by Aurelia Gonzalez
I would like to start by saying that I almost never get the ride the hype train when it comes to new pop-culture phenomena. If ninety percent of the folks on any given Twitter feed are freaking out about something, it’s a safe bet that I know almost nothing about it, and won’t read, watch, or play that new thing for at least another five months. Due to the quirks of my upbringing and my own lazy, unmotivated free time habits, I think the only thing I’ve ever experienced while it was hot was Pokemon Go. And even that was only because my sister picked it up; I myself never downloaded the game.
I am probably a deeply uncool person.
Anyway, I started watching Stranger Things on November 6, 2017. Everyone on my Twitter timeline had been losing their minds over the show for a solid week, ever since the second season dropped on Halloween. Most if not all of my friends had already seen the first season and weighed in; when the second season arrived and everyone I knew decided it was the BEST THING EVER, I figured it was finally time.
I really like the show. I can see why everyone’s been raving about it for so long, and I can see the elements that brought everyone together to make it so massively popular. There’s a lot of 80’s nostalgia in the setting (as everyone thirty and older has pointed out ad nauseam). The main characters range in age from around twelve to nearing forty, so there’s someone for everyone in the audience to relate to. The storytelling is tight, and the creators use expert cinematography and editing to make things like flickering lights or a blank wall suspenseful.
Stranger Things is a good show. But it’s become more than that. Since its release, Stranger Things has become a cultural phenomenon. And having experienced the phenomenon before experiencing the show itself, my viewing experience certainly had a weird (although not bad) tinge to it.
You see, I wasn’t all that interested in Stranger Things when the first season dropped, and I was sort-of-but-not-really trying to avoid spoilers when the second season arrived. As a result I absorbed a weird mush of spoilers and commentary, most of which didn’t make very much sense and was also wildly out of order. For example: there are two scenes I remember gaining a lot of popularity and being passed around on various social media in the form of screencaps or stills. One has Eleven walking into a store and then walking out with several stolen boxes of Eggo waffles, and the other has The Kids (none of whose names I knew before I started the show) calling their teacher in the middle of the night to ask a science question, for lack of any other reference materials. (The internet hadn’t been invented yet! It was the 80’s! How nostalgic!)
Those scenes take place, respectively, in the sixth and seventh episodes of the eight-episode season. There is a lot of narrative buildup and a lot of establishing character moments that happen before those scenes do, and in context those scenes are a lot different than how I thought they were. They’re are entertaining, but in my opinion there are other scenes that are far funnier and more poignant—scenes that I had no idea about going in! The Kids talking about how they’re going to tell Will about his own funeral, while they’re attending said funeral, is both really funny and really sad if you think about it long enough. And Steve showing up at the Byers’ house literal minutes before the Demogorgon does, with no idea what he’s walking into or what’s going on? Priceless. I laughed out loud.
Actually, let’s talk about Steve. Everyone decided he was the best Stranger Things character to grace the Earth after they watched season two. As of writing this I haven’t seen season two, so the jury’s still out on that, but I want to state for the record that I hated Steve Harrington when I started season one. I cannot stress this enough. I heard all this talk about how he was so cool and relatable, the Mom Friend of the group, and then I actually started the show and had to put up with his clichéd vaguely misogynistic teen drama bad boy shtick for a whole five episodes. And no one warned me.
To be fair, the last three episodes of the season see Steve realize some things about himself and start to get better, and he does help fight the monster in a pretty heroic way, but still. No one warned me. As for other characters the Hype Train mislead me about, for all everyone talked about her, I really thought Barb would factor into the plot more. Or at least make it past the third episode. And Jonathan! I didn’t even know Jonathan existed, which is a damn shame, because he’s the central character’s older brother, and a main character himself, and sibling relationships in fiction are like catnip to me. I knew I going to relate to this guy from the first scene he was in, and I ended up caring about Jonathan and his mom so much that they were one of the initial reasons that I kept watching the show, instead of starting and then abandoning it like several others. One scene later in the season between Jonathan and Joyce even made me tear up; I felt like it was written for me.
That, I think, is the heart of Stranger Things’s popularity. Between the adults, teenagers, and kids all playing out their own storylines, there’s something that connects with almost everyone. And beyond that, the show has a perfect blend of creepy suspense, light-hearted fun, and wholesome all-American nostalgia that engages the general audience without pushing them at all out of their comfort zones. That’s what generated the staggering amount of hype that propelled the show to such popularity. And for all that I was initially misled about the characters or events of the show, the comforting familiarity mixed with edge-of-your-seat suspense is what kept me watching, too. In a time of anxiety and stress in my life, it was nice to be able to watch a show both imaginative and predictable. Stranger Things has earned another fan—and when season three rolls around, it’ll be my turn to board the hype train.
Aurelia Gonzalez is a writer of short fiction, regular fiction, and screenplays. She is currently in her senior year of high school. When she isn’t doing writing, doing schoolwork, or spending time with her family, she also enjoys analyzing books and movies to learn more about story structure, themes, and awesome characters.