Pretty Much Pop #112: Class Critiques in Squid Game, Succession, etc.

Popular shows have commented on wealth inequality by showing how dire the situation is for the poor and/or how disconnected and clueless the rich are. How effective is this type of social commentary?

Mark is joined by philosopher and NY Times writer Lawrence Ware, novelist and writing professor Sarahlyn Bruck, and educator with a rhetoric doctorate Michelle Parrinello-Cason to discuss the appeal of both reality show (“fishbowl”) horror and satire. Is it OK if we don’t like any of the characters in Succession? Does Squid Game actually deserve its 94% on Rotten Tomatoes? Are we even capable as American viewers of appreciating what it’s trying to do?

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We also touch on White Lotus, The Hunt, Schitt’s Creek, torture porn, social commentary in songs, and more. Lurking in the background here are foundational works for this trend: Parasite, Get Out, Battle Royale, and The Hunger Games.

A few articles we may have drawn on for the discussion:

Hear more from our guests on past episodes: Law on various PEL discussions on race and religion, Sarahlyn on PMP on soap operas, Michelle on PMP on board games. Follow them @law_writes, @sarahlynbruck and @DaylaLearning.

The supporter version of this episode includes our bonus aftershow featuring all of our guests. Get it at, or now you can sign up directly via Apple Podcasts for a subscription for ad-free and bonus material for three of Mark’s podcasts together on the Mark Lintertainment Podcasts Channel.

This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network and is curated by


  1. Thank you for this interesting & engaging discussion!

    Just an additional thought on Squid Game – SPOILER ALERT:
    Its societal critique operates on the level of Han (grief, sorrow, indignity). Han is part of a wider conceptual field, which constitutes a practice of conflict resolution – to transform a cycle of outward anger and revenge into reconciliation.

    Han refers to directing anger inwards, rather than (publically) holding a grudge. It is ideally followed by reflection (Sakim, literally: fermentation): Sakim means to psychologically “digest” or “ferment” one’s inward anger (the consequence of Han) into self-critique and probably sth like a new, balanced narrative, and therefore new (reconciled) experience of the past/present/future in social harmony with the other person(s).

    In Squid Game, the protagonist Gi-hu fails to go through this process:
    For instance, capitalist logic pushes him to join the game. Even though the second time he joins, he is initially motivated to earn money for his mother’s medicare and not for himself, he is not there to help her during this time: his absence ultimately prevents him from reconciling with her. Another example are is valient efforts of transforming his anger & hatred for his friend into forgiveness: his forgiveness (not “mercy”) in the final game come to naught since the latter kills himself. Ultimately of course, he basically abandons his quest for digesting his Han, abandons his quest to reconcile with his family (his daughter) and chooses revenge.

    The funny thing is that “Won” not only refers to South Korea’s currency and the price money for the winner of the Squid Game, but also means “desire” or “wish”. This symbolic equivocation of money and desire is very capitalist in itself.

    As a concept “Han” is very interesting since it bridges ‘our’ Western division between emotions & reason, Mind-Body etc. For example the later Wittgenstein (anti-private-language argument) would definitely be kinda happy about this.

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