Posters on Black Twitter (the name given to Black users of Twitter) have been sharing hundreds of memes about the immensely popular Netflix show “Squid Game” (which is a critique of neoliberal and very oppressive systems of liberalism and capitalism), that show themselves as comrades of the characters who play this ruthless and unequal game.
What these posts reveal, according to findings by SC&I Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Studies Youngrim Kim and her co-author Ta’ Les Love of the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, is posters on Black Twitter are interpolating themselves into these stories to critique and imagine themselves as fellow players within the “Squid Game” universe, and thereby imagining a different alternative world where Black audiences and Korean characters in the game have an advantage.
“Ultimately,” Kim said, “We tie these posts to the Black Lives Matter movement and the Stop AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Hate movement that happened during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, and how Black Twitter posts about ‘Squid Game’ could be a potential way for us to reimagine Afro-Asian connections, which are usually portrayed as very much pitted against each other, in the racial politics of the United States.”
Love and Kim published their findings in a commentary published October 13, 2022 titled “Squid Game and the Imagining of Afro-Asian Connections through Black Twitter Memescapes,” which they wrote in response to a call for papers for a special forum of Communication, Culture and Critique, a journal of the International Communication Association published by Oxford University Press. The forum, “Squid Game and the Politics of Global Capitalism,” was edited by special forum editor David Oh, a faculty member at Ramapo College in New Jersey.
"Posters on Black Twitter are interpolating themselves into these stories to critique and imagine themselves as fellow players within the 'Squid Game' universe, and thereby imagining a different alternative world where Black audiences and Korean characters in the game have an advantage."
According to the journal’s website, the aim of the special forum was to address assertions in the media “that ‘Squid Game’s’ popularity is because of its ‘memeworthiness’ and ‘viral spreadability’ or because of its ‘critique of neoliberal desperation that is ubiquitous in contemporary life.’” Further, the forum’s purpose was“not to study neoliberalism, per se, but to understand who is oppressed and how they respond to the debt, competition, and precarity neoliberalism produces’ and ‘to put into conversation the ideological meanings encoded in the text and its decoded meanings produced around the world.’”
One of the main themes of “Squid Game” centers around the characters called the “Game Makers.” Kim said, “in the show, Game Makers continuously emphasize that everyone has an equal chance to win in Squid Game. But we as an audience know that’s never true. ‘Squid Game’ is about taking that false imaginary of neoliberalism, which we found that really resonated with Black Twitter audiences. What we found on Twitter, was that these audiences were creatively changing some of the games in the show to ones that Black cultural audiences are very used to. For example, Spades is a game that most African Americans in the U.S. know very well. By changing the show’s games with such where black audiences have cultural advantages, they humorously critique the false imaginary of fairness while at the same time imagining an alternative world where the marginalized has chance to win.”
"We wanted to speak about this shared activist history and suggest how Black Twitter’s memescapes of 'Squid Game' could potentially provide another window to imagine racial solidarities across different racialized groups in the United States.”
Because this is a commentary piece, Kim said the paper centers on her and Love’s reflections and critical readings of the phenomena they noticed around them. The close reading of hundreds of tweets and evaluating how Black Twitter audiences related personally to the characters in the game was their main methodology.
Ultimately, Kim said, through their commentary piece they wanted to stress that although Black and Asian communities in the U.S. have often been portrayed in the media as being pitted against each other, in reality they have been closely collaborating – they have shared history, shared activism history, and both BLM and AAPI communities have really supported each other.
During recent protests, Kim said, “Korean communities have gone to BLM events, spoken about BLM, and taught their parents and grandparents – the older generations -- about this movement. This is even happening internationally, because we have seen that young Koreans and Korean Americans are reaching out to their family members in Korea and talking to them about the BLM Movement. The same thing has happened for the Stop AAPI Hate movement in the United States. Black communities actively supported the movement and attended protests to express solidarity. So, we wanted to speak about this shared activist history and suggest how Black Twitter’s memescapes of 'Squid Game' could potentially provide another window to imagine racial solidarities across different racialized groups in the United States.”