All aboard the nostalgia train, next stop Netflix and the ’80s themed series Stranger Things. We disembark in Hawkins, Indiana, to find that 12-year-old Will Byers has gone missing after a marathon Dungeons and Dragons campaign. This white middle class haven lives in the shadow of a clandestine government department, the kind that likes to experiment on kids and shoot well-meaning citizens with silencers. Will’s disappearance opens a Pandora’s box of homage and pastiche, leaving little hope for satire or biting allegory, when the lid is closed on the finale of the 8-episode season.
An alternative title to Stranger Things should be Stephen King V Steven Spielberg: Dawn of John Carpenter. Back in the ’70s and ’80s they were loved and hated in equal measure for their B-Movie sensibilities and mass appeal, but their stamp on popular culture then was undeniable, and popular culture without them today would be unthinkable. The Duffer Brothers, who created Stranger Things, sound like a comedy pair of vampire hunters, so is it any wonder they have mined every key text from the time? All the standards are present and correct: Jaws, ET, Poltergeist, The Thing, It, The Goonies, Firestarter, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Alien, Scanners, Stand By Me. The list could go on.
To paraphrase ’80s rap pioneers Whodini, “The geeks come out at night.” The Duffers have missed a trick by not handing out a quiz sheet of references for orgasmic fanboys to fill in and jerk each other off with. Sure, Stranger Things surrounds us with familiar things but does an enjoyable, thrilling, sci-fi/horror show have to be submitted to a metamodernism autopsy the very second after it has been binge watched to death? Modern technology demands we live in the past whilst reveling in the future, we have a time warp direct to our childhood, or in the case of many ’80s enthusiasts (most are born after that decade) a childhood they wished they had.
Nuclear Armageddon anyone?
In David Lynch’s sublime Lost Highway Fred Madison explains why he hates video cameras, “I like to remember things my own way. How I remembered them. Not necessarily the way they happened.” This is the way a show like Stranger Things should be enjoyed, its many movie references remembered rather than catalogued for the geek equivalent of a pissing contest. The lucid qualities that make the best films and television shows so dreamlike are close to being lost. When those dreams mix with our subconscious we become part of our own movie. When those dreams become a digital reality, the perfect recall of machines robs us of our fondest or darkest or even dullest cultural memories.
When watching Stranger Things how those Stephen King paperbacks looked, how they smelt, how they promised an adult world of sex and violence is arguably more important than knowing verbatim what a character said or did. What about when the video recorder came along and unleashed the unobtainable into your living room? Were all those movies you rented that great? Did Stranger Things make you think of Dreamscape and Brainstorm? If it did, do you feel superior? Do you feel the need to watch them again? Or should you leave those memories well alone for fear of ruining them? If you didn’t experience the ’80s, those books and films first hand, how did it feel when your parents sat you down to share their past with you?
Stranger Things should be watched for the compelling performances from its cast, for its heart and for that astounding John Carpenteresque opening theme tune. It has David Harbour as a heart broken cop who sticks his neck out for his community, a Democratic bunch of kids who work together as a team, Winona Ryder as a mom exiled from suburbia because she’s divorced and struggling to support her sons, and Matthew Modine doing a mean David Cronenberg impression. It makes ’80s technology seem futuristic and vital, the means to an end, not the sole reason to get up off your arse and search for Pokemon where the end is the means.
The infantization of society swirls like a colossal black hole sucking in our brains, time and money whilst we share our outrage about Trump, Brexit, Black Lives Matter, and the new misogyny on social media, whilst letting a small minority of people get up and make a real difference. We’re all guilty of it and a great show like Stranger Things isn’t to blame. Watch it, love it, talk about it but then leave it alone and remember it, rather than spend hours over analysing it so you can out geek some other geek. How about this for a law? For every two episodes of Stranger Things you should have to watch a piece of Third Cinema that compels you to political and social action. You could start with I, Daniel Blake by Ken Loach.
Oh and another thing…why don’t these 80s shows have any fucking rap music in them?