Monday, 22 August 2016

Stranger Things: a dream inside a nightmare

YES it's set in the 1980s and whether or not the 1980s counts as 'vintage' is a debate that will run and run till people start talking about the noughties as vintage*, but I'm going to talk about this 1980s-set horror series anyhow. In case you haven't come across it, Stranger Things is on Netflix, and the cast includes Winona Ryder (one of my all-time girlcrushes along with Helena Bonham Carter) as the mother of a young boy who goes missing.


I absolutely loved Stranger Things. I've always said if you start getting nostalgic for your own life, you're in big trouble, but so much of it did ring so many bells. It borrows shamelessly from films and stories of the decade, making people old enough to remember them feel the way they did so many years ago. ET, Nightmare on Elm Street, Stand By Me... so many things came back to me while watching this. It made it very hard to assess the series, because I couldn't detach it from all the things it was reminding me of.

It was interesting talking about the programme with my friend Matt, as he's not actually old enough to remember that part of the 1980s. He felt it was perfect. I feel it's too perfect – not that I didn't love it, but in its perfection, it isn't real. It's like an HDR photo of the era, every detail sharp and brought out. From the music to the film echoes to the game of D&D the kids play, Stranger Things is made up of things that have survived from the 1980s to today, the things we all think of. Even nerdy Barb is the picture-perfect nerdy girl, somehow cool in her mum jeans and frilly jumpers. What's missing is all the mediocre stuff.
Let's go back to the 1950s for a moment. Think of some really good 1950s music. Bet Mark Wynter isn't in there. He was massively popular, but good? I don't think so. He's not an artist that springs to mind when you think of the 1950s. We forget the average stuff. Likewise, there's the occasional gem that only reaches a few people, or that's popular for a few months but then slips from the popular cultural memory. And things that exist in a time without exemplifying it also get forgotten; country and western music had big audiences in the 1980s, but unless you're fond of the genre, it's unlikely ever to say '80s' to you.

Stranger Things, in style and setting, is a sort of collective dream of the 1980s, stripped of the mediocre music and removed from the serious politics (AIDS, the anti-apartheid campaigning, and pretty much any other major news event you could name didn't come into it). It's not the 1980s. It's better than the real thing.


* Given that in 2016 we're the same distance in time from the 1980s as we were in the 1980s when there was a big 50s revival, I say let the 'young folks' class the 1980s as vintage if they want. Ain't my vintage, but it could be theirs.

14 comments :

  1. The lovely Winona, don't think I've seen her since the 1980s.
    Yours is the second blog post to mention the 1980s today. Looking back it does seem like another world, the racism, the rioting, Thatcherism, living in an £11 a week hovel. I used to love going to the cinema (£1 a film) and watching all the Vietnam films over and over again. I definitely feel vintage thinking back!
    I'm more of a fan of gritty reality but I don't suppose there's any harm in a bit of escapism every now and then. One of our mates is on at us to get Netflix, maybe we should. xxx


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    1. Have you seen Black Swan? She plays a ballerina in that. I don't know what skincare products she uses, but I want them, she's barely aged.

      The 1980s was a pretty crummy time for me, so it feels weird to get vaguely nostalgic for it. (If I ever get nostalgic for High School, shoot me - that was the worst.)

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  2. I haven't seen Stranger Things, but maybe I should. I have good and bad memories of the 1980s. Like Vix, I lived in a cheap hovel, which sometimes still appears in nightmares. The stories I could tell ... xxx

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    1. Heh. I'm now imagining you living in an episode of The Young Ones!

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  3. I love it and I agree it's very dreamy

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    1. I didn't find it that scary, though as it's a TV programme I guess they didn't want to make it too frightening. (I wasn't particularly unnerved by Ash Vs Evil Dead either; that just made me laugh.) It didn't feel like particularly bad things were likely to happen. It'll be interesting to see how the second series shapes up; apparently that will be dealing with the aftermath.

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  4. I absolutely loved Stranger Things and watched the whole series within about 3 days. Barb was awesome, she epitomised the dreadful fashions of the 80s. Was I nostalgic? Yes, but did I think she was cool? No, she was an awkward teenager, which is just how I remember my life in the 80s!
    I agree, it doesn't include certain things from the 80s but it would be hard to cram everything from the whole decade into one show. It's a snapshot of a group of small town people who are very much wrapped up in their world and have a slightly more pressing issue than what's going on in the outside world. I personally cannot wait for season 2! xx

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    1. There will be a season 2.

      I did really enjoy it, I just found it interesting which bits of the 80s they used and which they left out.

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  5. No doubt like countless others, Tony and recently binge watched this series in a matter of days. It was right on the cusp of what I personally consider to be too scary for me (to watch), but the story line and costuming was so awesome that I mustered through and am really glad that I did. So many awesome reminders of the decade that gave me life and a seriously engaging story to boot.

    xoxo ♥ Jessica

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    1. I think everyone I know who's watched it binged it. It seems to hook people in really well.

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  6. Ugh, no I'm not nostalgic for the 80's (we're still living the consequences of Reagan/Thatcher), but the series sounds interesting.

    I'm just starting to appreciate 80's fashion as vintage, though not the sort of horrible suits I had to wear to work. I've been stockpiling beaded tops and jackets *Hangs head in shame* because I (whisper) like them. But yeah, everyday 80's clothes were on the boring side and wouldn't make good television.

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    1. If you like them, wear them with pride! If I could get back my favourite pair of pixie boots from the 80s (black suede) I would love to have them. Sadly they got all worn out beyond cobbling.

      The only thing I'd rather not see again is puffball skirts. That 'overfilled nappy' look isn't good.

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  7. Hi Mim, I was a bit bored at the weekend and have watched the whole series since then. I quite enjoyed it and thought that the music sounded like the soundtrack to a David Cronenberg film. Thanks for your recommendation. Xx

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    1. Interesting you thought Cronenberg - I haven't seen as much of his stuff, so my first thought was John Carpenter. (I owe you a good recommendation after you recommended that brilliant Brazilian bonkersness. A workmate and I both really enjoyed that one.)

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