(Note: This column does not contain spoilers, since my editor, who hasn’t seen the show yet, removed them all…and is never speaking to me again.)
Much like its characters, the Netflix original series “Stranger Things,” which just got renewed for a second season, appears to have opened a gate to something very different and yet oh-so-familiar.
By this, I mean two things. First, a strategically vague tagline to avoid backlash about spoilers, “Danny, I can’t believe you ruined the last episode – now I know they couldn’t bring Winona Ryder’s career back to life.” And secondly, that this new, sci-fi thriller tugged at my heartstrings with its now-trademark incorporation of ‘80s nostalgia.
This eight-episode saga, created by the Duffer Brothers (aka “Duff and Dufferer”), centers on four kids in a small, Indiana town trying to save their friend from a monster, and it is brimming with tributes to “E.T.,” “The Goonies” and even some “Pretty in Pink.” Like these films, it gives viewers the satisfaction of watching a 1980s-set adventure through the eyes of geeky yet rebellious children. The three young boys play “Dungeons and Dragons,” refer to telekinetic fan-favorite, Eleven, as Yoda and one of them even has a poster of John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982) in his basement. Frankly, it’s awesome.
But, since I was born in 1995, why am I nostalgic about a show set 12 years before I was born? Shouldn’t I be watching, like, Hanson videos or something? I mean, I definitely should be, but the real answer is that this series is the culmination of a 40-year media revolution.
From VHS to DVD to
illegally streaming movies on school Wi-Fi crossing the street to illegally stream movies on Starbucks’ Wi-Fi, our capability to access any movie or television show has never been better. I can go to bed watching “Breaking Bad,” wake up the next day to turn on “Citizen Kane” and then immediately fall back asleep.
Point being, we have never had more avenues to enjoy classic visual storytelling before, and “Stranger Things” is taking advantage of that by showing how connected the last few generations really are.
For us Millennials, we grew up watching “E.T.” and “The Goonies” on VHS, just as the kids before us saw it in theatres. Culturally, this is uncharted territory (technically, “Super 8” tried this in 2011, but Steven Spielberg produced it – and you can’t really pay homage to yourself unless you’re Donald Trump, Kanye West or their combined 2020 presidential ticket).
Sure, VHS was around in the early ‘80s during the Beta vs. VCR wars, but it wasn’t as ubiquitous as it would eventually become. Nowadays, childhoods are being influenced by similar films – but decades apart. It’s no coincidence that “High School Musical” and “Glee” were able to dominate pop culture for demographics that grew up watching “Grease” in different formats, even 30 years after its release. Or, at least, I did, because I pretended my name was Danny New-ko…and then proceeded being single.
Therefore, a new template has been served up to rule the internet realm – one that can bring multiple age groups together through revitalized pop culture and adventurous monster-hunting. And now, with Hulu, Amazon and even Spotify (e.g., the “Guardians of the Galaxy” soundtrack), new shows can continue to tap into cherished memories with references even a half-century old.
Frankly, this is a fresh strategy that just won’t crack…until, of course, it hits puberty.
Danny New is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. The Maturity Column runs alternate Thursdays.