tv series

The reason ‘Stranger Things’ works: It is the Upside Down to Disney’s goody-goody universe

There are no happy endings or easy resolutions in this dark fantasy about lost children.

Since it appeared on Netflix in July 2016, Stranger Things has attracted a cult following. From the outset, the show – which is set in 1980s Indiana – uses the toys, games and fashions of the decade to draw in its young adult viewers. It is the perfect nostalgic throwback for a generation which grew up on a diet of Stephen Spielberg-style fantasy films such as ET, The Goonies and Jumanji – films where children go on epic adventures to return an alien to his home planet, dig up missing pirate treasure, or complete a magical board game.

As with these films, Stranger Things’ group of leading child characters have an adventure thrust upon them. The Dungeons and Dragons-playing middle schoolers are geeky outsiders – members of the audio-visual club, whose schooldays are plagued by bullying. And yet when one of their number goes missing they take it upon themselves to find him – and in the process uncover supernatural secrets in their hometown.

The plot is all-too familiar – thanks to many a movie from Disney. The animation giant has told of the plight of the lost child in its movies for decades now. Films such as The Lion King – along with older animations such as Bambi and Dumbo – urge the viewer to identify with a child deprived of (or separated from) one or both parents.

But Stranger Things is not a show for kids – and its creators the Duffer Brothers have not set out to be the new Disney. With a terrifying demo-gorgon on the loose and the prospect of spending eternity in the Upside Down – a parallel universe where monsters roam – Stranger Things has instead taken this plot theme in a very different direction, pushing grown-up viewers to relate instead to the adults of the story.

It feels familiar, but it is not the same: Stranger Things is the Upside Down to Disney’s saccharine universe.

Stranger Things 2.

In The Lion King, we follow young Simba after he is told to flee the pridelands by uncle Scar after the death of his father Mufasa. In Stranger Things, on the other hand, when 12-year-old Will Byers is taken into the Upside Down, we follow the story in equal measures from the perspective of his mother and his young friends and older brother. In fact it is the adult characters that are either temporarily or permanently separated from their children who transform the well-used plight from old trope to fresh take.

Will’s mother Joyce Byers, police chief Jim Hopper, scientist Dr Martin Brenner – we are told that all of these characters have lost children and are either engaged in a struggle to be reunited with them or are defined by their grief. The characters and plot are all motivated by the hole left by an absent child – a void which cannot be filled by anything but the child itself.

A mother will stop at nothing to find her son. Image credit: Netflix
A mother will stop at nothing to find her son. Image credit: Netflix

During the first series, viewers felt the familiar fear of being the lost child, but were given a new, almost schizophrenic identification, as they also related to the bereft parents. And though there is a sense of relief in Will Byers’s reunion with his mother, the same cannot be said for Eleven – a girl with supernatural powers who was taken from her biological mother Terry Ives and brought up in a secret laboratory where her powers were pushed to the limits by Dr Brenner. Will’s friends team up with her as they search.

Throughout the series we want Eleven to find a new family, for her pain to be assuaged and for her to be welcomed into a human society from which she has always been alienated. The series demands that the horror of the lost child be put to an end. It is the reason we watch. Yet we are handed a peculiar and frustrating ending. Eleven vanishes into the Upside Down – and though Will is returned home, he has brought some of its terrors back with him.

We sympathise with parents separated from their children, yet at the last moment Eleven is deprived of her new family, unable to return to her mother who is in a catatonic state. Identifying with the parents of lost children, we are forced to bear that very fact – we do not get our lost child back and the family is not restored. Even though Will is back at home, he too does not have the happy ending that we have come to expect.

Where Stranger Things will go from here is at present unknown. It has been confirmed that the show is going to use the second series to delve into Eleven’s back story, but given what viewers have already seen this is sure to be no tale of friendly woodland creatures and fairy godmothers.

Nick Lee, Teaching Fellow in Film History and Critical Theory, Royal Holloway.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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The perpetual millennial quest for self-expression just got another boost

Making adulting in the new millennium easier, one step at a time.

Having come of age in the Age of the Internet, millennials had a rocky start to self-expression. Indeed, the internet allowed us to personalise things in unprecedented fashion and we really rose to the occasion. The learning curve to a straightforward email address was a long one, routed through cringeworthy e-mail ids like You know you had one - making a personalised e-mail id was a rite of passage for millennials after all.

Declaring yourself to be cool, a star, a princess or a hunk boy was a given (for how else would the world know?!). Those with eclectic tastes (read: juvenile groupies) would flaunt their artistic preferences with an elitist flair. You could take for granted that and would listen to Bollywood music or read Archie comics only in private. The emo kids, meanwhile, had to learn the hard way that employers probably don’t trust candidates with e-mail ids such as

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Created using Imgflip

And with chat rooms, early millennials had found a way to communicate, with...interesting results. The oldest crop of millennials (30+ year olds) learnt to deal with the realities of adolescent life hunched behind anonymous accounts, spewing their teenage hormone-laden angst, passion and idealism to other anonymous accounts. Skater_chick could hide her ineptitude for skating behind a convincing username and a skateboard-peddling red-haired avatar, and you could declare your fantasies of world domination, armed with the assurance that no one would take you seriously.

With the rise of blogging, millennial individualism found a way to express itself to millions of people across the world. The verbosity of ‘intellectual’ millennials even shone through in their blog URLs and names. GirlWhoTravels could now opine on her adventures on the road to those who actually cared about such things. The blogger behind could choose to totally ignore petunias and no one would question why. It’s a tradition still being staunchly upheld on Tumblr. You’re not really a Tumblr(er?) if you haven’t been inspired to test your creative limits while crafting your blog URL. Fantasy literature and anime fandoms to pop-culture fanatics and pizza lovers- it’s where people of all leanings go to let their alter ego thrive.

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Created using Imgflip

Then of course social media became the new front of self-expression on the Internet. Back when social media was too much of a millennial thing for anyone to meddle with, avatars and usernames were a window into your personality and fantasies. Suddenly, it was cool to post emo quotes of Meredith Grey on Facebook and update the world on the picturesque breakfast you had (or not). Twitter upped the pressure by limiting expression to 140 characters (now 280-have you heard?) and the brevity translated to the Twitter handles as well. The trend of sarcasm-and-wit-laden handles is still alive well and has only gotten more sophisticated with time. The blogging platform Medium makes the best of Twitter intellect in longform. It’s here that even businesses have cool account names!

Self-expression on the Internet and the millennials’ love for the personalised and customised has indeed seen an interesting trajectory. Most millennial adolescents of yore though are now grownups, navigating an adulting crisis of mammoth proportions. How to wake up in time for classes, how to keep the boss happy, how to keep from going broke every month, how to deal with the new F-word – Finances! Don’t judge, finances can be stressful at the beginning of a career. Forget investments, loans and debts, even matters of simple money transactions are riddled with scary terms like beneficiaries, NEFT, IMPS, RTGS and more. Then there’s the quadruple checking to make sure you input the correct card, IFSC or account number. If this wasn’t stressful enough, there’s the long wait while the cheque is cleared or the fund transfer is credited. Doesn’t it make you wish there was a simpler way to deal with it all? If life could just be like…

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Created using Imgflip

Lo and behold, millennial prayers have been heard! Airtel Payments Bank, India’s first, has now integrated UPI on its digital platform, making banking over the phone easier than ever. Airtel Payments Bank UPI, or Unified Payment Interface, allows you to transfer funds and shop and pay bills instantly to anyone any time without the hassles of inputting any bank details – all through a unique Virtual Payment Address. In true millennial fashion, you can even create your own personalised UPI ID or Virtual Payment Address (VPA) with your name or number- like rhea@airtel or 9990011122@airtel. It’s the smartest, easiest and coolest way to pay, frankly, because you’re going to be the first person to actually make instant, costless payments, rather than claiming to do that and making people wait for hours.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Airtel Payments Bank and not by the Scroll editorial team.