Stranger Things is the hit of the summer (if such a show can exist anymore). It’s talked about by everyone, seemingly everywhere you go—maybe even in the upside down place! But it’s also just the latest in a long line of sci-fi that perpetuates classic privilege structures.
Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed Stranger Things a lot. But it’s also one more nostalgia-laced artifact popping up in 2016. This year there’s a lot. It seems like a convenient way to get back to “the good ol’ days,” without having to say “I don’t want to take on the burden of diversity and inclusion in my pop culture.” Returning to the 80s is a prime way of achieving just that without having to explicitly not make room for more, let’s say, liberal ideals.
i def notice that as TV gets praised for becoming more diverse, there seems to be also an increase in rebooted white nostalgia.
— Nichole (@tnwhiskeywoman) July 27, 2016
Paying serious homage (like Stranger Things) or rebooting shows whole brand (Boy Meets World, X-Files, Fuller House) from bygone eras in the name of nostalgia is essentially making pop culture great again—with all the baggage that phrase carries with it. The philosophy is not inherently misguided, but may and often gets a hall pass to ignore people or issues that were invisible in the 80s, 90s, and even 2000s.
It’s something that pops up a lot in science fiction: The framing of the narrative or reality of a given world is used to cut out and around marginalized people. The X-Files came out in the 90s, before modern campaigns like #OscarsSoWhite or Peak TV which have allowed for more voices on TV. But even there the show is framed so that viewers take Mulder’s less desirable traits—bullheadedness, propensity for throwing himself into danger, and (perhaps most importantly) skepticism towards Scully’s ideas and credentials—as all in the service of the greater good. The audience doesn’t have to acknowledge that Scully has been fighting this fight all her life to get preeminently educated and informed. Mulder knows about aliens! Which are real! Don’t interrogate any internalized misogyny any closer.
Two words: Really Mulder?