In a few short months, Korean thriller series THE SQUID GAME has broken a slew of records, becoming the most watched series in NETFLIX history. Granted, it’s both violently disturbing and thrillingly addictive. But it’s also cringe-worthy in its sexism and vastly outdated homophobic tropes, as this article from DIGITAL SPY lays out.
Halfway through the series we are introduced to a group of capitalist VIPs in glittering gold animal masks. To varying degrees, they are predatory, nihilist and offensively-stereotyped gays. The one sexual assault that figures into the labyrinthine plot of SQUID GAME is between a leering grotesque entitled gay American and his intended victim, the disguised detective posing as a game guard. Here’s how DIGITAL SPY lays out the scenario and its underlying pernicious theme:
“But bearing that in mind, there is one group of Squid Game characters who are openly coded as gay, or queer in some way, and let’s just say it’s not the most flattering representation, not by any means. Ship them, we will not.
Yes, we are of course referring to the VIPs, those vile, decadent men who watch the deadly squid games play out for their own twisted pleasure. The series paints them all in a terrible light, and rightly so, but why did they have to be the only queer characters on the show?
We know what you’re thinking. Pretty much everyone in Squid Game is bad, right? And that includes the many straight characters who cheat and kill too (except of course, Sang-Woo’s lovely mum, another gay icon in her own right). So if almost everyone is a villain of sorts, why is it an issue if the LGBTQ+ characters are villainous too?
The problem lies with how this kind of representation is handled. Squid Game doesn’t shy away from murder, but its portrayal of sexual assault is a lot murkier.
This comes to a head 40 minutes into episode seven when one of the VIPs takes Hwang Jun-ho out back to force him into sexual acts against his will. Although the internet’s favourite cop manages to save himself before anything more horrific can happen, it’s still a rather disturbing scene, and crucially, it’s tied to an extremely homophobic trope.
For decades, Hollywood’s idea of the “Sissy Villain” and the “Depraved Homosexual” have walked hand-in-hand, equating evil with affected, feminine clichés that can only be defeated by the heteronormative patriarchy. From classic Hitchcock movies to most of your favourite Disney films, this suggestion that queerness is somehow disturbing and wrong gradually became an intrinsic part of cinema at large.”“Squid Game plays into a harmful homophobic trope”, DIGITAL SPY, October 7, 2021
Is this a disqualifying reason to not bother watching? Not at all! But when you get a creepy feeling that the creators have some unresolved homophobia up their storytelling sleeves, know you are not alone.