The joyous clamour of ‘Happy New Years’ was accosted by a sense of déjà vu. The niggling feeling of having been there and done that was not from the realisation of the dichotomy of heralding the new with an enjoyable ancient annual tradition but because 2022 began as it had in the previous year – with the world grappling with the newest Greek nomenclature of SaRSCoV2.
I must confess there were no New Year resolutions. This was in line with how I spent the various hues of lockdown. In the last 2 years I learnt nothing new, nor did I surprise myself by discovering untapped reserves of resilience. However, there was a recalibration of my binge watching. I stopped berating myself for escaping into the comfort of OTT’s generosity and instead congratulated myself on finding another opportunity to continue my education. The series, Fouda was viewed for its take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while Made in Heaven was a deep dive into the ills that ail Indian society.
But beyond the socio-cultural exposition enjoyed from the comfort of my sofa there was another reality. The common person was continuing to reel under the impacts of the lockdown when reports on the leap in wealth of a few made the news. Serendipitously, that’s when I began binging on Money Heist. It was reported that wealth of billionaires grew by 54% between March 18 2020 and March 2021. Their wealth rose by USD 10.2 trillion in the peak of the Covid crisis when the common person was being laid off jobs or laid in coffins. At home in India, the net wealth of Indian billionaires increased by 35% to USD 423 billion as the nation was hauled through a national lockdown that left every other socio-economic segment flailing. In Mainland China, the wealth of billionaires increased from USD 1,190.1 Billion in 2019 to USD 1,680.9 in 2020. The 67 Hong Kong billionaire’s collective wealth rose by USD 60 billion to total USD 380 billion. As the series was about common people besting the system Money Heist was the perfect salve to the reality of a few growing richer while the majority were left to fend for themselves.
The universe painted the last two years of my life in many tones of despair, personal despair of being locked in and then of watching my income tumble. The helpless anguish of watching people becoming destitute, and then being unable to do enough to help. Like me there were others who felt the helpless outrage of knowing that the damage caused by our bumbling leaders would not impact them. Today, I am realising that one of the darkest shades of this colour is created by leader’s selfishly and irresponsibly brainwashing citizens into twisting the ideal of individual democratic rights and weaponising it to avoid vaccination. This callous selfishness threatens the wellbeing of communities. Why wouldn’t there be Compassion Fatigue, as reported, among healthcare workers caring for unvaccinated Covid patients?
When I watched Squid Games I saw parallels between it and the reality of our covid lives. In both instances, people were confined, there was uncertainty of what the next day would bring, there was selfishness and selfless acts of courage, some opportunists transformed into leaders and false prophets, like-minded people formed groups and empathy was lost in the fight to survive. Finally. everyone was being monitored and told what to do by an unassailable authority who worked for the monied.
Actually, the similarities between these two series and our lives extends to beyond the last 2 years. Money Heist and Squid Games are a study of how common people get played.
Who hasn’t heard of Robin Hood and the ideal of robbing the rich to give to the poor? Money Heist is the fantasy of stealing from an uncaring system. Where it deviates from the folktale is that the robbers intend to fill their own pockets. However, they want their act to be perceived as battling the government – a revolution which will spread positivity among the common people.
But the rationale behind selling this as a revolution is as callous as a political party’s propaganda or a businesses’ profitmaking strategy. The hope that the Professor and his merry team manufacture is intended to convert the common person into marionettes. They unwittingly become the first line of defence in the Professor’s mission to profit from teaching the system a lesson. For all the Bella Ciao sung, the Professor ignores the trickledown socio-economic impact of stealing from the treasury.
The Professor and his team are catering to a disaffected audience. Those surrounding the building where the heist is taking place have been captured by the audacity of hope that the heisters would like to project.
This is not different from how many products are marketed. Nor is this any different from how politicians capture their electorates imagination.
Though political parties claim to be working for the benefit of the country, what they want to do is run the country according to their ideology. To achieve this, they need to control the mindspace of citizens. They do so by promising the moon to citizens, undercutting opponents, and forming tenuous coalitions. This is enabled by donations from the rich who have plans of their own. In the Squid Games, the redemption, and riches promised by the Game Master is at the end of a Darwinian selection process for the entertainment of a bored few.
One can argue that ultimately, both the Squid Games and Money Heist reveal the sorry truth of how easily malleable the common person is and how vitally dispensable they are. On the other hand, it is not as if citizens are docile sheep – history is replete with stories of the common person starting revolutions. Money Heist and The Squid Games reflect the reality of how hope can be marketed for the profit of a few.
*Samir Nazareth is the author of 1400 Bananas, 76 Towns & 1 Million People. He tweets at @samirwrites.