“Stranger Things” is for Idiots Who Can’t Explain Why They Love the 80’s

Confession time -you can’t watch “Stranger Things” on cable. Nope. Those looking for the 80’s era throwback will require a Netflix subscription. So why is CATV covering it? Because it makes no sense that “Stranger Things” is on Netflix. Yet…it makes all the sense of the world. We’re looking at you, cable broadcasters!

Cable is risk averse. We’ve already covered that a lot. Doesn’t matter if it’s swords and castles or ethnocentric caricatures or all three. Whatever the setting, count on conformity from the likes of FX and co. Such is the necessity of attracting airtime from commercials. Abstractions, selective information, and populist schemas that celebrate jocular irreverence are great for selling any product!  

Netflix, however, only answers to its subscribers. They create shows that actually take risks. Sometimes this is the limits of our disbelief -just look at the likes of “House of Cards.” Other times, it’s the limits of our sanity. “Bojack Horseman,” anyone?

None, though, compare to “Stranger Things.” This show is fantastic as it is exploitative. It’s everything a late 20 to 30-something could hope for. ET. Poltergeist. The Clash. Even the intro focuses on the “S” and “Ing,” which in turn is an obvious play-on-words for “Stephen King.” Damn and half a jar of Jesus, does that title ring!

The content itself does not disappoint. Much like 80’s era pop fiction, we do not care about the characters… but we want to know what happens to them. Victims in the show, meanwhile, are easily forgotten. Not because they’re flat or because of the show’s immediacy. Instead, “Stranger Things” uses culture to inform craft.  In truth, anyone familiar with 80’s era fiction and entertainment are already familiar with the tropes. 

Best of all? The threat is myopic. An individual menace haunting a small town in the middle of Bumfuck Middle America. The allegory towards taxpayer’s culpability for the weird shit during the Cold War is obvious. So, too, is the question of mass media and its growing influence on everywhere.

Stranger Things

Proverbially speaking, our main victim steps into a bad trip that, according to populist neoliberal notions, only a pragmatist male figure and his mom can pull him out from. The final scene to the series showcases how no matter if someone is saved, they are affected all the same…and ready to spread an inter-dimensional organism. Is it an allegory for the growing cynicism and consumer outlets that gained sway in the post-Vientnam era? Maybe. That’s part of what makes the show interesting.  

Cultural merit aside, there are some things to gripe about. First and foremost is the age group of our focal protagonists. The 80’s was a more innocent time yet its adolescents were more mature. “Stranger Things” showcases that in so many ways that its absurd.  

But the air time our twelve-year old protagonists receive is perturbing. Not because it’s bad unto itself, mind you. Only because the target audience is much older. It’s probably not an oversight. The main effects “Stranger Things” is probably looking for are cute factor and nostalgic catharsis. There’s also no sexualized components in interactions between the adolescents and their adult figures. So yes, “Stranger Things” is a far cry from Larry Clark or Roman Polanski wackiness…but it’s still enough to raise eyebrows. After all, this is a show pandering to adults that features kids. 

But, thankfully, there is little to no sexual focus on their trials and tribulations. “Stranger Things,” instead, is leveraging the 80’s forever-cult status thanks to the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. These are the goofy haircuts and histrionics of the post-disco generation. These are the hijinks and confusion of their kids…and these kids are now Netflix subscribers.

Wrapped in its nostalgic shell is such a sense of governmental betrayal and hopelessness that it hurts. Perhaps that is the one defining factor of 80’s era pop fiction, its legacy, that lives on -never trust the establishment and always fight back. “Stranger Things” might not have it right. But when did the 80’s? It’ll be interesting to see if cable jumps on the nostalgic bandwagon of this (unsurprising) smash hit.

John Lion: John is a freelance writer with a passion for everything TV. A fan of thrillers and suspense, he also enjoys screwball comedies like Louie and Venture Bros. John has a particular fascination with TV's impact on public awareness and concerns. Email him at johnloeblion@gmail.com.