Feb 10

“Stranger Things” We Battle Every Day

…Now, as we act in the continuing narrative of Stranger Things, we 1983 midwesterners will repel bullies, we will shelter freaks and outcasts — those who have no homes — [and] we will get past the lies, we will hunt monsters and when we are lost amidst the hypocrisy and casual violence of certain individuals and institutions, we will as per Chief Jim Hopper, punch some people in the face when they seek to destroy the weak, and the disenfranchised and the marginalized and we will do it all with soul, with heart and joy. David Harbour, accepting the SAG acting ensemble award for Stranger Things, 1/29/17, in the midst of outrage over Trumpism

The first season of Netflix’s Stranger Things, a blend of drama/kid-hero/fantasy/sci-fi/horror, is extremely popular and only eight episodes long. In a nutshell, as described by IMDB: “When a young boy disappears, his mother, a police chief, and his friends must confront terrifying forces in order to get him back.”

Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times, on its 1980’s Indiana setting:

‘Dungeons & Dragons,’ earth tones, rotary phones, wood paneling, banana seats, ‘Aliens,’ ‘Star Wars,’ pudding cups, Stephen King, John Carpenter, rugby shirts, all manner of terrible haircuts, John Hughes, the Evil Empire, ‘War Games’ and, above all, the oeuvre of Steven Spielberg — ‘Stranger Things’ creators Ross and Matt Duffer reference and re-reference the cultural touchstones of an American childhood they are too young to have shared with loving, amber-hued abandon.

SPOILERS INVOLVED AHEAD: Sparing you the details of the search for young Will by his single mom (Winona Ryder), his brother, the police chief (Harbour), and Will’s three male friends, suffice it to say that at the core a mute female runaway (Millie Bobby Brown) winds up providing some eerie clues.

“Eleven, named for the number tattooed on her wrist, is obviously terrified. On the run from ‘bad men,’ headed by a stone-faced Matthew Modine in a sinister blue suit and ignorant of basic human relationships, El (as the boys call her) is more alien than ‘E.T.’ ever was, but she reluctantly aids the search for Will” (McNamara). We learn that Modine’s Dr. Brenner works for the evil government and that there’s a major amorphous creature that mysteriously swallows people up whole and is somehow connected to Brenner’s secret experiments.

Daniel Reynolds, The Advocate: “There’s also the matter of what the characters call the ‘Upside Down,’ an alternate dimension where the monster lives. Characters who are outsiders…are dragged there and left to die.”

Many of us who don’t regularly watch this kind of fare nevertheless love Stranger Things. Why?

Reynolds has an intriguing answer. He believes the Upside Down is a metaphor for the gay closet, with the monster being homophobia. “In fact,” he notes, “nearly every episode of the eight-part series contains an antigay slur or an act of bullying aimed at characters who step outside the borders of heteronormativity.”

A second viewpoint about the appeal and meaning of Stranger Things comes from Jacqueline AdamescuHuffington Post, who lauds “its insistence that girls and women are authentic heroes. They are smart, powerful, and damaged, without the necessity of being beautiful or demure.”

Eleven for sure is enthralling. Yet “she’s strange, a more extreme type of reject-weirdo than that of the group of boys she befriends.”

Third reason we love Stranger Things? It relates to the we’re-living-in-a-particularly-scary-world -right-now concept. Vinnie Mancuso, New York Observer:

Isn’t it reassuring to realize that no matter how comfortable OR terrified you are, there are always going to be stranger things? Always have been. Friends to find. Monsters to fight. But there are people–the dedicated mother, the kids who get picked on in high school hallways, the redeemed bully, the town outcast–who will fight with you.
…Stranger Things reminds you of what it’s like to be alive right now.