Sci-fi is cool again

Originally published in the November 9, 2017 issue of The Johnsonian.

I watched the first season of Stranger Things last winter break, on a road trip to Tampa, Florida. I’m not usually one to get into the hype of things- I’m not a fangirl, I just generally like something well enough to quietly binge watch it and maybe recommend it to a friend.

But with this show, I was hooked. Like, so-hooked-I-want-to-buy-an-overpriced-t-shirt-from-Hot Topic hooked.

Immediately what struck me was a sense of nostalgia- I remember watching E.T. when I was very young, and watching Super 8 when it came out in 2011. Stranger Things has a decidedly Spielberg feel to it: kids that curse too much, extra-terrestrials, nonchalant parenting.

I remember hearing stories about my parents growing up the way the kids in Stranger Things do- with walkie talkies, arcades and biking all over town.

This sense of nostalgia is strong throughout the show- I could go on for pages about the plush, retro aesthetic of a small town in the 1980’s: the omnipresence of wood paneled interiors, the color schemes, the use of the synthesizer throughout the musical score, Winona Ryder’s haircut.

I could also go on about the cinematics of the show, how the camera angles, the music and the character development are all fluid with one another.

But I think the thing that really struck me about Stranger Things 2 is that it is just great, wholesome (with a touch of gore) entertainment. It doesn’t try too hard to be something it’s not.

Sometimes shows tend to do this, especially as seasons progress, but season two of Stranger Things proved to be a further show of The Duffer Brothers’ (the show’s creators) talent. They developed the storyline seamlessly from season one, and grew these characters as they are coming-of-age through shared and unshared traumatic experiences. It’s ultimately a show about the human condition.

As someone who studies marketing and communications, at the core of understanding the persuasion of a brand’s audience is “what do I want them to want, deep down?”. Understanding a trend is similar, but rather “why do they already like it?”

We like Stranger Things because we can relate, because we’ve all been that kid on the bike who feels free from everything, and we’ve all felt trapped in the Upside Down at times.

We like it because they’re us.

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