Game plays

Squid Game plays in a harmful homophobic trope

Squid game spoilers follow.

Squid game is not strange, not really. If that was the case, Seong Gi-hun would probably have bleached his hair blonde at the end instead of red.

But that didn’t stop gay Netflix subscribers from craving Gong “slap me” Yoo or living for the giant robot doll who Vulture affectionately refers to “Chantal”. This porcelain gay icon has been memorized countless times already, and speaking of memes, is it any coincidence that Squid game has its own Drag Race-“game in a game” style?

As is customary in LGBTQ + circles, many fans also send characters who aren’t technically weird, but certainly share queer coded relationships.

The most obvious that comes to my mind is the bond formed between Kang Sae-byeok and Ji-yeong in episode six. Yeah, this episode. Although brief, the time they share together removes the usual constraints of society to create an intimate bond that has led viewers on a Sapphic road of hope … quickly followed by endless pain and torment.

Then there’s Abdul Ali and Cho Sang-woo as well, though given the end of their relationship, this might not be the healthiest ship to defend. Yet that hasn’t stopped the internet from doing its job, and to be fair, decades of LGBTQ + marginal representation have trained us to read just about anything as gay in the right context.

But with that in mind, there is a group of Squid game characters who are blatantly coded as gay, or queer in some way, and let’s just say that’s not the most flattering portrayal, not at all. Ship them, we won’t.

Yes, of course we are talking about the VIPs, those vile, decadent men who watch the deadly squid games unfold for their own twisted enjoyment. The show 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 are thinking. Almost everyone in Squid game is bad, right? And that includes the many straight characters who cheat and kill as well (except of course, Sang-Woo’s lovely mom, another full-fledged gay icon). So if almost everyone is some sort of villain, why is it a problem if LGBTQ + characters are mean as well?

Netflix

The problem lies in how this type of representation is handled. Squid game doesn’t fear murder, but his portrayal of sexual assault is much more murky.

It comes to a head 40 minutes after episode seven begins, when one of the VIPs brings Hwang Jun-ho back to force him to perform sex acts against his will. While the internet’s favorite cop manages to save himself before something more horrific can happen, it’s still a rather disturbing scene, and most importantly, it ties into an extremely homophobic trope.

For decades, Hollywood’s idea of ​​”Sissy Villain” and “Depraved homosexual“walked hand in hand, equating evil with affected female stereotypes that can only be defeated by heteronormative patriarchy. From classic Hitchcock films to most of your favorite Disney movies, that suggestion that homosexuality is in. some disturbing and false sort gradually became a intrinsic part of cinema in the broad sense.

While things are generally improving in this regard, the LGBTQ + portrayal on screen is still far from perfect, and sadly, Squid game is a (not so) good example. Because yes, the gay VIP is not the only villain of this show. You could even say that there are much worse characters in the grand scheme of things, but it’s the way his evil relates to homosexuality that makes it so unsettling.

Another sexual assault is mentioned at one point, a heterosexual assault, and it’s arguably even more disturbing than what the VIP is trying to do. But the difference here is that we don’t see it. Did we want to watch this on screen? No, but nonetheless, a choice was made to directly link the one act of sexual deviance that we actually see on this show with its only queer character.

And the worst part is that this VIP doesn’t really have a personality beyond his gender identity and his kinky approach to sex. By putting that connection at the center of attention, viewers are encouraged to react with disgust to both, and without a more positive counterpoint, the implication here is that homosexuality is therefore depraved. It’s also worth noting that many of the so-called “wicked” characters on this show act out of desperation, while this vile, gay man is more clearly “wicked” in a biblical sense.

netflix squid game - vips

Netflix

None of this suggests that LGBTQ + characters can’t be mean on screen. To say otherwise would be excluding in a very different way, but when very specific tropes surrounding sexual depravity and homosexuality have dominated for as long as they have, creators need to consider the implications of queer meanness and how. portray it without fueling the offensive, long-held stereotypes.

To complicate matters further, gay people in South Korea still fight for the same kind of equal rights that many now take for granted in the West. And because of this, Korean television and cinema have always struggled to present LGBTQ + themes with the respect they deserve.

Most importantly, that is now starting to change in a really positive way. Thanks to more inclusive shows like Love alarm, Itaewon class and Where your eyes linger, the Korean TV industry is making huge strides forward, to the point where queer characters are more than just horrible sleaze-balls.

And in the years to come, we hope that the queer romantic subtext between characters like Kang Sae-byeok and Ji-yeong will no longer be a subtext, freely existing instead.

Will be Squid game join these shows and advocate for more positive change in the future? It’s hard to say, but for now, excuse us as we go bleaching our hair again while we desperately await more news on season two …

Squid game is now available to watch on Netflix.

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