See what I did there?
Now you know the general direction I’m going here: some mixture of the Netflix original series “Stranger Things” and elements of the Christian faith.
As you probably know, I’m a huge fan of Stranger Things, and have been posting various fan art and other images associated with the show on my FB page for awhile.
I could go dozens of directions with this, so I’ll have to focus on just a couple for the sake of your sanity.
*ATTENTION: SPOILERS ABOUND* If you haven’t watched the show yet, you might want to turn back now.
One of the main aspects of the show that moved me was the magic of the kids’ world. I think part of it was the 80s setting. I also think a lot of it has to do with the innocence of the kids. The childhood innocence of the 5 main characters is really what makes the magic possible.
The kids exist in a terrifying world of mystery already. But in the spirit of innocence, they aren’t fully aware of it. The whole story begins with the kids playing D&D in a basement. This seems to me to not only function as a nostalgic throwback to the world of the 80s that so many Gen X and Millennials grew up in, but also sets the tone for the world in which the story unfolds: it is mysterious, often terrifying, and courage is at a premium.
While theologians of all walks seem to hate the term “magic,” I think they simply dislike the connotations built up around a particular definition of the word. They think of incantations and dark rituals, or they think of pink unicorns in kids’ shows where magic explains away the real world and functions as a sort of escape from reality.
What I’m referring to as magic here is the world where, inexplicably, moments of pure beauty appear out of a nightmare world. Chief among these moments in the show is the moment when Eleven re-emerges to rescue Mike and they, with Tooth Boy (Dustin), collapse into a holy image of trust, sanctuary, and Shabbat.
In this image, I could also point to a subtle (probably unintended by the Duffer Brothers) allusion to historical Trinitarian images. I personally like the tiny little space toward the bottom of the middle of their huddled mass.
This sort of magic speaks to me of the child-like trust required of each of us. It reminds me of the wolf lying down with the lamb when “a little child shall lead them.” It also reinforces my ideas that consciousness (or awareness, if you prefer) is what makes sin (or evil, if you prefer) possible. Thirdly, fittingly, it reminds me of what James said about those who know to do good and do not do it. Consciousness is a powerful thing and is desired by everyone who has it. But it is the only reality that enables evil and inflicts oppression upon other humans, other creatures, and the earth.
But more on that in another blog post.
For now, this topic leads pretty well into the next item:
Absence of Grown Ups
Part of what enables the magic of the world of Stranger Things is the complete disconnect between the “grown ups” and the kids. Similar to how the parents in the Charlie Brown movies speak unintelligibly and are almost completely removed from the meaningful parts of the Charlie Brown stories, so the parents of Stranger Things are revealed to be either entirely unaware of what’s going on (as in Mike’s clueless father, which reminds me of all the dads in John Hughes’s films) or they are less capable of controlling what’s going on than the kids themselves are (as in Will’s mother and father, who both attempt in their own ways to make sense and make progress, but both faith miserably for the most part). To be honest, I think that’s what makes the magic of John Hughes films to work as well: the absence of grown ups, or the realization that the “grown ups” are just older kids themselves. This is a fundamental reality of existence that is terrifying to realize as one loses their innocence, and it makes one much less trusting in heroes or leaders, knowing that world annihilation is always just a temper-tantrum away by one of our world leaders.
And while we’re at it, comparing Peanuts to Stranger Things, there’s always this little beauty:
The Upside Down
Again, there are many ways I could go with this image. Whether it’s into quantum mechanics, the mythology of LOST, the levels of reality in our actual physical world, a possible future of our world where things have gone wrong, or some spiritual images of afterlife in various faith traditions, the Upside Down has plenty of connections to the mental space my mind regularly occupies.
The world of the Upside Down is perhaps most powerful in my life as a representation of when I become the other thing that I try to hide as much as possible. Sometimes it comes screaming through in monstrous form as I rage at a family member for some tiny annoyance. Sometimes the Upside Down greets me unexpectedly as I’m going about my day and it reminds me of the void and the gnawing emptiness we all feel as we try to construct meaning out of an often seemingly meaningless existence.
The Upside Down is an appropriate title. It puts you upside down. But you can’t ignore it: it’s real. Escapism is as dangerous as indulging in the Upside Down.
Stranger Things is fabulous for many reasons. The acting, the dialogue, the story, the 80s vibe, the dynamic characters, the powerful images and allusions, and even the music. I can only get to so much in one bit of writing.
I’m curious what you see in Stranger Things. I’d love to hear what resonated with you and where the show led your mind to wander.
Comment here or on the FB post, if you don’t mind.