A couple weeks ago, a friend recommended I check out Stranger Things, and I proceeded to blow through the 8 seriously-why-are-there-only-eight episodes twice in the space of a week.
It hit me in practically every nostalgic squee that I had, particularly all the weird, dark 80’s horror nooks and crannies. All of that came wrapped in a thick, comfy Spielbergesque blanket and I found myself in a swimming pool on a hot summer day I never wanted to get out of (Oh, Barb!). One part ET, one part Poltergeist, with a generous splash of John Carpenter and Stephen King, it homaged so many vivid pop culture muscle memories it was impossible to NOT fall deeply and madly in love with it.
This pleasant feeling lingered long after finishing the show, and other than gaining a deeper and immediate appreciation of all the fan art and memes I’d been seeing popping up on Reddit and Tumblr in the weeks prior, I also now had to grapple with the deep-seated and utterly reliable post-nostalgic need to seek out more media to prolong the feeling.
It’s an almost universal compulsion brought on by a particular type of nostalgia that anyone that pays any amount of attention to pop culture immediately recognizes. It’s the same compulsion that’s been feeding the culture of remakes, reboots and sequels (which is not a 100% awful thing, but I’m not going to get into that now). And I feel like the wave has finally caught up to my weird “Oregon Trail” demographic of the Millenials.
Maybe it’s because we’re the cohort that finally has a little bit of money now that after a decade of following our dreams and making the last of our student loan payments, we have all that disposable income we kept getting told we were gonna have after college. And maybe that also means that people who’ve been toiling in the artistic fields this whole time are getting bigger budgets and higher profile projects, so they’re making the stuff they want to make.
Is this a useful thing to market to? Absolutely. I don’t see nostalgia as a bad thing. I see it as an inevitability. I am in my 30s. For the most part, all of my formative moments are behind me. There are scars all up and down my psyche from all the experiences I’ve had and art I’ve consumed over the years. It’s hard to look at anything now and not have a complex mixture of emotional reactions to them. Nostalgia is the direct result of the texturing of our experiences. That I get to choose how and when I remember certain times and feelings is one of the great things about the internet, because I now get to go back and experience those things over and see what the world once looked like to me and everyone else. That’s fucking valuable and becomes relevant to where I’m about to take this blog-ramble.
In any case, that nostalgia inspired me to go back and rewatch all the movies Stranger Things pulled from, which then got me to rewatching some Stephen King adaptations, and now I’m sitting here thinking about the changing depictions of good and evil in media over time, and the underlying assumption of the sad puppy mindset where we would all just be better off as human beings if we were all the same and all liked the same things and all wanted to live the same way.
Despite my macabre reading tastes as a pre-teen, King was never my cup of tea. I was more of a Clive Barker/H.P. Lovecraft kinda kid. But there was a part of me that found the movie adaptations of King’s stuff to be a sort of horror comfort food.
It’s a bit surreal to watch now. There’s this presumption in so many of these adaptations (I can’t speak for the books since I haven’t read any of them, though King did write the teleplay for the adaptation of the Stand, so I guess I can speak to that in this case) about what the world should look like, and it’s hard for me to get past the adorable quaintness of it all.
For example: the first scene where bad guys are introduced as characters (beyond the brief flashes of The Literal Devil in the cornfield), they’re driving a red corvette and listening to ZZ Top (one of them even lops ZZ Top so much that they specifically make a note to turn it up). Or in IT and Stand By Me, where the human villain in the script was a white kid in a leather jacket with a switchblade. I wish evil were actually this banal. Or had ever been this banal. I find it hard to believe this was ever the epitome of a “bad element.” But it was to to large segment of the population that spent the most money on media in the 80s and 90s. I can admire the feeling of optimism that’s behind it – that the world would be a better place if the worst person in the world was someone in a black leather jacket on a motorcycle.
But we live in a world where Winona Ryder’s character had to remind the owner of the store she worked at for years that she had never missed a day of work when he denied her request to take a few days off to look for her missing son. And there is evil in that momentary lapse of empathy, just as there is evil in the monster’s indifference to the meaning its prey finds in living life.
So it’s sometimes hard for me to watch things like The Stand, between the nostalgic comfort of my familiarity with its type of wholesomeness and the cognitive dissonance over the simplistic impossibility of it all.