Stranger Things: Attack Of The Killer Nostalgia

What if the Stranger Things kids fought monsters with pure, distilled 80s?

stranger things season 4

If ‘80s nostalgia media is too varied to be called a genre of its own, it can only be something bigger, like a subculture. From Grand Theft Auto’s bootleg video game version of Scarface, to the surprising existence of synthwave, to seemingly every modern sitcom getting misty-eyed over its gen-X writers’ youth, the 1980s touches all ends of the cultural spectrum, and the most shameless example has to be Stranger Things.

Just as hip-hop samples and repurposes music, so too does Stranger Things remix the ‘80s – a handful of Stand By Me here, a dash of The Terminator there, a little sprinkling of ET – assembling all manner of familiar ideas, imagery, and idioms into what you’d have to admit is itself an original creation. It’s scarcely even leaning into this when the characters are also touching upon ‘80s pop culture at every turn. Really, when the main gang dressed up as the Ghostbusters for Halloween, that was the show making a very clear and terse declaration about what it was doing.

But while the lovable child protagonists always understood the various monsters visiting their town through the lens of ‘80s pop-culture (specifically, Dungeons and Dragons), this recent fourth season went a step further and had them actually fighting the monsters with the culture of the day, in the form of Kate Bush’s 1985 single ‘Running Up That Hill’.

Leave all thoughts of whether this makes sense in-universe aside – within the writers’ room, this must have seemed like quite a coup. I know I’d have been unjustifiably pleased to bring that idea to the table. Worried that some of the ‘80s nostalgia seems a bit gratuitous? Yeah, well, get this, it can’t be gratuituous if it’s crucial to the plot, can it?

So, it begs the question: what other shamelessly retro memorabilia might we see those plucky Hawkins kids use to ward off monsters in future?


New Coke

stranger things

Easy one, this: after the usual various strands of investigation all come together to a period soundtrack, Dustin and Murray invent some kind of infernal machine that makes the monsters go away. But oh no, what substance can they use to fuel it? Despite not being as good as the classic version, New Coke turns out to be just the thing.

For the sake of full disclosure, this wasn’t strictly my idea. The original draft of Back To The Future saw the time-travelling DeLorean running on a mixture of plutonium and coca-cola, which would have been an all-time great example of the gratuitous product placement that Stranger Things is also so fond of – Season 4 gives many lingering close-ups to Jif peanut butter (not to be confused with Jif toilet cleaner).


Stephen King comes to visit


We could take the cop-out of doing this with a fictional writer who’s exactly as famous and prolific as Stephen King – or we could just do it with Stephen King by name. Possibly as himself, since he’s a fan. Stranger Things was aping King’s Stand By Me from minute one anyway, actually running into King is really no less plausible in the world it’s created.

So, naturally, this would have to be a stringing-together of klassic King moments. He crashes his car outside Hawkins and the gang find him like in Misery, but then when the snow sets in it turns into The Shining and they hole up in an abandoned hotel with a dark history, where of course the ghosts get into King’s mind and he goes a bit crazy with an axe. Then they bring him back in the Mi’kmaq burial ground from Pet Sematary, so that he can deal with the monsters once and for all and eventually write a new book all about it.

How does he deal with the monsters in the end? Bear with me a second, what was it they did in the original book of It–oh God no. Oh Jesus. No, no, we can’t – hammers, they kill the monster with hammers, that’s what we’re going with.

Now, there is always the option of making it one of those situations where the horror novel he’s writing becomes real. Although that might be better suited to the backup option if King’s not available, where R.L. Stine comes to visit.


He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe

he-man and the masters of the universe

Most of the great slashers from the slasher genre weren’t just killing people, but also being oddly judgemental about it, directing their killing sprees mainly towards teenagers who – gasp – had sex before marriage. This probably originally stems from Psycho and Norman Bates’s controlling mother, but by the ‘80s heyday of the slasher, your Freddy Kruegers and Jason Voorheeses, it was an industry standard. The archetype of the ‘final girl’, the one main cast member to survive the slasher, is almost invariably chaste.

From this we can tell that the median ‘80s monster, the kind Stranger Things would reach for, is pretty socially conservative – and as such would run a mile from the camp absurdity of He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe. Never overtly homoerotic, it was still on the face of it about an incredibly muscular young man living a secret double life, and plenty of retrospectives can’t help but pick up on the writers clearly having a little subtly smutty fun with it.

(If you expect an audience of children not to snigger at a character named ‘Fisto’, you’re either lying, or the purest most naive little lamb that ever there was.)

Even if the puritan, pearl-clutching monster could weather that storm, and that’s a big if, they’d then have to contend with the right cross of being dubbed ‘Skeletor’. The Stranger Things gang love nothing more than to name each season’s new monster after one of their favourite fictional gribblies, and how could they resist naming one after the bumbling, melodramatic king of evil? For any monster with even a degree of self-respect, this would inflict a degree of psychic damage that could be actually fatal.

The issue here is that the main group are a bit too old for the franchise now – even in Season One it might have been a push. Some of the older girls could still be interested, although they might find it hard to explain why.


The crack cocaine epidemic

dave chappelle stranger things

This is a very different flavour of ‘80s nostalgia, something mainly associated with the hell-blocks of the inner cities rather than white-picket-fence small-town Americana like Hawkins. Nonetheless, if you drop a brick in a pond, everyone’s going to feel the ripple.

This plays in nicely to Stranger Things’ fondness for depicting unspecified dirty dealings by elements of the American government. Now, I’m not saying that the CIA were trafficking huge quantities of cocaine into America in the ‘80s. I would never say that, certainly in light of what happened to Gary Webb. The CIA themselves, however, are not nearly so reticent, having had to hold their hands up and admit it at least once, with an agent of their junior partner the DEA rather limply protesting “I really take great exception to the fact that 1,000 kilos [of cocaine] came in funded by U.S. taxpayer money.”

Here we touch on the traditional differentiation between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ drugs. Stranger Things has already depicted the use of cannabis as an essentially harmless vice – with crack, it can go right to the other end of the spectrum and have things get so gritty and Trainspotty that it kicks the creatures from the upside-down into touch. Oh, is bloody Mary coming through the mirror? Yeah, good luck getting Eleven to even notice when she’s busy using her mind-powers to get another hit of the base.


The 1988 Seoul Olympics


After America boycotted the games of 1980, and the Soviets returned the favour in 1984, this would have been the first time in a while that the two superpowers faced off against each other on the Olympic playing field – and they’d have been out for blood.

The fourth season has Lucas be a surprise star turn of the school basketball team. Could he then go on to represent his country at the Olympics? Sure, why not. Inevitably he develops a rivalry with the intimidating, machine-like Soviet centre (this can be played by someone like Iwan Rheon), and they probably both want to date the same Italian hurdler, too.

But when Lucas sees his team to a commanding victory, he gains his Russian rival’s respect, and gives a rousing speech about how we can all get along together while swaddled in an American flag, a bit like the end of Rocky IV except far more coherent. The latest CGI demon sees this and takes it to heart. In an emotional scene set to ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ it acknowledges it was wrong to torment the gang with supernatural black magic, and goes off to become a date farmer.

READ MORE: Stranger Things: Thirst Traps, Ships & Building Fandoms

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