Stranger Things’ 1980s nostalgia is long past its sell-by date

INo need to talk about the nostalgic appeal stranger things. For a show that deals with all sorts of supernatural events — telekinetic teenagers, alternate dimensions, demonic possession — it’s primarily a 1980s show. Or rather, it’s a series about how we all imagine the 1980s to be. Netflix sci-fi fans have drawn the obvious comparisons to old Stephen King stories, the films of John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg. The latest season borrows heavily from the 1984 horror classic A nightmare on Elm Street. but stranger things has always lacked the depth of his ancestors as well as a well-rounded interest in the realities of the time period. It is, as the children say, “no thoughts, just vibrations”.

The series, which returned Friday for the first “volume” of its fourth season, is one of many recent films and television shows that have explored this specific reserve of nostalgia. Without leaving Netflix you have projects like Russian doll, glow and black mirroron the much-discussed episode “San Junipero”; somewhere else The Americanto The two to super 8 took viewers back to the 1980s. The teenage protagonists of the 2017 King adaptation It seemed to breathe the same air as them stranger things children – if It weren’t deep in development, though stranger things First debuted, you’d swear to God a studio executive must have turned on Netflix one night and said, “I want that.”

The appeal of the 1980s should be pretty obvious. It draws not only from a nostalgia for the past, but from a lived past. A lot of stranger things‘ Core of the audience would have grown up in the 1980s or otherwise experienced it. Even if you weren’t born then, you probably grew up in the afterglow of the era—the movies, the music, the fashion. (Another contributing factor to the attractiveness of the 1980s: it was the last decade in history before the popularization of the internet and cell phones.)

Of course, cinema and television have always indulged in a fascination for past decades. In the 1970s and 1980s you had big hits like Back to the Future or Happy Days drawing on exactly the same sense of lived nostalgia. To his honor stranger things‘ Approaching the 1980s mostly avoids lapsing into overt sentimentality about the glory days. As with much supernatural fiction of the 1980s, the show actually uses its horror premise to explore the unseen evils beneath the surface of American suburban life. The problem arises when we ask why exactly creators Matt and Ross Duffer decided to run the show during this time period. What better reason than simple convenience? A handy plot device? What does it actually want to say about the era?

The best TV historical dramas of recent years – mad Men; The two; Stop and catch fire – 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 “mood,” but an obscenely complex matrix of socioeconomic movements, interpersonal histories, and conflicting ideologies. if you watch stranger thingsor It, the 80’s aesthetic just feels like a fad. if you watch The two – or, to give a British example, the brilliant Shane Meadows This is England ’86 and ’88 – it could hardly feel more real.

Of course, I’m not the first person to politely suggest that stranger things is more style than substance. Back in 2017, The Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin described the series as “pampering and empty — the TV equivalent of the social media accounts posting things like ‘Retweet if you enjoy watching air wolf‘.” But it’s a point worth repeating, especially as we seem to be on the cusp of a new wave of throwback series set in the roaring ’90s. The decade long considered too garish and considered offensive, to romanticize it, has served as window dressing for a number of recent projects targeting aging young millennials. Yellow jacketsNetflix Street of Fear: 1994, That ’90s show, Pam & Tommy and Young Sheldon. The nostalgia boom will not end there stranger things.

The past is, as the saying goes, a foreign land – and who doesn’t love a vacation abroad? stranger things was undeniably useful in articulating our collective nostalgia for a not-so-distant past, for a way of life already alien to us. But after four seasons, his reduced vision of the 1980s remains little more than a backdrop. Stranger Things’ 1980s nostalgia is long past its sell-by date


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