In Defense Of Pt. 1: Stranger Things
Updated: May 15, 2022
Nowadays, it seems like everyone has an intrinsic obsession, guilty pleasure, or infatuation. Whether it’s a celebrity crush, fondness for an unlikely food combination, or quirky mannerisms, these unique addictions come in all shapes and sizes, and some of us like to embrace them more than others. In a small, tight-knit community such as Parker, these obsessions are often difficult to hide from the broader school community, and in most cases, students embrace their obsessions as defining aspects of their character and traits. I, for one, find myself among the students whose fixations have been revealed to the Parker School student body.
I’m obsessed with the revolutionary Netflix series, Stranger Things.
If you’ve lived under a rock for the past six years or need a quick reminder, here’s the plot in a nutshell.
First set in November 1983, the town of Hawkins, Indiana is turned upside down when the Hawkins National Laboratory—disguised as a United States Department of Energy research facility—inadvertently creates a portal to an alternate dimension—nicknamed the “Upside Down”—from conducting supernatural experiments on human test subjects. When local middle-schooler Will Byers is abducted by a creature from the Upside Down, his mother, Joyce, and the county police chief, Hopper, search the town for clues alluding to his disappearance. Meanwhile, a young psychokinetic girl named Eleven escapes from the laboratory and aids Will’s friends, Mike, Dustin, and Lucas, to find Will. The search parties’ efforts are successful as Will is rescued from the Upside Down by the end of the first season.
In October 1984, Will begins to experience paranormal episodes, as if he is still being influenced by the mysterious creatures of the Upside Down. In their attempts to save Will from the influences of the alternate dimension, his friends and family learn that there is a greater looming threat to Hawkins from the Upside Down. During this, Eleven journeys throughout the Midwest to learn about her forlorn past and how to harness her supernatural powers.
Most recently, in July 1985, Hawkins is full of excitement leading up to the highly-anticipated Fourth of July celebrations. Fascinated by the brand-new Starcourt Mall, the town fails to recognize the growing Soviet presence in Hawkins, marked by a secret laboratory aiming to open a gateway to the Upside Down. When their efforts are successful, the Soviets unknowingly unleash the creatures of the Upside Down into the real world, creating a threat to Hawkins and beyond that is larger than anything Will and his friends have seen before.
It’s rare for a piece of pop culture to redefine an entire generation’s way of thinking, and yet, Stranger Things does just that. With its complex, multi-faceted storytelling; award-winning cast, visual effects, and score; and countless 1980s memorabilia and culture references, Stranger Things is an aesthetically-pleasing masterpiece and emotional rollercoaster for viewers of all ages.
If you know me personally, you may be aware of my fondness for collecting items that I’ve attached great value to through that item’s significance at one point in my life. Some of these items are ordinary—such as a bandana from Parker’s campout— while others are more extraordinary—such as a handwritten note from a friend. When I look at these items, the memory of that time in my life, the people who I was with, and the person who I was lives on in my head.
This habit has fostered my love for nostalgia and icons, and Stranger Things satisfies these two elements in a way that no other television show has. Take, for example, the prominence of Eggo waffles in Stranger Things. As Eleven’s favorite snack, this classic breakfast staple has become a defining icon of the series. For me, I now associate Eggo waffles with the supernatural renegade that is Eleven. Another example is with 7-11 Slurpees, which I now associate with the death of the charming Russian whistleblower, Alexi (while describing this part of the plot is too intricate for the sake of this article, I’d highly recommend watching or rewatching the series if you have no idea of what I’m talking about). Stranger Things takes ordinary objects and transforms them into defining plot points in a way that invites viewers to associate these products with the show, even outside of watching.
Aside from the appealing product placement, Stranger Things is chock-full of nostalgic references, which only makes me more jealous that I wasn’t a teenager in the 80s. From The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” to The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” and walkie-talkies to Dungeons and Dragons, relics, artifacts, and beloved music occupy much of the screen time during the show. Even beyond items and music, Stranger Things deliberately employs camera techniques to create visual shots that reference a plethora of 80s movies and television shows including Jaws, Jurassic Park, E. T., The Shining, and Alien, just to name a few. The numerous Easter Eggs and nostalgia of a time when life was much simpler is one of the many reasons why I stay engaged with the show.
Like all television shows and movies, the actors make or break the show’s success. In the case of Stranger Things, creators Ross and Matt Duffer took a huge gamble by casting most of the show’s roles to actors who had little experience on the big screen, but the perfect combination of few revered actors with a majority of new actors enhanced the quality of the performance as a whole. For many, seeing actors such as Winona Ryder, Sean Astin, and Matthew Modine portray adults evoked a sense of surprise, since these characters are best known for their roles in films such as Beetlejuice, The Goonies, and And the Band Played On when they were younger. Moreover, the young hearty cast—lead by Millie Bobby Brown, Noah Schnapp, and Finn Wolfhard—first started in season one between the ages of 12 and 14, but with this, they brought a refreshing, genuine naiveness to their roles while successfully portraying innocent preteens.
I was 12 years old when Stranger Things first premiered, and with this, I was fascinated by watching kids my age act and receive international recognition for the show’s success. During this time, I found the performance of the show’s actors captivating and inspirational. Through the years, growing alongside the actors and witnessing their success in other industries such as movies, fashion, and music has further developed my admiration for them. Until that point in my life, I never had found a show or movie where I had resonated with the cast on that deep of a connection, and I haven’t found any show or movie to that same caliber since.
Finally, the intricate, multi-level plot of Stranger Things is one of my most favorite aspects of the show. From a thematic perspective, Stranger Things combines the four best themes of culture—science fiction, adventure, horror, and drama—fulfilling a wide range of expectations from viewers. From a television critic’s perspective, every season’s plot is engaging and aesthetically pleasing because the chronology of the story is developed in the same format as the other seasons of the show, yet starkly different from other shows or movies.
Here’s what I mean by that: every season of Stranger Things has an underlying narrative, typically summarized in a sentence or so. For season three, the narrative was “One Summer Can Change Everything,” comparatively, the season four narrative is “Every Ending Has a Beginning.” Every season consists of two, three, or four independent storylines, each with its own combination of characters, setting, and sequence of events, all under the season’s narrative.
For season three, the distinct storylines included the Soviet storyline and the Mind Flayer storyline. For season four, it appears that there will be four distinct storylines based on setting—Hawkins National Laboratory, Russia, the Creel House, and California. The multi-storyline complexity of each season is essential to the success of Stranger Things because viewers follow separate paths throughout the season, which all combine leading up to the finale.
The third season illustrates this principle perfectly, as all the storylines lead to the characters reconvening towards the end of the season at Starcourt Mall, which ultimately made the finale more dramatic and engaging. By synthesizing the different plot points into one gargantuan finale, I find the development of the series to be building upon the feeling of anticipation towards an impending resolution to the conflict at hand, which I believe is the best type of storytelling for a show that encompasses such broad themes. This cinematic formula is what truly defines the niche beauty of the plot of Stranger Things, and this storytelling is what drives viewers to binge this show after years and years of waiting for the next season.
My obsession with Stranger Things is much deeper than the surface of the series itself. After analyzing numerous elements of the show, I’ve found tremendous beauty in the aesthetics and craftsmanship that goes into creating an international blockbuster and I’ve learned to appreciate the individuals that are responsible for the show both on and off the screen. Now that I’ve presented my intrinsic obsession, I ask you, what is your obsession, and if given the opportunity, would you be able to defend it?
Every ending has a beginning. Vol. 1 is coming May 27. Vol 2 is coming July 1.