How Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things’ makes the most of ‘80s nostalgia

Evoking the spirit of the ‘80s by employing elements from the decade’s film, television and music in a modern-day production is a surefire formula for success

June 21, 2019 03:58 pm | Updated 05:06 pm IST

The third season of ‘Stranger Things’ with Eleven and her friends promises a lot of chills and thrills

The third season of ‘Stranger Things’ with Eleven and her friends promises a lot of chills and thrills

A couple of hours prior to the big reveal for the third season, the cast and crew of Netflix’s new season of Stranger Things teased its arrival with a cryptic tweet reading, “Party at the mall, 7:11 pm pt”.

The final trailer for the sci-fi horror series is chock-full of references and teases. The aforementioned mall refers to the Starcourt Mall, which seems pivotal to the plot this season. The trailer set to the haunting notes of a synthetic-organ, teases the return of a foe from the past. “What if he never left?” asks Will Byers to Eleven , alluding to the Mind-Flayer having found a new host to sustain itself, which the trailer suggests will be Billy Hargrove: a character fans were introduced to in the previous season. Creepy Hazmat suits, a mysterious green goo and a terrifying monster that now has a voice: fans couldn’t have asked for more.


That Stranger Things has the most beautiful relationship with the ‘80s never fails to amaze. What could explain the series’ attachment to this decade? What could possibly be so confoundingly special about this period of time?

It’s safe to say that there exists a fairly prominent generational rift between present-day millennials and their ‘Gen-X’ kinsfolk. Yet there also exists this gray area, a middle-ground if you will, where the interests of both generations converge over a period of ten years. This so-called neutral decade has managed to effect a ceasefire on conflicting notions of pop culture. The ‘80s never fails to provoke a vivid sense of nostalgia, whether or not one has lived through those years. Evoking the spirit of the ‘80s by employing elements from the decade’s film, television and music in a modern-day production is a surefire formula for success. This is the reason one of Netflix’s most popular originals has captivated audiences from every age group — by capitalising on their intense yearning for this ‘utopian’ decade.

However, upon closer examination, the '80s was far from utopian. There was a major economic recession around the world, attributed to the policies of the Reagan-Thatcher dyad. Furthermore, unemployment and inflation were at a global high, and the Cold War brought the world to the brink of nuclear destruction. It seems almost comical that even under such trying circumstances there was a universal air of indifference, especially among the young. People were too busy enjoying the latest blockbuster flicks or were out discoing with friends to be bothered with ongoing world crises. This probably had something to do with the fact that the internet was non-existent and information didn’t get disseminated immediately.

The kids of the ‘80s certainly exemplified insouciance for matters beyond them as a direct result of their lives revolving around nothing but video games, comic books, movies, and mixtapes. And while the kids from Stranger Things are carefree to begin with, they are soon thrust into rather daunting positions of responsibility. In a remarkable reversal of roles, the kids are the only ones who seem to be bothered by the happenings around them, while most of the adults bask in ignorance. As a result, the intensity of the horror the show has to offer is exacerbated by the actions of the kids, when they come face to face with many evils. This hair-raising concept of children preyed upon by otherworldly terrors is a common Stephen-Kingian trope, observed in his novels, which were a huge influence on the directors of this series.

Another major inspiration in the series is a genre of cinema which flourished during the ‘80s: sci-fi. The pioneer in modern-day sci-fi blockbusters, Star Wars , paved the way for cutting-edge special effects technology that redefined the genre forever. And the series isn't shy of displaying its love for Star Wars , with a number of references scattered across episodes. On account of its achievements in this genre, the period was given the sobriquet of ‘sci-fi renaissance’. In fact, writers and directors Matt and Ross Duffer grew up watching many of these summer blockbusters like Back to the Future, Ghostbusters , E.T , and Alien , and are quite obviously inspired by them. Stranger Things is a treasure trove of references and Easter-eggs to this genre and has left sci-fi buffs across the world longing for more.

Perhaps the most definitive characteristic of the ‘80s was how it sounded. It can be argued that the archetypal ‘80s sound was the synthesizer. The genre of electronic music produced by this instrument proliferated in the industry and dwarfed its successor, rock and roll. The synthetic textures to the music coupled with disco-pop beats had the world in a tizzy. Lyrics were generally optimistic, dealing with traditional subject matter for pop music such as romance, escapism and aspiration. It's hardly surprising when people hold retro ‘80s in the highest regard, for its ability to induce instant nostalgia.

Some of the greatest bands and artists in the history of music are products of this decade; Michael Jackson’s Thriller became the highest-selling album of all time. It was clearly beyond doubt that the song, along with Vincent Price’s monologue, had to make an appearance in the series. Foreigner, Peter Gabriel, The Police and Joy Division, all textbook ‘80s, find their way into the series. However, the best feature in the field of sound on the show is its spectacularly-crafted soundtrack. Composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein work together to create a concoction of Moog synth magic, for which they've deservedly won an Emmy. The vintage – albeit creepy – score works in unison with a selection of the finest tracks to deliver an immersive experience like no other. Stranger Things ’ employment of synth-pop on the dual fronts of soundtrack and score is powerful, iconic and dead-on nostalgic.

What the writers of the series have managed to accomplish over a span of two seasons (and more to come) is the meticulous recollection of a time like no other. Our common love for this decade is a curious thing, and there are eleventy different reasons for it. In all of its bright neon glory, perhaps the period wasn't too different from ours (with its sense of impending doom and all). Millennials today have a standing joke that we were born in the wrong decade. Who knows – perhaps we are born in an even better one? We wouldn't know until someone pays homage to the early decades of the 21st century in a new television series!

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4, on Netflix

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