TikTok user Youngmi Mayer drew some backlash for calling out how inaccurate the English closed-caption subtitles are, with many pointing out that the regular English subtitles are actually pretty accurate. "But does it make much difference?" says Jeva Lange. "If the English dub botches the translation, visually impaired fans miss out on the nuances of the script. Or what about the 36 million deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers in America, whose Netflix accounts might be set to play the English CC version by default? These might seem like edge cases, but any conversation about subtitles on Netflix has to include accessibility advocates, who've been sounding the alarm about the streamer's sloppy captions for years. In 2012, Netflix finally agreed to put captions on 100 percent of its library after being sued by the National Association for the Deaf (NAD) for noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Horrible subtitles are also a familiar problem for fans of foreign language films and anime — in fact, some fandoms crowdsource amateur subtitles for untranslated or badly translated shows. But this shouldn't be an issue with Netflix, which has made its growing international catalog and presence a point of pride: Only 35 percent of Netflix customers live in the U.S. or Canada, and only 55 percent of its content is in English. Including 61 other languages in the Netflix archives has required a robust translation effort, and Netflix claims the words at the bottom of a viewers' screen are 'no longer secondary assets in a world where content knows no physical borders.' If only that were true. Squid Game is far from the only Netflix show with dubious subtitling. Fans have found numerous errors in Netflix's script for Neon Genesis Evangelion, ranging from things like changing a more literal 'I'm so f--ked up' to 'I'm the lowest of the low' to 'queer erasing' a character by crucially changing the word 'love' to 'like.'" Still, as Salon's Kylie Cheng points out, the regular English subtitles are "also ultimately lacking the full magic and breadth of the Korean dialogue," noting that this is another example "of Korean popular culture and deeper meanings being lost in the English translation."
Squid Game is a global success because its focus on inequality, poverty and class inequality resonate worldwide: "It’s difficult enough for new shows to break through the noise with so much TV content, but Squid Game’s success is an astonishing feat for a show that was released on the platform (on Sept. 17), to little fanfare," says Elamin Abdelmahmoud. "More shocking still: It boasts no Hollywood megastars and it’s not based on any existing intellectual property that comes with a preloaded fanbase. And yet it’s a megahit, with 95% of its audience outside Korea. The internet is awash in Squid Game memes, games, and TikTok challenges. In two short weeks, it has become a bonafide phenomenon. If the success of Squid Game is a surprise, it’s not exactly without precedent. For one, the popularity of K-dramas has grown by 200% among Netflix subscribers in just the last two years. But zoom out more, and the picture becomes clearer. Earlier this week, Netflix released some of its viewing data. Out of its top ten most viewed series, two of them are also not in English and boast no Hollywood megastars: the French Lupin sits in second place while the Spanish-language hit Money Heist occupies the sixth position. The dizzying success of Squid Game and the triumph of other non-English shows may finally kill the unfounded idea that North American viewers — the largest share of Netflix’s audience — are not interested in watching foreign shows. That is significant by itself. But these shows also share a common throughline: They all deal with inequality, capture the despair of poverty, and dissect class anxiety. Regardless of the country or language, capitalism is the shared villain in Netflix’s global successes. It’s a villain viewers everywhere can identify."
Squid Game is an encapsulation of predatory capitalism: "Few people watching Squid Game are likely to be familiar with that term," says Melanie McFarland. "(Heck, most of them probably don't even realize they're watching a K-drama.) But on a planet where the average income of the top 10 percent is 38 times higher than the average of the bottom half, plenty of folks are living with it. That counts anyone living paycheck to paycheck and doing their best to stay level on the rickety balance beam that is our economy, which is most people. Predatory capitalism is the beast snarling at their back and the one waiting at the bottom of the pit, jaws open wide. Allegorizing this concept also distinguishes this series from other 'deadly game' titles such as Battle Royale or The Hunger Games. It's actually closer in spirit to Netflix's adaptation of Alice in Borderland, although the terror at the center of that series and the manga it's based upon is existential. The enemy in Squid Game is material and relatable."
Koreans are using Squid Game to talk about inequality: "The popularity of the theme has prompted South Korean politicians across the political spectrum to try to capitalize on the following that Squid Game has won," reports The Washington Post's Andrew Jeong and Grace Moon. "Since its mid-September release, the series has been deployed as a metaphor by likely contenders in next March’s presidential election to attack each other, while the public has used the show to talk about a brewing scandal around how a son of a well-connected politician came into a significant amount of money."
Squid Game memes are being used to cope with the devastation of the series: "You might think that the memes don’t fit the gravity of the series," says Briana Lawrence. "...However, after watching approximately ONE episode I realized the purpose the memes served. They were being created as a way to cope with how effed up Squid Game is. It’s not like this is the first Battle Royale/Hunger Games/survive some psychologically scarring situations in order to win a prize thing that’s been on the air, but something about Squid Game really sticks with you. The setting is deceptively cute with the pastel stairs leading toward the games. The characters walk the line between 'sympathetic' and 'I hope you die playing Tug of War' with relatable motivations that make you question your own morals. And even if you know you should NOT get attached to ANYONE in a story like this, you get attached, which inevitably means you’re gonna get hurt in the end."