen since Dong-hyuk Hwang’s time. And if it meant “the kids out of my hair,” why not encourage it?

If any child did watch the show without merely picking up on its “iconic moments” and wielding them for themselves as though they actually put the time in to take in every episode, they would understand that what Gi-hun describes at the beginning in explaining squid game boils down to the fundamental principles of capitalism. In other words, exactly what suburbia thrives on—until a recession and/or inflation comes along to make the residents vaguely remember that it’s a perilous and faulty system. 

As Gi-hun explains regarding how to play, “Children are divided into two groups: the offense and the defense.” Call the offense the poor ilk just trying to get by while also being forced to fight for basic everyday needs and the defense those already born rich. He continues, “Once the game starts, the defense can run around on two feet within bounds, while the offense outside the line is only allowed to hop on one foot.” Yes, the “lower” classes operate at a similar disadvantage, but, per the propaganda of capitalism, are made to believe if they can “just” break through their cycle of poverty, they can achieve the American dream… of the variety that is connoted by suburban sprawl. Thus, Gi-hun concludes, “But if an attacker cuts through the waist of the squid outpacing the defense, he or she is given the freedom to walk freely on two feet.” Metaphorical translation: the poverty-stricken get that rare chance to actually compete fairly with the rich. Something that essentially only happens by winning the lottery.

Looking around at the houses that all at once felt like they were enveloping her, Vonda was struck by the irony of the affluent spawns of generational wealth taking gleeful part in a game that now effectively symbolized how shitty the rich’s favorite economic system is. In short, it was as it always had been: the wealthy wanted to be “in” on the joke, not aware that they themselves still remained the joke. But that’s the thing about money: it insulates a person from ever having to know the truth. The same way these children would be insulated from knowing what douchebags they were, and therefore comfortably grow up into a new era of douchebags. Never the wiser. 

She could feel a presence watching her, realizing she had been in a daze staring at the chalk outline. She turned slightly to see a creepy child (because all children were creepy, but especially when they just stood behind you silently) staring at her. He was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy of about eight years old with a smile that turned out to be quite ghoulish as he flashed it at her. Before she could ride away in horror, he asked, “Wanna play?” 

Her obvious response was going to be no, but then, out of the ether came another flurry of similar-looking Aryan children, all rushing at her, crowding her. Making it impossible for her to leave. 

“We saw you looking. We know you wanna play,” chimed in one girl with an Olivia Rodrigo shirt (perhaps a talisman for singing, “Today I drove through the suburbs”). 

Vonda started to slowly inch away backwards, like Homer into the bush—but she was met with another child placing the toe of his shoe on her hind wheel. “Just one game,” the kid demanded. Realizing she was not going to be given a choice, she said bristlingly, “Okay. Sure.” 

***

The game had been long. Interminable, at times. Like life itself. And the battle was bloody. The children had practically begged her, as far as she was concerned to show them what it meant to die in the same way that occurred on the Netflix series they were convinced they knew something about. There were still a few errant spawns lightly breathing from what she could tell, but they would expire by the time their parents got home. And the maids likely watching through the window from inside weren’t going to come to these spoiled, overindulged brats’ rescue. They would rather risk job loss than help perpetuate the cycle that had landed them the role of “maid” in the first place. Vonda thusly had layered her own new meaning into squid game, one that mimicked the show’s outright contempt for how “okay” everyone was with the discrepancy between how people lived. Nonetheless, most will always gobble their feast while others are out there starving. That’s the very reason why suburbia was manufactured: so the gobblers would never have to look at those starving while they ate. Reflecting on that, Vonda finally rode her bike back to the city, taking the trail that had led her into this cul-de-sac in the first place. 

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