Thank you for the book recommendation and your comments. I find the Millennial generation as a consumer group fascinating, and your points and suggestions are very helpful for me as I begin my graduate studies. I think the modern fairy tale/myth is especially resonant for post-Internet generations, we see this with the rise of fantasy (Lord of the Rings, Skyrim, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter) as a more utilized genre by media producers in the 21st century. Stranger Things grounds fantasy in an almost Platonic form of the 1980s (as you point out a pre-connected era), offering a generational fantasy rather than a feudal (LOTR) or alternate world (Harry Potter) fantasy we’ve seen in the past.
Thanks, Garret. I worked from the Variety interview with the Duffer Brothers in particular here, but also pieces in Slate and the WSJ. Links below:
Great follow up comments that extend Virginia’s flow but also present important questions. Indeed contemporary media must expanded to multiple audiences across numerous platforms toward divergent purposes, levels of enjoyment, and so on. You highlight the theoretical argument formalized by Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green’s book (and convergence theory), ‘Spreadable Media’ (NYU Press, 2013). Their chief slogan, “If it doesn’t spread, its dead” applies to not only a series like Stranger Things but also, as you note, the “Binge-worthy” Netflix production strategy. Thus, it is the “Form” (as Kenneth Burke would say) that attracts Millennials regardless of their lack of cultural identification.
You last line pinpointing “Millennial nostalgia = fairy tale/myth romanticization” is also fascinating and reminder of the simulacral nature of media and storytelling. Post-Internet generations won’t know the feeling of living disconnected but they can experience the narrative as escapist fantasy to a time removed.
Thank you for your post and for kicking off this week’s discussion on Nostalgic Media. When I start to think of the role Nostalgia plays in contemporary media, television specifically, and Stranger Things in particular, the designed manifestation and application starts to feel quite produced (even as it works magic upon audiences and critics). In some of my previous analyses of this series, I play with the concept of period pieces (nostalgic artifacts) as the raw materials of a contemporary genre mixing process.
Following this logic, I see connective tissue in how you bring in varying generational character (and audience) groupings as an extension of this formula. You also bring in some rich excerpts from the Duffer Brothers interviews. I would love to read the interview in full if you could add a hyperlink below. Just as the interview and your post reference Propp, I have sensed a great deal of Structuralist Theory underneath the surface of their story.
Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Wolfgang and Padraic. I completely agree that the series hits a perfect stride for binge watching, and that pacing appeals greatly to Millennials and GenXers both (though Millennials are arguably more formatively practiced at it). And indeed, the relatively young category of adolescence, though begun in prior decades, firmly gelled in the 1980s around these media texts, and clearly continues to shape generations of adolescents after.
I believe meme making could be a worthwhile exercise in a communications class to examine why and how certain memes are more successful than others. For instance, I find that nowadays, the absurder the meme the more popular it is (vs a few years ago, when memes mostly had a distinct punchline or alluded to a particular reference). So, would students find a meme funny that makes a specific reference to a joke or that is just absurd and nonsensical, and therefore funny? Are memes that are embedded in a social discourse (e.g. politics or pop culture) more successful than those that are devoid of any deeper context? And what does that say about contemporary humor, use of social media, or communication in general? If I were a comm instructor, I’d try it out!
I wonder if this is the case for the ubiquitous Arthur meme that’s popular right now. It has been totally removed from the feel-good, innocent 90s child cartoon and taken to absurdly funny levels that are sometimes (to the creators chagrin)… how can I say, not exactly PG-13. And yet, the meme seems to be most popular among those who grew up with Arthur cartoons, so it looks as if some context is required to appreciate the meme.
In short, they can change things. I think social issues and identity politics have really found their way into the mainstream in part thanks to memes. The discussion of street harassment or BLM comes to mind. As for reinforcing the social order, I rather think that the most successful memes subvert social norms and give voice to those frustrated with these norms (as Lauren for example mentioned, the Netflix and Chill meme).
I love this! I think contemporary meme culture is definitely dominated by Black online communities like Black Twitter, Black Vine and Black Snapchat. It has really replaced the “white-font-over-funny-picture” meme that was popular some years ago and is more associated with white male Redditors. You’re so right about the image of the white techbro. The mainstream seems to fail to (again) credit the Black community with this cultural phenomenon, like the crying Michael Jordan meme is so popular now and yet many white millennials I know have never heard of “Black Twitter.”Great, great write-up, thanks so much!
Interesting post, Virginia. I believe your closing observation - about GenXers identifying with their younger selves - actually gets very much to the crux of the matter. For me, what Stranger Things has exposed - at least in part - is the degree to which youth / teenage life was so heavily coded in film and TV of the 1980s, and that these codes remain in play today, thus functioning for both nostalgic adults and younger viewers alike. While social phenomena like rites-of-passage have always existed in human cultures, the modern concept of ‘adolescence’– as a category – is itself still relatively young. Though prior media ‘modellings’ of youth culture existed – e.g. Rebel Without A Cause, etc. – I’d suggest that the broader cultural understanding of teenage life that we still work with today coalesced in the audio-visual cultures of the 1980s. In my view, it was primarily in the mainstream films of the 1980s that the most prevalent and influential codes for this still emerging category of adolescence came into being. And, despite seismic cultural change in the intervening decades, those codes largely still remain intact. Digital culture has not so much altered how those codes work as enhanced and extended them.
Nevertheless, I believe you’re entirely right: the identificatory structures in Stranger Things are more complex than they were in the older films that the show references. However, I think the codes that inform those structures remain largely the same. In a weird way, the nostalgia at work in Stranger Things is a nostalgia for something that has never faded from view. In some ways we never left the 1980s. It’s always there beneath the surface of our reality – just like the ‘upside-down’ alternative reality in Stranger Things. (Which might just be another way of saying there are a lot of stalled adolescents in the world.)