Hey, FanBros! We have another one coming in from guest writer, Everett Christensen! Enjoy!
Nostalgia is a potent emotional force, it makes us happy and can improve our outlook making us more optimistic. It’s also reactionary and inherently conservative, rose-washing the complicated realities of the lives we live and convincing us that some halcyon day was better than the world we live now. At the moment, no single piece of media leans as heavily on the emotional crutch of nostalgia as Stranger Things. Designed from the ground up to emulate an out-of-date style with a modern sensibility Stranger Things directly attempts to short circuit our better judgement and let’s us buy into a 1984 (that never existed), keeping us in our seats and buying merchandise; it is directly contributing to a media obsession with extracting value from old concepts that is holding back innovation.
This is not to suggest that Stranger Things isn’t well put together(i.e.: it is), but that the way in which it is put together does not encourage the better angels of our nature. It spends no small amount of time reminding you ‘this was awesome the first time around’ for things we still have today. Every time a 35-year-old charting pop hit slams home a powerful emotional beat in the plotline, it triggers nostalgia related to it. But, these are also songs you can still on a local radio station. It bypasses your guard and transports us back to ‘the first time’. Which is bullshit. All recollection is generated on the spot. This is a cognitive exploit that all forms of media gleefully use. Is the Star Wars quote ‘Luke, I am your father’ or is it something else?
What Stranger Things really doesn’t want is for people to peek under the hood and see why the show is biting on the rhymes of classic horror movies, because it isn’t just a celebration of the past. By referencing movies like Poltergeist and Carrie, or shows like Twin Peaks, in frankly masterful ways: It can disincentivize critical thinking about the source material itself by attaching the narrative to the rosy filter of remembrance. We don’t want to go back and analyze memories that make us happy. Then, once successful in piggybacking off your own endocrine reward system, it does it again by referencing itself. Season 2 is full of callbacks and it didn’t have to be. It could have instead, what with new executive producers being added, chosen an entirely different set of movies from the ’80s to emulate. But linking to memories that link to memories creates a nested Russian doll of ‘don’t look at this too hard‘.
Therein lies the danger of this Strange relationship our present media has with the past. Nostalgia is all about recapturing the success, real or imagined, of the past. There is a reason those successes are in the past and not the present: the world has changed but those strategies have not. Yet, the media in all of its forms seems dedicated to re-using and re-casting the same old stale concepts. Idolizing the past does not equip you to deal with the solutions of the present and often leads to exploitation. When someone says ‘Make America Great Again’ just what, exactly, are they trying to do? They are appealing to a nostalgia for a way of life and a supremacy that is a historical, revisionist, and buried somewhere in the nebulous ‘Past’.
Did Stranger Things 2 actually do anything new? Has the act of continually going back to the well of remembrance stunted our growth? That’s the danger of looking back to the past uncritically. We repeat the mistakes that are largely avoidable and, on a larger societal scale, living in the past puts us at risk for demagogues who encourage us to ‘take back’ a congenial world that was predicated on the subjugation and exploitation of minorities. It does not encourage experimenting, exploring, or innovating. How many remakes and reboots have you seen come out in the last decade? How many fashion styles have ‘come back’? Our modern obsession with nostalgia is doing more damage than it is helping us heal from past trauma. We must spend more time looking to our future and imagining, inventing, and creating the solutions that will move our world forward in solidarity, cooperation, understanding, and love. Time only moves in one direction: Forward, Always.