The Netflix drama Stranger Things has certainly hit its stride, becoming a global phenomenon that nearly everyone seems to be talking about. But what is it about this little eight-episode drama that has everyone so obsessed with it…and by everyone, I mean anyone who was a kid or teen during the 80s. Of course, you do not need to be a Gen-Xer to find something to love about this “retro” drama that follows a band of misfit kids who find themselves caught up in a mysterious and dangerous battle between good and evil. However, if you were not lucky enough to grow up in the 80s, particularly the early part of the decade that was transitioning from the disco era into the synthesizer age, then you cannot possibly understand the little nuances of the show that resonate with those who came of age during that magical time.
Yep, That’s Right, I Said Magical
Stranger Things takes place in 1983, which is the sweet spot of time that transitioned us from the funky, laid-back, plaid-heavy hippie age of the 70s to what most people think of as the too cool for school, Ray-Ban wearing, neon colors of the 80s. In 1983, Risky Business was playing at the local theater, Madonna’s first songs Burning Up and Lucky Star were blaring from the radio, and every kid on the block was playing Pac-Man on an Atari 2600 they got the Christmas before (or were hoping to get that year). We were throwing out our faded plaid bellbottoms and corduroy vests in exchange for slick parachute pants and shiny satin jackets. Cable TV was becoming more common at the rich kids’ houses and Michael Jackson blew our minds when he showed us the Moonwalk for the very first time.
We Were Promised Flying Cars, Dammit!
To truly appreciate those early years (1982 to 1984), you have to understand that those of us who lived it consider this time the start of the digital age and the end of a certain age of innocence. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we were all little virgins sitting around making latch hook rugs and drinking Kool-aid (well, we were), but we were doing all that while also having sex in the back of a Gremlin (no easy feat) trying to look cool smoking clove cigarettes, and getting drunk on Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers. There was a real sense of things moving quickly toward a bright future, and excitement as we entered the technological age of wonder that was promised to us by Star Trek and The Jetsons. It probably wasn’t until the post-9/11 world of constant terrorism threats and the dawn of the ever-connected smartphone era that we fully understood that we had likely been brought up in the last age of innocence. Again, don’t get me wrong, I love my 300 channels of satellite television and 24-hour access to instant information, but I sometimes wonder if all this “knowledge” has made the world better, or worse.
The point I guess I am trying to make is that Stranger Things has somehow managed to capture everything that was special about that time and tie it all together with a Pretty in Pink bow. In 1983, we still rode our bikes around town in search of new adventures, rather than being trapped inside the patterned wallpaper prisons that were our single-family suburban homes. While we knew there were dangers and monsters hiding in the shadows, they were more abstract. We imagined them in the form of sometimes adorable, sometimes frightening aliens, kitchen chair moving ghosts, and vengeance-focused sharks with an ax to grind. We learned about the world from reading books we found by searching through endless rows of library card catalogs. Of course, finding something instantaneously on my handheld device at any time of the day or night is certainly more efficient, it feels a little more like being mindlessly spoonfed information rather than learning things in a hands-on experiential way.
A Mix Tape For Our Childhood
For those of us who experienced 1983 as a pre-teen or teenager (I was 15, so I knew Nancy, Barb, and that beautifully coiffed Steve quite well), Stranger Things offers a glimpse back to what we imagine our childhoods could have been. While we may not have been fighting real dragons in dungeons or flipping vans with the power of our minds, we certainly spent our younger years pretending that we could. It is like a nostalgic love letter sent to and from our childhoods. The 80s may not be considered the best decade of the last century by everyone, but it certainly seems that way to the Gen-Xers who lived it…and you can never take that away from us.
Get To Know The Old Folks Betters
There are little nuances and shared experiences that people of the same generation intrinsically understand as a group. While you can never truly understand the meaning of references or have the same emotional connection that people of a certain age may have to the Stranger Things series, you can learn a little more about why it was such a special time in most of our lives. So, get your Netflix/Amazon/Hulu app and chill by watching a few of these classic films that helped mold us into Generation X. You just might learn to appreciate the show (and us old folks) on a deeper level.
1. The True Awesomeness of Winona Ryder in Heathers (1988)
Nothing captures the 80s rebellion attitude and preppy teen fashions better than the movie Heathers. While she plays the dowdy mom in Stranger Things, Winona Ryder is hip, bitchy, and trendy in this murder/suicide-themed masterpiece. As an extra bonus, it also stars Mr. Robot star Christian Slater at his cool, rebellious best.
2. Evil Government Conspiracies in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Matthew Modine (an 80s movie staple) embodies the “evil” government conspirator role that featured heavily in many movies of the time. A growing sense of government mistrust was a common theme during the 80s. Close Encounters perfectly portrays the suspicions people had that they were likely hiding some very spectacular things.
3. The Dangers of Dungeons and Dragons in Mazes and Monsters (1982)
Starring Tom Hanks’ in his first made-for-TV movie, the story highlights the dangers of the role-playing board game. Really! Back in the day, parents feared that children playing the game would not be able to differentiate between fantasy and reality, somehow triggering schizophrenia or other mental health issues. Seriously, check it out!
4. Everyone Knows Eleven is Really Drew Barrymore from Firestarter (1984)
A mother participates in drug-induced experiments during college. Check. Her daughter can then control things with her mind. Check. The government wants to use said mind-controlling daughter as a weapon. Check. Yep, while the Eleven character is pretty badass, she’ll never be as frighteningly adorable as 8-year-old Drew Barrymore.
5. Our Teen Angst as Portrayed by the Molly Ringwald Trifecta (1984-86)
John Hughes was the undisputed voice of teen angst throughout the 80s. Molly Ringwald was his muse and the true archetype of teen girl misery at the time. Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), and Pretty in Pink (1986) will all give you a good idea of what your mom had to endure during high school, but probably not as fashionably.