Uncanny Paradoxes of Nostalgia in Stranger Things

Curator's Note

What if there is something "upside down" about Stranger Things? What is the uncanny, queasy feeling of unease brought about by the show, the one that can’t be attributed to a back-to-back eight episode binge-out? If Stranger Things is upside down, then the revisiting of childhood fears would thus impart a warm feeling of comfort to the viewer, while the endless references to the popular culture of the 1980s would take on the unsettling character of a recurring dream.

The horror in Stranger Things’s first cluster of episodes is of a wholly formulaic nature. In fact, it functions to impart feelings of warm fuzziness. Stranger Things’s monster is deliberately vague - its design instantly forgotten - the kids merely pin the Dungeons and Dragons-derived label "Demogorgon" on the creature in their attempt to understand something that is to them amorphous, unknowable to them. For us, It’s intended as a blank slate we can scratch our own childhood monsters onto. Furthermore, other troubling aspects of Stranger Things are tamed by the show’s own treatment of them. The notion that MKUltra is a mere macguffin - or that the Cold War is a distant relic best expressed with a nudge-and-wink nod to Red Dawn -is strangely comforting.

What then, is unsettling about Stranger Things? The implication that the contemporary world, with its bewildering connectivity, has been evacuated of drama. Instead we are presented with a version of the 1980s completely steeped in a selective fan-boy’s pop culture canon. The visual style of the show actually works to estrange the ’80s; the soft colours of that era’s Hollywood combine with the crispness of the 4k viewing experience (the show was shot at an even higher resolution). Imagine the audience reception of a Stranger Things steeped in the aesthetics of VHS, with tracking lines and over-saturated colours.

Ultimately, the uncanny, unfamiliar/familiar nature of Stranger Things isn’t that of a sleepy small town invaded by forces unknown, it’s that of 80s popular culture reflected back through the vantage point (and technology) of 2017, and furthermore, the looming spectre of a Stranger Things homage some thirty years from now.

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