Thursday, August 4, 2016

Nostalgic things - Why an 80s kid can never leave the past alone - A ReadItTorial (thanks to awesome Matt Imrie @MattLibrarian for the Editorial Name suggestion!)

The subject of this week's ReadItTorial is a bit of a cheeky excuse for talking about a Netflix show that has literally blown my Twitter and Facebook feeds apart over the last month or so, and impressed the socks off me. Since it kicked off in mid-July, "Stranger Things" has been one heck of a hot topic. There may be mild spoilers ahead so if you haven't already watched this, trip carefully my fellow fiends.

"You've GOT to watch this!" everyone kept telling me, screaming at me in fact. I'm usually fiercely cynical about getting drawn into US TV shows. There's just too much faffing around trying to keep track of the various streaming services you need to subscribe to in order to keep up with the good stuff, and though we pay for Netflix, I've swiftly realised that it sucks for pretty much everything except hoary old TV shows, movies you'd watch but never buy (with a smattering of true classics) and of course the Netflix originals.

Which is OK because "Stranger Things" is a Netflix Original Series, and one that taps right squarely into my 80s childhood / teenage years, mixing together Stephen King novels (which I read to DEATH back then - see this IS vaguely book-related!), classic movies (particularly classic amazing 'ensemble' stuff like ET, The Goonies, Flight of the Navigator and IT as well as many, many others) and fusing that all with one of the best character casts I've seen in a dog's age. Last but not least the whole thing is underpinned by awesome synthy John Carpenter-esque music, and a bucketload of 80s classics to boot.

Why does this show work for so many people? Even people who were born way after the catchment period?

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. In fact nostalgia is pretty much saving the movie and TV industry and in some ways it's a fantastic time to be into genre stuff. In other ways it's absolutely killing me to hear Hollywood really scraping the barrel with some of the things they're trying to revive or reboot from that era (do we REALLY need a Splash reboot? And while we're on the subject, why is it OK to swap genders for a movie like Ghostbusters but not OK to flip things around and do the same for Splash?)

We need to see more original stuff breaking through in the movies and on TV. There are so, so many books and story sources that would be better suited to being someone's next highly financed pet project than just taking something someone else did 30 years ago and trying to bring it up to scratch for a modern millennial audience. Most of the modern movies and franchises that HAVE successfully been launched off the back of new or YA novels are great (Hunger Games, The Martian, Harry Potter even) so why not do more of the same?

Sometimes, of course,  the results are a roaring success - particularly when something crosses both boxes off, hitting the nostalgia button but also pressing the 'original' button too.

There's no doubt that Stranger Things isn't purely successful just because it coaxes us into reliving our misspent youth nor because it perfectly recreates a glorious mock-version of movies and shows we watched again and again and again in our formative years. The cast is phenomenally good, those kids can act their socks off and the adults in the cast are damned good too (Winona Ryder, I do still have such a massive crush on you, I always have ever since Heathers!) Hopper is also awesome, in fact he really needs more hero worship. He's the epitome of the perfect Snake Plissken-esque anti-hero, flawed but with his heart in the right place.

What I really loved about it though was the story it told. A story trope that has been used many times on TV and in movies and has always drawn me in, the idea that the happy go-lucky colourful world we live in has a darker twin (in Stranger Things it's referred to as "The Upside Down" by the show's (arguably) most fantastic character, Elle (Eleven) - a little girl with telekinetic powers who has inspired so much amazing fan art over the last few weeks, and rightly so!)

The dark universe in "Stranger Things" instantly puts you on the back foot. It's not just a place where people are a bit mean and wear a goatee beard (Sorry, been watching "Mirror, Mirror" again as the original Star Trek series has also popped up on Netflix and is utterly addictive as ever), it's a horrible place where a bloodthirsty creature holds reign, occasionally leeching into our world and abducting and scoffing down kids and becoming the thread that's inevitably going to lead us into series 2).

Back to the topic at hand. Why does nostalgia have such a huge effect on us? We love the thought that we can trade off reminiscences with our fellow humans. "I remember that!" is the precursor to a shared experience of emotions and feelings, of life experiences that make for amazing stories. There really is something warm and comforting about knowing others were going through the same things you were at the same age, but there's also a lot of satisfaction when a particular instance of reminiscence makes you and your fellow human come away with something completely different too.

For me, this series is like discovering a long lost favourite toy tucked away at the back of the attic, or an old band T-shirt that somehow still fits over my rapidly expanding midriff (mostly because I used to buy colossal T shirts back then).

It's by no means perfect. I hated the way the show treated Barb. Swap the genders and Barb was me as a teen, always the one sitting outside on the porch at parties nursing a warm cup of woodpecker cider waiting for the cool kids to get over (or off with) themselves, the eternal designated driver. I thought she was disposed of way too quickly.
For that matter, Nancy wasn't treated that well either but at least got her moment in the sun later on in the series as she stopped simpering and started kicking arse.

With all that said, I cannot wait for series 2 (and that's the sad thing, even series on a relatively fast track on Netflix seem to take AGES to appear once renewed) but if you really do want an answer to the question posed in the header? The 80s rocked. It was cheesy, the fashions were terrible, the hairstyles were atrocities, but the culture, the music, the movies and just about everything else really can't be beat. Whenever I get the chance to think about what life was back like then, I grab the opportunity with both hands so it's really no surprise I'm digging into "Stranger Things" to watch the entire series all over again. It really is that good.