What’s the Time, Mister Wolf?

Squid Game not only lives up to the hype, it’s better than it has any right to be. While the high-concept gladiatorial set-up mixes together BATTLE ROYALE, EYES WIDE SHUT, The Prisoner, maybe Lost, the execution is just original enough, and the execution astonishingly consistent and flawless. Amazing design, great performances, the twists all play fair and deepen the meaning of the show rather than undercutting it.

There was a point where Fiona observed that the grim situation of the central characters, competing for their lives, echoed that of Nazi murder camp inmates. I said that it mainly reminded me of school. The fact that there were authority figures, enforcers of rules, but they made no effort to protect their subjects from each other, seemed particularly telling. That tied in with the use of schoolyard games tricked up to provide a body count.

The first game, Red Light / Green Light, was played at my primary school, but my memory tells me that we called it What’s the Time, Mister Wolf? For no reason any of us understood.

Of course, now we’re getting stories about Scottish school kids who’ve watched the show and are playing the games for real. Of course. Of course.

It was striking to me that none of the big kids at my school, those who were NOT bullies, ever protected the weak kids from being bullied. Too much trouble. Not their business. And the playground was a place of anarchy, completely unmonitored. It’s very much what we see in Hwang Dong-hyuk’s series. All he adds is a body count (warning: the show is very, very violent and it’s ridiculous that it should be rated 15. If you’re going to have ratings they should mean something).

If you wanted to make schoolyards free from violence, psychological as well as physical, you would have to pay adults to supervise. Unsupervised play is when kids pick up bad habits from one another, mainly. The presence of responsible adults forces them to act civilised, mostly.

The other thing that Squid Game is about, obviously, is late-stage capitalism and class, like PARASITE. The idea that people on the bottom rungs of any modern society would willingly face death to escape their situation seems quite plausible, and if we’re not there yet, we probably soon will be.

Squid Game is on Netflix. Fiona rates it the best TV show she’s seen since Breaking Bad, I don’t have a handy rating but I can find literally nothing wrong with it.

4 Responses to “What’s the Time, Mister Wolf?”

  1. woolworthdiamond Says:

    You had What Time Is It, Mr Fox, too? (Fox being a variation I feel excusable for being separated by a continent and decades) I also have no idea where it came from. Does someone just tell the popular children what the exclusionary games are? Is there a governing body I’m not aware of?

  2. Our weirdest custom was to drum up interest for a game by putting arms over each others shoulders to form a sort of chorus line and stomp around chanting “Who wants a game of cowboys and Indians?” (Or Japs and commandos, or whatever… these were the dark ages.) This procedure would sometimes eat up the whole of playtime without any game occurring. I once got up a chant of “Pity on the dinosaurs,” which was a bit of a situationist wheeze since no such game existed and I had no idea how it could be played.

  3. Simon Kane Says:

    Aw,w we used to do “Who wants to play…” too!
    “Red Light Green Light” I knew as “Grandmother’s Footsteps”, while “What’s The Time Mister Wolf” had slightly different rules the way we played it. You’d take the number of steps the wolf gave as the time, to try and get as close as you could get so you could tap them on the back, but if it turned out the answer was “DINNER TIME!” then they coudl turn round and chase you back. That would actually have some suspense.
    I didn’t get beyond the first episode of this. I mean, I got it. I read Dredd. But even if the contracts they signed were meaningless I’d still have called for that vote the moment the first player got shot. (SO much shooting. What were meant to be feeling? I can’t feel suspense for characters I know if characters I don’t know are being offed left, right and centre.)
    It wins loads of story-telling points over “The Green Knight” though, for at least presenting its game as eerily world-changing, rather than one of the things that just happens in an eery world.
    Also, is a million a lot?

  4. As I recall, the characters DO call for that vote immediately after the first game. But that’s in episode 2.

    I think your memory of Mister Wolf is more accurate than mine – it’s been a long time.

    I think the suspense issues are covered in subsequent episodes, also: each game ups the tension,so the first round is really about shock.

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