The Strange Story of the Forever 1980s

The highly anticipated second season of the Netflix series Stranger Things arrived in October 2017 to usher in the 1980s once again.

In July 2016, streaming media service Netflix quietly unleashed an eight-episode period drama to little initial fanfare. The drama, a show titled Stranger Things, focuses on a group of ordinary kids living in the ordinary American Midwest (the fictional small town of Hawkins, Indiana) who experience some decidedly extraordinary events. The period is the early 1980s.

During the course of the first season of Stranger Things, the main cast of kids, including Dustin, Mike, Lucas, the mysterious girl known as “Eleven,” and teenagers Jonathan Byers and Nancy Wheeler, investigate the disappearance of local kid Will Byers, who vanishes one night following a “Dungeons and Dragons” showdown with his pals. The quest to find Will steadily unveils a host of supernatural events that involve, among other things, an interdimensional monster, a shady government agency, and a creepy alternative universe dubbed “the Upside Down.” Oh, and lots of callbacks and Easter eggs to 1980s culture, from a synth-based soundtrack, to references to films like The Empire Strikes Back and E.T., to VHS tapes, to John Carpenter. Not to mention kids on bikes.

The effort by series creators/producers Sean and Matt Duffer paid off: Stranger Things became a word-of-mouth sensation and one of Netflix’s most successful shows ever. The show’s unabashed “love letter to the 80s” aesthetic was a massive part of its appeal. On October 27, 2017, the much-anticipated second season of Stranger Things only further piled on the 80s domination of contemporary culture, forwarded by an ad campaign that placed the show’s characters smack in the middle of classic 80s horror films. If Stranger Things demonstrated nothing else, it provided yet further evidence that the 1980s, a decade that ended twenty-eight years ago, will live forever.  Continue Reading

How the Classic 1980s Film “Gremlins” Predicted Trump’s America

‘Tis the season to be jolly, unless you’re a loser. That’s right, the end of 2016 is upon us, and aside from remorselessly swiping David Bowie, Prince, and Natalie Cole from the world of the living, 2016 also installed a boorish orange Philistine into the highest office in the land. There have been numerous watershed elections in U.S. history, but the race that hacked the astringent Trump loogie out of the dankest corner of America’s collective nasal passage and spat him into the Oval Office will surely rank as one of the rankest examples of American democratic excess.

Donald J. Trump — he of the speed-bumped squirrel bouffant and Tang-tinged rice-paper skin — rode a tidal wave of white resentment that allowed him to give high-school swirlys to the aloof establishment nabobs in both political parties. But anyone who cared to pay attention to the festering cloud of amorphous fear mixed with shoulder-chipped resentment that has floated across the Heartland for decades should have noticed that Trump wasn’t some new development in American politics; rather, he’s the culmination of a long-building new American identity: that of the hopelessly besieged.

One seemingly silly movie from the 1980s perfectly envisioned the idea of a besieged America that would push voters into Trump’s charlatan claws some three decades later. I’m talking about the 1984 Steven Spielberg-produced, Joe Dante-directed holiday horror/comedy Gremlins.

Continue Reading