Friday, 27 October 2017

Not So Familiar

Okay, full disclosure, this post probably has just about nothing at all to do with Ignorance. However, today is the 27th of October, and that means that Season Two of Stranger Things is available on Netflix.
If you have a Netflix account, and you are only learning about this now, I fully endorse the decision to read this blog post later, and go watch it right now. In fact, go for it: here's a link to the Stranger Things page of the Netflix Australia site. Even after this post for a while, years from now, if you haven't yet seen the show, I still highly recommend that you go and watch it.
However, if you do decide to hang around, I want to talk about this show, and how it manages to be something original, despite being very derivative.
And although I will be talking about the show, I do not plan on talking about the plot, so this should be free of spoilers. Nonetheless, if you already plan on watching this show regardless of what I have to say, please be aware that this will most certainly contain Minor Spoilers.

You see, what I find amazing about the show is how real and tense and compelling it is, despite those elements which should, by all rights, take you out of the story.
This story is set in 1983 before I was born, it has nostalgic elements from several movies I've not seen, the characters reference music, pop culture and comic books that I've never been a part of & the setting cery much evokes “Smalltown America”, which I've never been a part of. Despite all of this, I connect with these stories, wholeheartedly.
I think the praise for that entirely goes to the writers and the actors. Not only are these kids written like real people, who are fun and enthusiastic and excitable with juvenile stakes and believable emotion, but all of these young actors have perfect chemistry and ability, to translate the writing to the screen.

I haven't lived that life or in that era, but I believe that they have because of the effort that's gone into every detail, from culture, clothing, comic books and cars all the way to the technology, music and themes present in the show.
I could geek out about this show for hours, but the reason I'm talking about it for this blog is because, as a writer, what impresses me the most is how this show has managed to take inspiration from multiple sources, even paid homage directly to certain films via costuming or cinematography. Yet, Stranger Things is an entirely original beast.

This series is inspired by (and references) several 80's movies: ET: The Extra-terrestrial; Aliens; The Goonies; Jaws; Indiana Jones; Firestarter; Evil Dead; A Nightmare on Elm Street; Poltergeist; Stand by Me & It.
It also references a lot of 80's pop culture: X-men Comics; Stephen King; John Hughes Movies; Punk Rock music; Ham radios; Star WarsDungeons & DragonsSynth music; Walkie-talkies & Project MKUltra.
There's even some modern inspirations, such as the anime Elfen Lied; the videogame The Last of Us; sci-fi film Under the Skin & thriller film Prisoners.

However, despite all of these influences on the story, themes and characters, it doesn't actually influence the plot. Except for Prisoners that is, that directly inspired the story that the Byers family goes through, but even that inspired the premise of the story. Otherwise, none of these nostalgic homages actually affect the plot. The plot (which I am being deliberately vague about, so as to avoid spoilers) does follow the adventure of some elementary school friends; the drama and horrors of a trio of high schoolers & the intrigue and mystery of a pair of adults. These stories interact, intersperse and intermingle until they all eventually integrate into one story conclusion by the end. Sure, there are aspects of this story that borrows concepts from other movies, but never plotlines, instead it creates its own narrative that takes all of these ideas, but irons them out into the one story with its own sequence of events.

The show is often called "nostalgic", and this is a fair descriptor, because of the 80s tropes and the music and the clothing, and references to all these movies, this does evoke that familiar feeling. However, because of the way this show was made, that familiar comfort is often deliberately altered and twisted into something completely different.

It's akin to if someone took fifteen very different houses, demolished down and recycled the parts into one much larger house of your own design. Sure, you can stop, and point at a brick over here, a tile down there or a gutter overhead and identify which house that piece came from, but if you walk into a room, there's no room from the demolished houses that singularly inspired it.

And perhaps that's the reason why I can enjoy this as much as I do despite not being fully invested in the nostalgia, media or culture of this era. Unlike some shows that use nostalgia and homage as a cheap trick, or to make referential jokes, this show isn't mired in lazy writing and doesn't waste the potential of its inspirations on pointless callbacks.
You don't need to know the original context of a reference, because it has an entirely new context, a Stranger Things context.

Anyway, for this reason (and many others that I've not mentioned due to the potential for spoilers) I am very excited for the new season, and I hope you are too. I wrote this post ahead of time, so I will probably have seen it by the time this post is published; but if you haven't, then I have to again recommend that you get started as soon as possible.
I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and I know I often don't geek out like a fanboy, but I couldn't resist the chance to tell people to watch this show.

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