Today in “Dystopia reacts to dystopia” news: A North Korean man has reportedly been sentenced to death by firing squad after being accused of selling bootleg copies of Netflix’s Squid Game to a handful of the country’s teenagers. As reported by Radio Free Asia, the man was caught after some of the students were discovered watching the massively successful South Korean export.
North Korea has, of course, had a long history of interactions with, fascination toward, and attempts to control the distribution of media from outside the country within its borders. Squid Game’s success has presumably only spurred on those efforts, due to a variety of factors including the long-standing tension between the two nations, and the fact that the series directly touches on North Korea’s domestic woes by making one of its characters (Kang Sae-Byeo, played by Jung Ho-Yeon) a North Korean defector who plays the show’s deadly games in an effort to raise money to smuggle her family out of the nation.
In addition to the death sentence passed on the man who reportedly smuggled the show in (on a flash drive, from China), North Korean authorities have also reportedly sentenced a number of students who viewed the series to five years or more of hard labor. Everyone involved is being punished under North Korea’s new Elimination of Reactionary Thought and Culture law, passed last year, which makes it a potentially capital offense to distribute or view media from capitalist countries.
There’s a certain grim irony in having a series that is an explicit (and not especially subtle) condemnation of capitalism serve as a flashpoint for this crackdown by a communist government. But, Radio Free Asia notes, Squid Games’s focus on strict, arbitrary rules with lethal consequences for breaking them does, obviously, resonate with at least some North Korean citizens. Meanwhile, police are reportedly searching the country for more memory storage with the series stored on it, and educators in the schools where the bootleg copies were found have also been punished.
RFA notes that there have also been rumors that at least one student who watched the show was spared the punishment meted out to their peers because their parents had the money to bribe authorities, which, yeah: That’s pretty Squid Game, actually.