Reminiscing old times, thanks to Stranger Things
Mystery thriller / Mystery horror is a genre that I naturally gravitate towards. I remember finishing off the whole series of RL Stine books from my local library shelf one summer, gradually moving on to Stephen King. And I am always on the lookout for good horror movies — not the slash/gore or jump-scare kinds, but more The BlairWitch Project and The Others kind — those that mentally fuck you up and keep you guessing.
So it is no surprise that Stranger Things had me hooked from the moment I saw its trailer. Right from the whole look of the show — very 80s VHS-tape; to the font of the title — very Stephen King; to the kids-on-a-mission-trope — very Famous Five / Nancy Drew / Hardy Boys / Secret Seven. I knew I had to see the show sooner rather than later.
Little did I know that I would finish off watching the entire season in a weekend. The last time I binge-watched something that quick was when I was finishing off Lost, some seven years ago.
I will not get into the plot of Stranger Things or even attempt to review the show. There are tonnes of people who have done a terrific job of that. Neither is this a ‘fan-theory’ post. Reddit users do that to another level altogether. Just some thoughts that went through my head while watching the show.
Many things really stood out on this Netflix series. The first and foremost was the chemistry between the kid characters. The board games, epic bike trips, exploring no-go areas of your neighbourhood and basically just whiling away time with/without letting boredom creep in. There was no crutch of a smartphone or tablet display. One can easily relate each character to a friend you may have had as a kid. Back then, we all wanted to grow up quickly.
Now, it’s like doing absolutely nothing is harder than coming up with a 1000-word article. There’s just too much information overload, and there’s always the need to keep yourself busy with something or the other. FOMO! 95 percent of the time I don’t really mind that, and I do go on digital-detox sessions, but it would be great to balance out that ratio.
I also liked how the kids were given a free reign, on most occasions, in Stranger Things. You never see Lucas or Dustin’s parents in a single frame, and Mike’s parents are not really aware what’s on with him either. As a kid, I remember being pretty carefree most of the times, so long as I respected the deadline. That was true of all of the friends I grew up with. There was a lot more freedom in terms of what you wanted to do with your time after school.
Now, you have kids sporting the latest smartphones and are just a call away from their parents, when they maybe in the middle of some game or some urban exploration session. I’ve seen mothers and fathers of the kids of my society hanging around while their kids play in the park. If they aren’t playing, then they are definitely part of some of the hundreds of tuitions or ‘classes’ out there. I somehow feel, parents have become a wee-bit paranoid about their kids now, than say 20 years ago. Also, I can see the stress on these kids’ faces whenever I happen to bump into them in the elevator on in the playground. If it isn’t the mathematics class, then it’s the dance class or a drawing class or a swimming class.
Speaking of childhood, how could it be complete without He-Man. There is one scene in Stranger Things in which Eleven is channel-surfing on the CRT TV set, and stops on the channel showing that opening sequence from He-Man and The Masters of The Universe. I had a brief smile on my face as that transition of Adam into He-Man used to be one of my favourite sequences of any TV show I watched in the early 90s. I’m not much of a comic book nerd, but I was completely into the He-Man universe, even have an action figure — the only action figure I have of any (Super)Hero.
Towards the end, one character hands over an audio-cassette to another character (not naming them to avoid any spoilers) telling him, “I’ve made you a mix-tape of some cool songs.”
I remembered the early 90s and even early noughties, when MP3 players could only be afforded by the super rich, when I used to make mixed tapes myself. Countless trips to the video-cassette rental shop where I used to buy a 90-min Panasonic or TDK cassette so that I could record at least 10–12 songs per side. Waiting with bated breath to record the popular English number that would play on FM Radio, only to be disappointed to have the RJ start talking as the song was about to end. That unspooling the reel of the cassette, if it got stuck inside the cassette player (also known as decks) and putting it back in using a pencil or a pen or whatever would fit inside those toothed circles of the cassette. Putting your finger in and cleaning of the tape heads with a cloth while hitting the play button, praying that there wasn’t any lose circuitry inside, which could give you a shock. Feeling disheartened if the reel got stretched beyond repair, inside the cassette player.
For a lot of us, the audio-cassette player and the VCR were the original home-labs where we indulged in a lot of tinkering, at least at the basic level.
When the kid characters aren’t home in Stranger Things, they are always on their bikes either running away from someone or running in to find a solution to the conundrum which makes up the plot of Stranger Things. This is a definite homage to E.T. the Extra Terrestrial.
I hardly bike as much now as I used to as a kid. But if I am a flaneur today, a lot of the credit for that has to go to my late-BMX bike which was under my possession from 1995 to 1999. Come afternoons when there was nothing much to do, and Fun-time (that TV segment playing on the government-run DD1 in the summer vacations) on TV was over, I used to head out of my society and go around exploring my neighbourhood. Biking around the dock areas — Ferry Wharf — was one of my favourite past time. And performing those wheelies, that was energising every once in a while.
The Best of Both Worlds
What I really loved about the show was the way it depicted the era. I have grown up in the 80s and entered my teens in the 90s. It was pretty much an analogue-world while I was growing up, and by the time I was out of school, technology had slowly started creeping into my daily life. I, and in extension, my generation, consider ourselves really lucky to have witnessed that transition from analogue to digital.
There was a phase, when life revolved around TV show timings. Here’s how the day progressed after school 4PM to 6PM was free-time (or TV time), 6PM to 8PM was study time and 8PM to 10PM was TV time (even though there were just DD1 and DD2 to keep me entertained). It’s just impossible to imagine any kid following such a pattern now, specially with entertainment available in the form of 50 kids’ TV channels and of course, the smartphone. Thankfully, my TV-phase continued till I discovered the joys of reading, and have never looked back since — God bless my English Literature teacher Mr D’Monte.
Alright, I’ll stop.
Stranger Things basically takes the 2016 version of you and throws you back into 1980s.