Series more bizarre than all others. "Stranger Things"

Modern youth, of course, does not have the experience of growing up in the 80s. They form their opinion about that time based on a persuasive creation that has little to do with reality.

If your teenage kids are staying up all night, flushed on their faces and watching a series, it means that the new season of "Stranger Things" directed by Ross and Matt Duffer is here. You will probably ask: what is it? Well, briefly speaking, we are dealing with a pop culture phenomenon with quite considerable artistic ambitions, which was packaged into a cleverly conceived business project, bringing millions (if not billions) in profits.

Less than two weeks after the premiere of the most recent work by the Duffer brothers, the viewers have already spent over ... 335 million hours watching it. So what is so special about this four-season series?

Association, or I’ve seen it somewhere

“Stranger Things" is a patchwork made of the most colorful pieces of American pop culture of the 1980s. This includes primarily adventure cinema for children, enriched with fantastic or fantasy elements. It is worth mentioning here movies such as "Goonies" (1985) and "E.T." (1982). The directors also added elements of horror to the mix (inspired by films such as "Alien", 1979, "A Nightmare on Elm Street", 1985, "It", 1990, "Carrie", 1976) and - especially in subsequent seasons when the main characters are growing up - the series also displays similarities with “Beverly Hills 90210".

Maybe the only thing that is original in this series is the consistent and purposeful lack of originality? Maybe the creators are just talented artisans who, feeding on the still fresh pop culture myths, were able to hypnotize at least two generations of viewers? Maybe. But even if we ignore the sentimental reaction (an obvious one for 40+ people), we will easily notice that this series can be used as an excellent catalyst to set accounts with the times in which we grew up (with their pros and cons). Hence it can also evoke emotions that accompany reminiscing, for instance about school groups and playing in the backyard, things that in the past, in the 80s, were a daily occurrence.

Yes, even if our lives differed from the Western way of living - eventually, its influence reached us as well. In addition, perhaps inadvertently, the makers of the film sell us quite an interesting story about the nature of personal evil (obviously woven from the threads of "The Exorcist", "Twin Peaks", "Lord of the Rings" and "Alien"). As a result, we may be surprised to find that we are watching one of the most interesting television productions of recent years. So what if unoriginal?

Music for the masses

For Netflix, "Stranger Things" is like a hen that lays golden eggs. Indeed, the series is captivating and well-made. It is intriguing not only for purely cinematic reasons (idea, production, dramaturgy, roles) but also because of its enormous commercial potential, stemming from its perfect “timing”. The mythology associated with the eighth decade of the twentieth century is skillfully dosed in the series, strengthening the hype among the kids who know those times from the stories of their parents; 40-year olds, on the other hand, long for the bygone days.

This sentiment around the film translates into gadgets with the "Eighties" trademark: - T-shirts, caps, mugs, etc.
Krakow's Wawel Castle was illuminated with the colors of "Stranger Things" on May 26, 2022. Promotion of the new season of the series. Photo: Vito Corleone / Zuma Press / Forum
The skillful selection of music used in the series helps to achieve the desired effect. Even Dixon & Stein's original soundtracks are deeply immersed in the 80's mood and reference the works of contemporary retro-aesthetics led by Steve Moore and the Italians Do It Better label. Full-scale use of the retromania is only visible in the selection of songs from the era. The Clash’s "Should I Stay or Should I Go" brought the band back to life, not to mention Kate Bush’s second wave of popularity caused by the song "Running Up That Hill" featured in the last season of the series.

Apart from the aforementioned pieces, the viewer receives a compilation of more or less commercially-successful songs from the 1980s. Yes, the way they are included in the plot creates a new quality, but the very fact of using "certs" from the past to increase viewership seems perverse. By the way, it's interesting that the alternative (Joy Division, Fad Gadget, Echo & The Bunnymen, Devo) is intertwined with the commercial here (i.e. Cindy Lauper, Scorpions, Dead Or Alive, Falco, Bon Jovi, Olivia Newton-John) and the different worlds do not clash with each other. For all those who remember the youth subcultures (no matter - participants or observers) it may be, to put it mildly, strange.

But this is precisely how today's 18-20-year-olds imagine that period- without conflicts between the fans of pop, cold-wave, or metal, which were, in fact, a daily occurrence 30 years ago. They put it in one bag where it all jumbles together. We smile under our breaths, but the young people buy a calculated product and treat it with seriousness and pious reverence.

The selling of an idea

In terms of ideological background, the authors of the series went the most off the rails in the third season. Imagine such a construction: carry out obvious product placements of giant corporations by placing the action in a shopping center (!), which is to be a habitat of all metaphysical evil. Still, how it was shown made it seem cooler (more human, more colorful) than 30 -40 years back. In other words: to be "radically" against capitalism, in line with current trends, but then also, to support it. Nice, right?

Or another example: show the growing up of child protagonists, and at the same time, let them ... remain children. Plus: don't tire the audience with the mashup convention, which has been consistently used since the first season, entertaining, touching, scaring, and disgusting in the right proportions.

There are many more such paradoxes in the series. Here, the 1980s are colorful and very attractive; the politics is happening somewhere in the background, with only glimpses of it reaching the audience. Interestingly, one strictly "political" theme is the introduction of the Soviet services in the third and fourth seasons, and partially moving the plot to the USSR. I will not get into details, so as not to "spoil". Suffice it to say, that it aligns perfectly with the Reagan-like views dominating American cinema of the eighth decade of the past century: Soviet communism is the embodiment of demonic evil, comparable to hell inhabited by monsters - Demogorgons and Vecna.

A separate issue is Netflix's optics policy, which includes the promotion of diversity, openness to LGBT rights, and various kinds of "otherness". This is visible, of course, although, in fairness, not overshadowing, and rationed out in tactful moderation. It is a fact, however, that "Stranger Things" is another significant phenomenon of pop culture in the 21st century, aimed mainly at the young people, to educate them in tolerance and acceptance in a liberal and left-wing spirit.

Tamara de Lempicka: the journey of the bird of paradise

The artist was too defiantly bourgeois to attract the attention of cultural decision-makers in Poland’s People's Republic.

see more
It all is being spiced up by the fact that contemporary youth who did not experience growing up in the 1980s, forms an opinion about that time based on a persuasive creation, which, after all, has little to do with reality.

Sit down with the kids

"Stranger Things" is indeed an extremely interesting phenomenon. As a successful business product, it paves the way for imitators and artists open to inspiration. It is already happening, as exemplified by the first season of the German series "Dark", where at least a few elements reveal the creator’s fascination with the work of the Duffer brothers.

Mass cult among teenagers contributes to the creation of fashions, as well as deliberate changes on the hit song charts, (oh wait !), in the playlists of streaming platforms. Today, fans of Kate Bush’s ambitious pop music are happy, and tomorrow, the song which will be made popular by the series could be, for example, something by an early Kylie Minogue.

After all, it's not about the quality of the music, but about the role, it plays in the film and how it evokes emotional responses. It all forms a structure assembled using various "stories" of mass culture, which have been used in a new way. This, as a whole, gives an impression of a post-postmodern puzzle - new from the old, old as a novelty for young people, retro-futurism, return to the future, and time-manipulations. You will find all this in the ST. You just have to sit in front of your tablets or laptops together with your kids. Watch attentively and then talk to them.

– Marek Horodniczy

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by S.J.
Main photo: The series "Stranger Things", season 2. Phot. NETFLIX / Planet / Forum
See more
Culture wydanie 22.12.2023 – 29.12.2023
„I gave my most important recitals in insurgent Warsaw”
He sang to the accompaniment of bombs and said he wouldn’t change them for the world's most prestigious scenes.
Culture wydanie 15.12.2023 – 22.12.2023
Scandalising and delightful
Seductive women played the role of saints, and saints resembled ancient sages.
Culture wydanie 8.12.2023 – 15.12.2023
Infuriated by horizontal wall pattern
Had the walls of Zachęta been empty, it would have been much better for this project.
Culture wydanie 24.11.2023 – 1.12.2023
Big little man
He contributed to the spreading of nationalist ideas in Germany and Italy.
Culture wydanie 10.11.2023 – 17.11.2023
Watch on king’s hand or mistakes in films
In the film “Katyń” a fragment of a yellow “M” letter can be seen against the red background of McDonald’s.