There are few people who are unaware of the cultural phenomenon that is Stranger Things. Anyone with an internet connection has seen the contagious effects of Netflix’s original series that focuses on a group of pre-teens in a small town in 1984 Indiana who get themselves mixed up in government conspiracies and monsters from alternate dimensions. The premise of the show is as cheesy as mozzarella sticks coated in cheddar: a group of misfits and social outcasts band together and defeat adversity in the form of monstrous metaphors using the power of friendship and telekinesis. However, despite all odds, Stranger Things has wormed its way on to the list of quintessential 2010’s television, inspiring countless Halloween costumes and sparking the rise of overalls and striped shirts all over again.
The show is potentially to blame for the box-office success of the second adaptations of Stephen King’s It. The horror film has brought in over $600 million at the box office, beating records for R-rated and horror films alike. It is centred around – you guessed it – a group of young misfits who fight the evil clown and attempt to banish it from their sleepy town of Derry, Maine. It’s debatable whether It piggybacked off the success of Stranger Things (a member of the main cast, Finn Wolfhard, is featured prominently in both the film and show), but it is hard to deny the striking similarities between the two fan-favourites. The two formats are eerily similar, so it is not surprising that fans of one medium enjoyed the other almost as much. However, the plots are clichéd, overly done, and frankly no longer too exciting. In an age where media is everywhere, television shows and films are in high quantity, and viewers are constantly looking for something new and original, it’s puzzling why a throwback to an era of film and television that we deem “old” is such a global phenomenon.
Media like Stranger Things and It would have never been as successful as they are if they were set today. The appeal of pubescent teens riding around small towns on bicycles, taking down evil one metaphor at a time, is lost when you add cellphones and helicopter parenting to the mix. The success of the show and movie lies in the iconic decade they’re set in: the 80s.
Nobody should be surprised: the 80’s are obviously making a comeback. High-waisted jeans, customized denim jackets, and brightly coloured sweaters are a popular sight in stores once more, but the reach of the decade goes father than the runway. The Walkman and record player have been resurrected in spectacular hipster fashion, bringing back views from the days when MTV killed the radio and everybody recorded their personal soundtracks onto mixtapes. The 80’s were a time of personal discovery: nearly everyone went through a stage of “building themselves”, regardless of age, finding themselves in characters from John Hughes films or discovering a passion – and dare we say, popularity – in “nerdiness”. Rising after the tumultuous 60’s and angry 70’s, the 80’s gave birth to the idea of being purely and unadulteratedly you, apologizing for nothing to nobody.
Not that the 1980’s didn’t see its fair share of disaster – the Cold War was coming to an end amidst fears of nuclear war, but the average American had no part in it. The Berlin Wall was all the way in Europe, and the Gulf War would not start until 1990 – for the first time since WWI, things were almost peaceful. Things were hopeful, and the positivity shone through in the culture. Music was upbeat, television hardly dealt with anything more intense familial disputes, and movies were packed full of teenagers making out and big explosions. The hair was big, the attitude was high, and the angst was at an all time low. It is no wonder why we ache for a time when everything was fine.
Despite being born well after the 80’s, young people are experiencing a sort of nostalgia for a time they never knew. The decade holds a certain appeal: originality was not only accepted but celebrated, and in a time where the ideal of perfection permeates everything, it is easy to understand why youth reached back to the 80’s and refuse to let go. You could say that the kids of Stranger Things and It are our Brat Pack, our celebrities and characters who we simultaneously relate to and admire. These movies and TV shows remind us of a time where the world was on the cusp of a political revolution and experiencing a cultural one, something we crave even today, thirty years later. The world has changed since the time of Reagan and E.T, but not as much as our parents may like to think. Our heroes look exactly like theirs, right down to the stripes.