strange feelings while watching Stranger Things with my kid

    Oren and I have been rewatching some of Stranger Things together, though we have seen all three seasons. We started a couple of weeks ago with the last episodes of Season 1. Then the other night we started watching Season 2 about half way through. And now we’re watching all of Season 3 again. I am of course picking up on a lot of things I missed the first (ahem) two times through. I’m finding that in watching some of the episodes again, without just being completely carried away by the crazy story and action, I’m able to settle down and have thoughts like, why do I love some of these characters (Hopper, Steve, Max, etc.) so much, and why do I totally hate others (Mike!)? And why does the music make me so happy that I have to hold myself back from getting up and singing and dancing along to it? I’m paying attention in a different way.

    First of all, watching Stranger Things with my teenagers is very fun, but also very… uh, strange. In some ways, as my little nuclear family sits and watches this show together, I think that my kids are getting to experience some of my growing up years. Obviously, there is the music and the fashions, but there’s also the people, the characters. I was the same age, maybe slightly younger, as all the young teenage characters, in the 80s. I knew these characters, so to speak: the nerds, the assholes, the kids with mullets. I grew up with them. I rode around my small town on bikes with them. I roller-skated and sang along to almost every song that is part of the ST soundtrack. The other day Oren downloaded an ST playlist on Spotify, and it puzzled me as we listened to it. Every song that came on (in fact, I just turned on the playlist so I could be inspired to keep writing), I sentimentally remembered (or maybe my mind is recreating some memories) listening to it on the radio as a kid— these songs were just part of the soundtrack of my life— and I can remember almost every single word. I can immediately sing along. Oren however, is trying to remember what scene of the show the song belongs with.  These songs that are working up a nostalgia inside of me for my childhood and small town where I grew up, are working up a nostalgia in my son for the show, and only the show. It’s strange.

    Last night, Oren and I watched the episode from Season 3 when Mike is an asshole (wait, isn’t that all the episodes?) and lies to El, so El and Max go to the mall to go shopping (because that is what girls do). The mall is such a central hub of memories for me—  and the clothes, God help us all, the clothes. Madonna’s “Material Girl” plays along while the two girls bop in and out of shops in the mall, and I begin to sing along (I love Madonna!). “Material Girl” completely appalled my parents, and whenever they heard us (me and at least one of my sisters) singing it, we’d get a dreary sermon with Bible verses quoted about how terrible it is to be a material girl and we shouldn’t even listen to such evil trash. And the song churned up all these emotions inside of me, and I was totally getting into it, until this internal moment was abruptly cut short by the fact that my 13 year old son was also singing along. What the hell?

“How do you know this song?” I asked him. His youth group leader on a recent mission trip he went on played it in the car on the drive, was his answer.

    I don’t know if what I’m feeling is protective of this decade of my life and of the show. Certainly it’s sentimentality. And while ST is about this insidious alien thing terrorizing Hawkins, IN, it is also about sentimentalizing the 1980s. It’s portrayal of the kids and the clothes and even the Russians are based on our sentimental feelings from the times. They are all caricatures. Only the music is original and true, but it works up the feelings in those of us who lived through the 1980s that are fuzzy and glowy and warm, kind of like ________ (what 80s music video has a bunch of fuzzy, glowy images in it? Insert here), and they are more sentimental than actual.