Stranger Things – Season 1 Review and Analysis: the 80’s – when everyone knew their societal roles.

The 80’s… Where the kids of Generation X came of age.  The forgotten younger kids of the baby boomers.  The product of the 60’s free love and the 70’s hangover.   When the nuclear family and patriarchy were still the dominant societal building blocks remaining from the traditions of the 40’s and 50’s but were badly damaged from the two previous decades.

Ed Harcourt sums it up best in his song born in the 70’s where half way through the song as he melodically sings ‘born in the 70’s’ over and over again and a high refrain of ‘No we don’t really give a F@#$ about you‘ is heard answering him back.

And because no one gave a F@#$ about us and there was not as many creeps around, we rode our bikes everywhere and stayed out all day.   No cell phones. No tablets. Maybe just a few video games

Stranger Things is a nostalgic foray for Generation X and anyone who grew up with the movies of that especially creative decade. From narrative driven thrillers from King (like Firestarter) and epic adventures from Spielberg (like Goonies).  Stranger Things tries to recreate the optimism created by the dead cat bounce after the 70’s and the expectation of the technological 90’s.  Big cars, big hair, big plots – this series does it all but with an interesting twist.

You see the 80’s movies didn’t have the luxury of having the perception of the next 30 years of history to reflect on.  So when they were made, it was cool to be a rebellious mouthy teen  – a way of ‘sticking it to the man’ because there still was a man to stick it to.   Religious traditions were still there to make movies about that ‘shocked’ everyone because people still had religious beliefs.  Now, its 30 years later and postmodernism has infiltrated our culture (kinda like the upside down).  We have seen every horror, sex and violent act with every special effect in 1080p high definition detail.  ‘Everything is permissible and nothing shocks us anymore – let alone 80’s ‘horror’ movies with marginal CGI graphics.

Then why is this series popular?

It is because it captures a time when there were fewer options, but the options that existed – were real (or at least believed to be real).  Conservationism, the gender roles,  the boys chasing the girls, the nuclear family, the pursuit of the white picket fence – that is the twist I am talking about.  It used to be assumed that those things existed and misfits and outsiders struggled with them.  Now, it is assumed those things don’t exist and it is oddly fascinating that there was a time they once did.

Look at Hopper – Aggressive, male, domineering, the ‘Father’ figure of the series, protector, capable, knows how to use a gun, knows how to punch yet is human enough to be devastated by the loss of his daughter.  Where has this character been the last 30 years?

Look at the distinct line between good and evil – the normal peaceful town and the mirror image – upside down.  The upside down is evil (there is no good there).  The upside down is chaos, it is the abyss – it is Milton’s hell.  It is a picture of what the town could be metaphorically.

It reminded me of one of Jordan Peterson’s lectures in which he talks about how someone feels when they are betrayed.  Their whole world which they thought was good has now been ‘turned upside down’.   Even the house they live in becomes like a tomb to them – like the upside down.

In other words, there is a psychological state that matches that upside-down metaphor and resounds subconsciously as an archetype.  In a Christian sense it is the spiritual dimension – the ‘Prince of the Power of the Air’.  Millions feel they are in this dimension.  Some call it mental illness.  Some go in to save a child from an eating disorder.  It is a warped reality.  Reality and goodness can’t be found there.  You only rescue from there.

In a philosophical sense the beast – well the beast is Nietzsche’s beast – Nihilism.

In 2017 we now know that beast well. Quite possibly we are a society in its clutches.  All traditions (religious included) deconstructed,  we now search for a purely existential meaning.    We destroyed belief and in so doing opened the gate to destroy all belief.  Now, the beast of nihilistic depression and anxiety hunts us as a by-product.

But let’s look at what the series writers say the upside down is and where it came from.  For the enlightened 2017 audience you can no longer use demons and supernatural powers (Christian language).  Instead, you go to your science teacher (aka the new pastor), and he gives a very convincing argument called the multiverse, (Endorsed by Bill Nye) that is not scientific at all.  It is science fiction, however,  but it has a weird feeling to it…like it is a metaphor for a spiritual dimension.

“When these scientists talk about the multiverse, that’s actually their way of talking about theology! It’s their way of doing metaphysics without using the G– word!’

There is not one experiment that comes close to proving this of course, and philosophically, it does nothing to solve the beast of nihilism.

A more philosophically reasonable cosmological argument by far is the uncaused cause.

I mean, look at how the gate was opened to this multi-verse.  A ‘scientific’ experiment using  psychokinesis, the gateway drug to spirituality.

Achetypes and Biblical References

The ‘perfect’  Indiana town of Hawkins invaded by demon looking creatures from another dimension. Or…  A peaceful village invaded by ‘demonic’ outsiders.  If you want to read the original version pick up a copy of Dostoevsky’s Demons.

Eleven is the ‘sacrificial lamb’ who in sacrificing herself saves them from the beast.   There always has to be a sacrifice of goodness to defeat evil.

Did you notice the David vs. Goliath theme as Lucas has 5 stones that he attempts to defeat the beast with.  Yet it was El’s supernatural power that ultimately defeats it.

David vs Goliath

I am sure there are tons more and feel free to mention them in the comments.

This series has been a pleasant surprise for me having been born mid 70’s.  The director’s nailed the childhood freedom and feeling of the decade and the smartly inserted philosophical elements did not ‘break the metaphor’.  They learnt well from Steven King   

I just finished binge watching Season 2 and it is interesting to see how the writers developed the characters and maintained the quasi-spiritual themes.  Will write a blog about that next.


5 responses to “Stranger Things – Season 1 Review and Analysis: the 80’s – when everyone knew their societal roles.”

  1. Luke Draeger Avatar

    Best show ever. For so many reasons. To what do you attribute the religious parallels that you cite? Having heard commentary from the writers, I don’t get the feeling the references are intentional.

    1. Nate Weger Avatar

      Thanks bro,
      Maybe I am grasping at straws but do you think the final climatic scene where the boys are trapped in the classroom by the demo-dog and one of them happens to have a slingshot (after a hundred M16’s couldn’t dent it) and the camera pans down to exactly 5 stones doesn’t seems a lot like David and Goliath?
      5 Stones?

      Maybe the writers did it subconsciously, or maybe it isn’t cool to say you use parts of Bible stories. Or, like I said above I’m just grasping at straws.

  2. Andy Avatar

    Hey Nate,
    I just finished season one. After reading your blog I felt quite inspired.
    I’m pretty sure that the sling shot is a David reference.
    I feel overall though that the series lends metaphors from many different mythological sources including the game ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ of course.
    There’s very definitely a connection to ‘Pandora’s Box’ also and other classic Greek mythology references.
    For me the upside down is a psychological reference to all that we repress.
    A bit like Frued’s perspective of ‘sublimation’ and Jung’s ‘shadow’.
    On the surface of things it’s a quiet safe little town, but as we dig around we see it’s full of recognizable bad behavior, from bullying and peer group pressure and then onto corruption at the highest level.
    Papa who poses as a Government official – some kind of twisted father figure who psychologically abuses young people by manipulating their trust and loyalty is very much leading the whole gateway to the upside down push.
    It seems to me a statement about the patriarchy that is still doing its utmost today to lead us to hell.
    There is certainly a binary aspect of good vs evil, but this is not the bible’s alone.
    There are many examples throughout history in literature, art etc – ‘Star Wars’ the obvious one that comes to mind. All the religions and many leaders of the war machine like this fixed concept to get the troops marching.
    The cop character is flawed. He has all kinds of bad habits, from smoking and drinking to sleeping around, but essentially we see him as a good guy even after he tells the bad people where to find eleven.
    The Mum would almost be considered schizophrenic, hearing voices, speaking to lights etc, but the story offers some kind of deeper sense of a whole experience.
    It’s these kinds of aspects which make me think the writers have very much approached it from a psychological perspective.
    Even the grief of the cop who lost his daughter.
    The grief of the Mum and brother toward the husband and father who abandoned them.
    Overall I loved the first series.
    I loved all the references to ET, Stand by Me, The Goonies etc and of course the music. A stand out for me was Peter Gabriel’s stunning version of Bowie’s ‘Heroes’.
    The series has a few holes in its logic but like many stories I felt happy to overlook them in order to enjoy the journey.
    For me Post modernism works as a way of critiquing or breaking down texts and has its place- I seem to be comfortable enough within it’s flexible framework to still exist untroubled whilst holding a clear compass directing me toward good deeds.
    Globalization makes the whole thing a great deal more complex of course. What maybe good for me as an Australian may not be as good for someone living in another nation.
    War is a terribly confusing state of human activity.
    Maybe if there’s ever an alien invasion or global catastrophe we might all come together as one species and unite for our common good- who knows ? And will that be a common good for all species on earth or simply the humans?
    And will that mean a world Government?
    I know many people are concerned about that direction also.
    We live in strange times no doubt, but the 20th century was one of the most brutal also.
    The first and second world wars saw unimaginable horror, pain and suffering.
    Humans have done well really considering how destructive we have been as a whole.
    We’re lucky in a way to still be here at all.
    I know many are waiting for the rapture or a second coming.
    I’m not.
    I think we are here now, sense making machines that we are – longing for meaning and purpose.
    I think kindness to others and other species is purpose and meaning enough.
    Of course we must be strong in standing up to evil doers, and by evil doers I simply mean those who seek to harm.
    Eleven seemed to feel responsible for opening the gate.
    Perhaps the monster was her shadow. Something or some part of herself she felt she had to face for the benefit of the greater good.
    I think when any of us sit with our fears and confront our own personal darkness we can also help our communities.
    Reformed alcoholics and drug addicts would know this kind of psychological redemption well.
    Of course some more narcistic types like papa seem less likely to face their own inner evil at all. May our laws bring them to justice.
    Oh and while I think of it, Eleven Had her Narcisus moment when looking at her reflection in the lake.
    As I mentioned early many Greek Mytholgy references also.
    I think all great poetry and story telling borrows from the classics and from the Bible and other sacred texts – it simply signals education to me.
    Thanks again for your inspiring blog and point of view.
    I find your writing very thought provoking.
    Please keep it up. 🙂

    1. Nate Weger Avatar

      As always thanks for your depth of commentary.

      A couple of observations on your comments.

      “Eleven seemed to feel responsible for opening the gate.”

      Now that I think about it this was an Eve moment and first sin analogy. It reminded me of the description Milton gave of how Satan created sin in his head and his ‘head flew open in flames’.

      Read the excerpt below and let me know if you think this influenced the writers of Stranger Things. Also, Milton doesn’t mess around.

      I included the original and the plain English of each line. My resource is here which I highly recommend for anyone wanting to get into Paradise Lost.

      II-749. In Heav’n, when at th’ Assembly, and in sight / Of all the Seraphim with thee combin’d / In bold conspiracy against Heav’ns King, / All on a sudden miserable pain / Surprisd thee, dim thine eyes, and dizzie swumm / In darkness, while thy head flames thick and fast / Threw forth, till on the left side op’ning wide, / Likest to thee in shape and count’nance bright,
      II-749. When you first planned your rebellion in Heaven with all your followers, you suddenly felt intense pain and your head flew open in flames.

      II-757. Then shining Heav’nly fair, a Goddess arm’d / Out of thy head I sprung;
      II-757. I came out of the left side of your head. I was like a goddess, as beautiful as you were.

      II-758. amazement seis’d / All th’ Host of Heav’n back they recoild affraid / At first, and call’d me Sin, and for a Sign / Portentous held me;
      II-758. It shocked everybody. They called me ‘Sin’ and were afraid at first.

      II-761. but familiar grown, / I pleas’d, and with attractive graces won / The most averse, thee chiefly, who full oft / Thy self in me thy perfect image viewing / Becam’st enamour’d,
      II-761. But I was beautiful and they all began to like me, especially you. You loved me. II-765. and such joy thou took’st / With me in secret, that my womb conceiv’d A growing burden. II-765. We had sex and I got pregnant.

      II-767. Mean while Warr arose, / And fields were fought in Heav’n; wherein remaind / (For what could else) to our Almighty Foe / Cleer Victory, to our part loss and rout / Through all the Empyrean:
      II-767. Meanwhile war broke out and, naturally, you lost.

      II-771. down they fell / Driv’n headlong from the Pitch of Heaven, down / Into this Deep, and in the general fall / I also;
      II-771. I fell into this pit with the rest of you.

      II-774. at which time this powerful Key / Into my hand was giv’n, with charge to keep / These Gates for ever shut, which none can pass / Without my op’ning.
      II-774. They gave me this key and told me I had to keep these gates shut forever.

      II-778. Pensive here I sat / Alone, but long I sat not, till my womb / Pregnant by thee, and now excessive grown / Prodigious motion felt and rueful throes. / At last this odious offspring whom thou seest
      II-778. Before long I went into labor and gave birth to this repulsive offspring you see.

      II-782. Thine own begotten, breaking violent way / Tore through my entrails, that with fear and pain
      II-782. It was a violent delivery. He tore up my intestines coming out.

      II-784. Distorted, all my nether shape thus grew / Transform’d:
      II-784. That’s how I got this snake’s shape below.

      II-785. but he my inbred enemie / Forth issu’d, brandishing his fatal Dart / Made to destroy:
      II-785. He came out waving his dart and scared the hell out of me.

      II-787. I fled, and cry’d out Death; / Hell trembl’d at the hideous Name, and sigh’d / From all her Caves, and back resounded Death.
      II-787. I screamed ‘Death’ and Hell echoed the word from all the caves.

      II-790. I fled, but he pursu’d (though more, it seems, / Inflam’d with lust then rage) and swifter far, / Mee overtook his mother all dismaid, / And in embraces forcible and foule / Ingendring with me,
      II-790. I ran and he chased me. He was too fast for me. He caught me and raped me.

      II-794. of that rape begot / These yelling Monsters that with ceasless cry / Surround me,
      II-794. From that rape came more offspring—these monstrous dogs that surround me.

      II-796. as thou sawst, hourly conceiv’d / And hourly born, with sorrow infinite / To me, for when they list into the womb / That bred them they return, and howle and gnaw / My Bowels, thir repast; then bursting forth / A fresh with conscious terrours vex me round, / That rest or intermission none I find.
      II-796. They never leave. They go back inside me whenever they want and howl and chew my insides. Then I give birth to them again and again.

      So, then your other statement makes sense to me.

      “It seems to me a statement about the patriarchy that is still doing its utmost today to lead us to hell.”

      It works because they didn’t break the metaphor. Satan was the one who led Eve to sin just like Papa led Eleven to sin. Interesting that Eleven has her narcissist moment as well seeing as Satan used Eve’s pride to trick her (Milton does a good work of that scene too)

      From Eve’s sin Adam followed and sin entered our world – just like Eleven (which now that I think about it sounds a lot like Eve!)

  3. […] for all of you who read the Season 1 Review and Analysis and provided input.  The discussion helped me realize something about the underlying metaphor or […]

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