Cultural time travel

I have had several long and detailed conversations with friends in the last few days about Stranger Things 2, after we discovered that we had all binged it. It would not have been obvious to me, a priori, that so many people would immediately binge-watch a nine hour miniseries the moment it is released. But then again, Stranger Things is no ordinary miniseries.

All of the people I’ve had these conversations with have at least some memory of the 1980s. So one of the things that we talked about is how true the show is not just to the look of that decade, but to its spirit.

It’s not so easy to convey the essence of an era to people who weren’t there. I imagine that to millennials, the youthful spirit of mass revolt against established norms that characterized much the 1960’s would seem very exotic. The very premise of the cultural conversation is radically different.

Similarly, it would be hard for young people today to connect with the raw sense of upheaval and youthful rebellion associated with the emergence of Rock & Roll in the 1950s. After all, that kind of Rock & Roll was the music of their grandparents.

When artists in later times try to reproduce such eras, the results are often weirdly off. I found this to be true of, for example, the 1999 TV movie The ’60s, and the film The Wedding Singer.

When I watch such attempts at cultural time travel, I feel a bit as though I am looking at aliens trying to pass as human, after they’ve studied up on the subject by watching humans on TV (shades of Galaxy Quest). They get lots of little details right, but the essential spirit is somehow off.

Which is what makes the Stranger Things series so miraculous. It feels true to the actual spirit of the 1980s, with a precision that I haven’t seen in a very long time.

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