Cleaning out the attic, postwise. –w.
Stranger Things is stupidly ‘criticized’ as a poorly written nostalgia trip for 80s kids. Ignore such bleating.
Stranger Things isn’t about the 80s, it’s about children being violated and traumatized and adults trying and failing to understand, accommodate, and protect those kids — which is to say its about a nightmare specific to that time, which nostalgically animates culture even today. Instead of rendering the 80s as history, the show depicts a specific population’s anxieties & where they found comfort (distraction, false hope, &c.). Its central anxiety: children victimized out of their parents’ sight.
Though nostalgia for the hands-off parenting era is the show’s hook — the ‘attractive fantasy’ in a sense — the audience is constantly reminded that the cost of such ‘freedom’ is/was unassimilable trauma, which the era’s parents were ill-equipped to understand for their own reasons, not solely generational. Of course this line isn’t original to Stranger Things; it’s the latent content of so many stories of the era the show specifically evokes, Stephen King’s not solely. But its horrific depictions of violation from Outside go beyond the metaphors which inspired it.
The show owes a big debt to Stand By Me, a gentler version of It whose framing narrative wraps every event of its story in an implicit ‘We didn’t know…’ What the Stranger Things kids don’t know, which the Duffer brothers foolishly expect the audience to understand, is that Will, Eleven, and the rest of the cast are forming nostalgic attachments to the things — the times — that are killing them.
The violation and possession of Will Byers and Eleven, and of Billy the lifeguard in the third season, are rendered with unsettling and humane attention to the kidss’ suffering, and to the limited ways their loved/loving ones are able and willing to help. It’s a show about boys’ friendships being torn apart by horror, rendered as if it were a show about girls’ friendships being tested by mundane drama.
The Duffer brothers know what they’re about: Season 3’s ‘Can’t we just play D&D now?’ refrain is both arch metacommentary on fannish desire and a crushing depiction of a kidnap/rape victim seeking solace in…childhood games. Which is a second level of metacommentary, if you like. In Season 3 the Duffers make the inability to move past (traumatic, nostalgic) fantasy the show’s tragicomic focus; they hold on to Season 1’s pleasures and terrors anti-nostalgically, to complicate, deepen, darken them.
Which is in part to say that Stranger Things Season Three owes a lot to The Sopranos Season Six. This is a good thing.