A good week for being exposed
Like the majority of the Netflix-watching world, my wife and I have started watching the equally horrifying, equally mesmerising Squid Game from South Korea. It follows Seong Gi-Hun, who is living a life of desperation, on the brink of financial and familial ruin. A seemingly chance encounter gives him a unique opportunity to turn it all around and get his life together again. But this opportunity is not exclusive to him, and before long he is thrust into a world of cut-throat competition in the most brutal sense.
It’s interesting to compare it to the world of the Handmaid’s Tale, where another terrifying scenario takes place. Both contrast striking concentrations of colour with a dark landscape and struggle for survival. While Handmaid’s tale thrusts a new world upon the main protagonist, Squid Game presents this dystopian world as a ‘choice’. One that the competitors are somewhat compelled to take, as it is no worse than their real world day-to-day life.
Where Handmaid’s Tale shows the oppressors in plain sight, flaunting their power and orthodoxies, Squid Game hides them behind masks, in unmarked vans, living in the shadows, in beautiful yet undisclosed locations. One critiques religious fanaticism, the other critiques a world ruled by money. A fantasy world that the rich and powerful create for themselves at the expense of the vulnerable. Nothing more than child’s play and entertainment for the nameless, faceless puppetmasters.
And it seems a particularly powerful moment for Squid Game to be the most popular show in Netflix history, around the same time that the Pandora Papers have been uncovered. While this is nothing new to a world where ridiculous wealth goes unchecked and unchallenged, it’s still shocking and reveals the shadow world that exists beyond our reach, and yet affects all of us.
Tax havens and tax avoidance mean there’s less money going into things like public education, housing and infrastructure, hospitals, emergency services, government programs, healthcare, pensions, etc… Things that we depend on, particularly when things take a negative turn. But it’s also less money going into new initiatives that can transform our world for the better. “How are we going to pay for it?” would be a far more effective question if the mega rich gave back to the societies that helped make them.
But this wasn’t the only exposure that has taken place recently. Facebook is in a world of pain at the moment with some internal secrets brought to light by one of their own. Francis Haugen will be testifying to US congress about Facebook’s duplicitous goals as one of the world’s most influential platforms. It includes rules for some and not for others, knowledge of the how harmful Instagram can be for young girls, a deliberate change in their algorithms to make the landscape angrier, poor policing of violent crime threats, and deliberate predatory practices. No wonder that a place made for connection leaves us feeling more isolated and frustrated than ever.
Then more locally, we’ve seen the premier of New South Wales resign after the announcement that she was being investigated by the state ICAC. Now regardless of what you think of her record and leadership, it’s a significant moment in politics these days, and props to her for taking the investigation seriously. So often transparency and accountability is simply scoffed at, spun, and/or stamped as a partisan witch hunt. So having an independent body that can actually investigate and enforce misconduct of politicians is absolutely a step in the right direction, regardless of which side of the aisle we fall on. When the truth comes to light it can give the general public confidence that justice can exist, and that people occupying the highest levels of office can do so for the right reasons.
When the truth is hidden and accountability is despised by those in power, it hurts all of us. It’s perhaps no wonder that crazed conspiracy theories have taken off in the last five years. Wealthy elites, giant corporations and politicians do conspire to hide scandalous behaviour from the public at times, and it destroys the fabric of society when they do.
A vibrant democracy depends on trust, good will and checks and balances. It shouldn’t primarily be about individual rights (though they are of course important), because when that’s the only thing, well the Squid Game becomes all the more real as each faction clamours to get to the top of the legal mountain and enshrine their supremacy over the competition. Perhaps we need to be reminded that we have a system where everyone can win, if we work together and serve our fellow citizens. But it depends on a just society, where evil can be brought to light and bad actors punished when they’ve done the wrong thing. No matter who they are.
As a Christian I’m of course reminded by the person and teachings of Jesus, who was no friend of the rich, nor the institutions of the day. He famously calls the love of money the root of all evil. He says it’s harder for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. He tells the young rich ruler to sell all his possessions and give it to the poor. When asked about taxes he says to give to Caesar what is his (pay your taxes!), but give to God what is his also. He shares parables of early capitalists knocking down their barns of grain to instead build bigger ones to satisfy their need for perpetual growth. Little do they know their life will be demanded of them that night. He shares the story of the Rich man and Lazarus, warning that if you insist on enjoying your indulgent things now, at the expense of the poor, the tables will be turned in eternity. They will be held to account, and their good things will come to an abrupt end. While the poor and the voiceless will enjoy the banquet of heaven.
And he speaks to all of us in John 3 when he says that man naturally loves darkness, and unbelief persists when we ‘fear that our deeds will be exposed’. This fear drives all secret behaviour. Even churches have been found to engage in some of the most egregious and disturbing cover ups the world has seen. But we need to come clean. With each other, and especially with God. He knows every hidden things already, it’s just a matter of time before it comes to light. Just as everyone ought to pay their taxes, everyone ought to give God what is owed. That being our lives, as costly as that sounds.
We may feel we have a lot to lose by coming into the light, and some will admittedly have more to lose than others. But we actually have incalculable gains waiting for us when face this fear. Forgiveness, peace, community, a new way of life, and an eternal destiny with our maker. Why not use this week as an opportunity to take off the mask, and to escape your own shadow world? The light of Christ will sting the eyes at first, but then reveal a world of striking colours and hope you never knew existed.
Perhaps you’ll find it to be a world worth uncovering.