ANDI’m sure there’s no need to talk about the nostalgic appeal of stranger things. For one Serie Dealing with all sorts of supernatural occurrences (telekinetic teenagers, alternate dimensions, demonic possession), it’s first and foremost a show about the 1980s. Or rather, it’s a show about what we all imagine the 1980s to be like. science fiction Netflix have made the obvious comparisons with the old stories of Stephen KingJohn Carpenter films and Steven Spielberg. The final season is heavily based on the 1984 horror classic. A Nightmare on Elm Street. But stranger things he has always lacked the depth of his ancestors, as well as a complete interest in the realities of the time. It is, as young people say, “no thoughts, just vibes”.
The series, which returned for the first “volume” of its fourth season on Friday, is one of many recent movies and TV shows that have tapped into this specific reservoir of nostalgia. Without even leaving Netflix, there are projects like Russian Doll, glow Y Black Mirror, the highly commented episode ‘San Junipero’; elsewhere, everything from The Americansuntil The Deuce Y Super 8, have taken viewers back to the eighties. The adolescent protagonists of the adaptation of Item of King of 2017 seemed to breathe the same air as the children of stranger things: Yeah Item was not already in full development when it debuted stranger thingsI’d swear to God that a studio exec must have turned on Netflix one night and said, “I want that.”
The appeal of the 1980s should be pretty obvious. It is based not only on nostalgia for the past, but also for a lived past. Much of the core viewer demographic of stranger things grew up in the 1980s, or lived through it in a way. Even if you weren’t born then, chances are you grew up in the glare of the era: the movies, the music, the fashion (another crucial factor in the appeal of the 1980s: it was the last decade in history before the popularization of the internet and mobile phones).
Of course, film and television have always been fascinated by the past decades. In the 1970s and 1980s, there were big hits like Back to the Future either Happy days, which were based on just the same sense of lived nostalgia. To his credit, the focus of stranger things from the 1980s mostly avoids overt sentimentality about the glory days. As with much 1980s supernatural fiction, the series actually uses its horror-inflected premise to explore the unseen evils beneath the surface of American suburban life. The problem arises when we wonder why, exactly, creators Matt and Ross Duffer chose to set the show in this time period. Is there a better reason than simple convenience? A useful plot gadget? What does it really mean about the time?
The best period TV dramas of recent years: Mad MenThe Deuce, Halt and Catch Fire, they understand their time period not just as an aesthetic, a set of circumstances and events, but as a fluid part of the larger continuum of human history. The 1980s is not a “vibe” but a highly complex matrix of socioeconomic movements, interpersonal histories, and conflicting ideologies. When you see stranger things either Item, the eighties aesthetic feels only like a fad. When you see The Deuceor, to use a British example, the brilliant This is England ’86 and ’88 from Shane Meadows, it’s hard to get any more real.
I am not, of course, the first person to politely suggest that stranger things It’s more style than substance. In 2017, Robbie Collin of The Telegraph, described the series as “complacent and empty, the TV equivalent of those social media accounts that post things like ‘Retweet if you loved watching Airwolf’”. But it’s a point worth reiterating, especially when it seems like we’re on the cusp of a new wave of flashback series set during the 1990s. Long considered too flashy and obnoxious to romanticise, the decade has served as a showcase for a number of recent projects, aimed at aging young millennials. Among them: yellowjackets, Fear Street: 1994 Netflix, That ’90s Show Pam & Tommy Y Young Sheldon. The nostalgia boom will not end with stranger things.
The past, as they say, is a foreign country, and who doesn’t like vacations abroad? stranger things it has been undeniably helpful in articulating our collective longing for a not-too-distant past, for a way of life that is already alien to us. But after four seasons, its reductionist vision of the 1980s remains little more than a backdrop.