Whether by accident or intention, Netflix has solidly blown open a portal to another dimension with Stranger Things. Deep within the darkness, there is light. Hidden in the shadows, a monster. It lives somewhere on the line of emotional connection and visceral reaction. It preys on your memories and it feeds on your affinities. You’re more susceptible if you’re an American child of the early 1980s, or just lived vicariously through its pop culture record.
It is a beast known simply as Nostalgia, and by now, if you’ve succumbed to the 8 episode series, Netflix has you equally enamoured.
At first glance, I found the series to be an amusing love letter to the films I grew up with (mostly by Steven Spielberg) and the books I read (mostly by Stephen King).
But that would be the 10 words or less pitch of the program, as additional episodes throw you into an upside-down world not unlike the one I grew up in.
While there have been countless articles in the past week highlighting the key pop culture references within Stranger Things, I thought I’d share some personal reactions that dug deeper.
We so rarely see pre-teen protagonists, let alone geeky ones. Sure the age of these Dungeon and Dragon-playing, mountain bike-riding kids conjures up E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, among others. Us misfits of the 80s suburban nuclear family recognize the very-real archetype that gave way to brooding emo youth a generation later. In Stranger Things there’s a beautiful comradery of four friends who valor that friendship above all else, completely unaware of the hormonal and social influences that will most likely break it apart. While visually and thematically the film owes a lot to Stand By Me or The Goonies, the heavy reality that hovers over the series is that these are the days they will remember.
NOTHING HAPPENS IN THE MIDWEST
The Indiana setting of the series is as part and partial to its success as the age of the boys. As a pre-teen growing up in small town Michigan in the 1980s, I can vouch for the boredom, but also the mystery of the adult world and how it works. Still relying on parents for rides to the roller rink, arcade, mall or movies, when not able to walk or bike, it was a time with far less access to the rest of the world.
Of course it was also a time when the darkness reality of missing children reports was only surpassed by the rumored rise of satanic cults. When your day to day is relatively small, only your imagination can surpass it.
Powerhouse performance aside, Winona Ryder is as natural as the frantic mom of a missing son as she was over two decades ago in the films we fell for her in. Every heartbroken head drop, every shaky cigarette inhale, every wide eyed glance. This is the Winona we’ve been waiting for. Beetlejuice 2 please, asap.
While we had the grade level bliss of Choose Your Own Adventure, chances are we were reading Stephen King’s novels and short stories either by permission or above it. We’re the generation that birthed PG-13, only to live to see R rated films more accessible than any video store would allow us. Our goosebumps came courtesy of firestarting little girls and child molesting demon clowns. All of it probably, definitely not appropriate for younger audiences.
Stranger Things rekindles the feeling you got from Mom buying you Fangoria on a trip to the supermarket, then Dad bringing you to the movie that made its cover.
OUR IMAGINARY LIVES
You know that scene in Scrooged where Bill Murray’s Frank is recalling a watershed moment as a kid and the Ghost of Christmas Past points out he’s talking about the Homecoming episode of Little House on the Prairie? If you were born in a house with the television on, to borrow a phrase from the Talking Heads, your memories are probably 40% observances of fiction.
In my case a lot of science fiction.
When the boys in Stranger Things stumble on to key clues in the disappearance of their friend, they turn to mythology, mainly out of D&D guides. Of course, we’re playing along at home with this relatable recall, but probably saw this scene before, played out on the big screen.
Watching the series causes the reminder of just how much fiction influenced our day to day. The only thing more meta is something I’m looking forward to very much – Steven Spielberg himself’s adaptation of Ready Player One.
My mind is bracing for impact.