10 Strange Facts for Stranger Things

I love Stranger Things. And apparently, so does everyone else.

Despite its popularity, the rampant critical acclaim of Netflix’s Stranger Things was unprecedented upon its release. The initial script produced by the series’ creators, the Duffer brothers, had been repeatedly rejected by a string of cable networks. It was simply uncategorizable. The ensemble of children at the heart of the TV show—Eleven, Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will—made producers question: was Stranger Things a children’s show? Would adults enjoy it? And if it was geared towards children, shouldn’t the tone be lighter? 

Thankfully, the Duffer brothers never changed their stride, and neither did the show. It was picked up by Netflix in early 2015 and here we are: a homage of 80’s synth pop, jean jackets, and sci-fi movies later, Stranger Things now sits atop Netflix’s most-watched series list, and boasts a 95% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

So what was it that pushed Stranger Things over the edge of indie film territory and into pop culture appeal? Was it the soundtrack? The stellar casting? Steve Harrington’s hair? Maybe, but the response might also have something to do with nostalgia, and Stranger Things certainly had plenty of that.

You might have caught some of them, but here are 10 references you may have missed in Netflix’s monstrous hit.

1. E.T.

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Image from camiseteria.com

No surprise here; thematic shades of E.T. are all over Stranger Things. We see it in the cinematic shots of the series—kids on bicycles, anyone?—but it’s also stunningly prominent in the parallels between Eleven and E.T. As an “alien,” so to speak, Eleven and E.T. share a fixation on one type of food (leggo my eggo), have both dressed up in blonde wigs to blend in, and are both in hiding from shadowy government figures.

2. Dungeons and Dragons

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Image from roebeast.blogspot.com

I think we all caught this one. After all, the series opens with a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, in which Will fails to kill a popular a mythical creature in D&D lore. This scene does two things: first, it foreshadows Will’s capture, which happens immediately after and drives the entire season one plot; and second, it contextualizes the creature in terms that the kids (and us as the audience) can identify. For the rest of the series, the unknown creature from the Upside Down is known as the demogorgon. 

3. Alien

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The demogorgon in Stranger Things has a few nods to Ridley Scott’s aliens. It leaves a lot of goo in its wake, and (spoilers!) it likes to incubate its victims with smaller creatures by forcing its victims to swallow them.

They’re kind of like…worms. Or snakes. It’s gross.

4. Stephen King

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Image from stephenking.wikia.com

I’ve listed Stephen King as a category in a vague sense, because Stranger Things has multiple horror motifs typified by King during his prolific career as a writer. Mainly, Stranger Things takes its cues from King’s novels Firestarter and Carrie. In both cases, Eleven’s telepathic and occasionally erratic powers, along with her abusive and watchful upbringing, align her with Carrie White and Charlie McGee.

5. Star Wars

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Image from heavyarmor.wordpress.com

This one is a bit more obvious, as the characters often voice the references directly instead of the Duffer brothers hiding them under cinematic quality. Eleven has “jedi powers,” Mike owns a Yoda action-figure and talks about the Force, and when Lucas thinks Eleven has betrayed the group he calls her “Lando,” after the Star Wars character who betrays Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back.

6. Nightmare on Elm Street

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Image from elitedaily.com

Episode 8 of Stranger Things has Nancy and Jonathan trying to go head-to-head with the monster, luring it into Jonathan’s house with a brigade of traps and eventually setting it on fire. Sound familiar? It should—the climax of the 1984 Nightmare on Elm Street played out in a similar way.

7. The Goonies

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Image from mentalfloss.com

Everyone loves a good ragtag group of misfit kids. And we see a lot of similarities in the playful and mischievous behaviour of the Goonies squad to the Stranger Things crew. The main rule: no adults allowed. (But as a lover of Stranger Things, I’m willing to point out that we do have Joyce and Hopper involved, but they act pretty autonomously for the majority of the show and are in their own separate ‘clique’).

8. X-Men

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Image from comicvine.gamespot.com

X-men also has misfits, yes, but we’ll give that to The Goonies instead. A trickier reference to the Marvel comics actually happens in the first episode, when Dustin and Will are talking about an X-Men comic; the specific issue they argue about is volume 134, in which “Jean Grey mentally snaps…and inadvertently unleashes the Dark Phoenix, a cosmic force beyond her control,” which is a tip of the hat to Eleven later in the series.

9. The Thing

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Image from culturecreature.com

The 80’s horror movie The Thing makes a few appearances in Stranger Things. This one is a bit like Star Wars, in that there are a couple of casual mentions you can spot if you’re looking for them. In Mike’s basement there’s a poster for the movie on one of the walls, and when Dustin calls Mr. Clarke for information on how to build a sensory deprivation tank (which is the most awkward and amusing thing on the show), guess what Mr. Clarke is watching? That’s right: The Thing.

10. Minority Report/Fringe

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Image from movle.blogspot.com

Last but not least, I’m going to throw in a debatable one. When the characters on Stranger Things make a sensory deprivation tank for Eleven to heighten her telepathy and enter the Upside Down, some people got flashes of the 2002 movie Minority Report. Specifically, the scene when Spielberg’s pre-cogs lay in their own sensory deprivation tanks to get flashes of the future.

Now, as it’s Spielberg we’re talking about here (whose other movies are a big influence on the show), it’s probably a homage to him. But! For anyone who watched the hit TV series Fringe—did you not get flashbacks of psychic Olivia Dunham concentrating in a sensory deprivation tank? I did. I really did.

So, did we miss anything? Let us know if you caught something strange that we missed, and bonus points for the more obscure the reference is!

-Contributed by Lorna Antoniazzi

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Enter the Raccoon

I would never have known about the existence of Enter the Raccoon if it wasn’t for Beatriz Hausner herself, who came in as a plenary speaker for the Vic One program. Surrealism is clearly not the most popular genre, and the science-oriented students could be seen smirking quietly. But it was undeniable that, once she began to read, a trance-like quality in Hausner’s voice took hold of the entire auditorium. In that moment, I wasn’t quite sure whether it was the way in which she read or the words themselves. I only knew that I wanted to read more of her work and see if I could experience such a feeling on my own.

The results were indeed replicable, although I did learn one significant thing: Enter the Raccoon isn’t the type of book you’d want to read on a subway ride, for the wandering eyes of nearby passengers might occasionally be shocked by what they come across. The collection traces the love affair of the narrator and a human-like raccoon, with a particular emphasis on the sexual side of the relationship.

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The prose poems interchange: a piece that furthers the reader’s understanding of the love affair may be immediately followed by a poem that has a very journal-like quality to it, discussing things such as artwork in a museum, a popular Chilean TV show, or the way in which raccoons act as carriers for diseases. It’s strange to describe and feels equally strange while reading, yet there is an allure to the poems that makes it impossible to put the book down.

Despite the raccoon’s description as not only human-like in stature but also possessing several mechanical limbs, the relationship he shares with the narrator is not far from the kinds one might encounter on a daily basis. It is possible that one might have experienced something similar in the past.

The wordplay and riddles that the two lovers exchange are perhaps tamer than the act of leaving and staying that categorizes modern relationships. There is always a sense of sitting on the very edge, wondering whether the relationship will continue or end, and on what note the latter would happen. Most significantly, there is an element of nostalgia present even when Raccoon and the speaker are together, as if there is a much greater emotional and psychological rift between them.

While this half of the collection may be less accessible to some readers, the other half makes up for it quite easily. Hausner mentions Amy Winehouse several times, and the event of her death is recent enough for the impact to still be palpable. These moments also act as an invitation for the reader to take a glimpse at the poet’s internal thought process.

The technique of automatic writing in these rather personal and at times rather informative pieces is what brings out the other side of surrealism; the much less outlandish one that counteracts the sheer bizarreness of reading about the relationship of a human woman and a human-like raccoon. These other poems still manage to transport the reader into a deeper exploration of the self-conscious by remaining rooted in present day scenarios and factual events.

Either way, Enter the Raccoon never stops exerting its weird charm. It also isn’t the type of collection that one can easily pick up and dive into. Rather, it requires a proper mood or mindset (or a ridiculous sugar high, take your pick). It successfully demonstrates that the fantastically bizarre isn’t as bizarre as one may think, successfully pairing it with real-life examples that create a transient state that is no less odd but enticing.

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

Jessica Jones: Feminist Noir

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In my line of work, you gotta know when to walk away. But some cases just won’t let you go…”

Jessica Jones, Marvel’s second outing with Netflix following Daredevil, arrived on November 20 at 3am EST. Needless to say, an hour later I had finished the pilot, and a day later, I dried my eyes as the credits rolled on episode thirteen.

There is a lot to unpack here. Jessica (Krysten Ritter) is the culmination of almost a century of noir detective stories. She’s a hard-boiled, keen, alcoholic sleuth, giving monologues about cases over the sounds of smooth jazz and a glass of whiskey in the dead of night in New York City. Even the opening lines, “New York may be the city that never sleeps, but it sure sleeps around,” would have felt at home in such films as The Maltese Falcon or, indeed, City that Never Sleeps. But this is more than a classic detective story.

For one, Jessica has superpowers. She’s super strong, a little bit fast, and can fly (badly, or as she calls it, “controlled falling”. This works to the advantage of the show’s budget). Jessica isn’t showy with these powers—she isn’t dressing up in a costume and beating up thugs, but she isn’t really hiding either. She uses these gifts when the situation calls for them, and that’s it.

But her powers are of secondary importance to the show. What is given the real emphasis is her relationship with her adopted sister Trish (Rachel Taylor), love interest and fellow defender-to-be Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and her neighbour and friend Malcolm (Eka Darville). Each of these relationships are nuanced and interesting, particularly the chemistry between Jessica and Luke. It has the benefit of neither one ever really being in a true position of power over the other; it fluctuates as needed. You know, like it would with real people.

However, it might not be her friends, but rather her enemy that this show will be remembered for. Kilgrave (Doctor Who’s David Tennant, looking like he’s having the time of his life), is the most terrifying villain Marvel has ever given us, topping Daredevil’s Kingpin and leaving Loki whining in the dust. The fact that Kilgrave is so compelling and frightening, coupled with how magnificently David Tennant plays him, is essential, considering almost the entire show is focused on the villain’s story.

From episode one onwards, Jessica is almost entirely focused on finding and stopping Kilgrave (with the occasionally side step to set up Luke Cage’s story).

With Jessica Jones, we get the first conflict between hero and villain that is truly a personal fight since Loki in the first Thor movie.

Before she was a P.I., Jessica was kidnapped and held against her will by Kilgrave. The show doesn’t say for how long, but it is implied that it lasted for months. Kilgrave has his own power: mind control. People are forced to do whatever he asks. He forced Jessica to be with him, just as he forces others to commit acts of violence or even murder or suicide if he feels like it.

Jessica escaped from Kilgrave, and this is how we meet her in the show. She is a survivor of rape and abuse, of having her agency stripped away from her, and of having her mind and body violated. Jessica suffers from PTSD because of her time with Kilgrave, and more than anything, this struggle is what the show is about.

Kilgrave is used to force a discussion on serious issues. Through his evil, the show explores the issues of consent, agency, and male entitlement. What might be most genuinely upsetting about his character is that Kilgrave doesn’t think that he’s done anything wrong. He takes no responsibility for the things he makes other people do.

Kilgrave, who repeatedly forces people to kill, genuinely believes that he didn’t kill anybody—they did it themselves. When, in episode eight, he is directly confronted by Jessica about her rape, his first reaction is to say, “I hate that word,” and claim that it wasn’t rape.

In fact, after everything he put her through, Kilgrave really believes that he loves Jessica and that he can make her love him back. He believes he’s done nothing wrong. One of the most unsettling moments is where he attempts to be considerate, telling her: “You were the first thing, excuse me, person, I ever wanted that walked away from me.” It’s terrifying, because you really know how proud of himself he is for that tiny consideration, even while threatening to kill a building full of people if Jessica doesn’t do what he says.

Kilgrave is the embodiment of a type of misogynist that has long gone unchecked in society. A man likes or is attracted to a woman, so she must reciprocate this attraction. Kilgrave wants Jessica, and so in his mind she has to want him back. It’s this unnerving sense of entitlement that carries the character and his understanding of the world, and it is terrifying.

Jessica Jones rejects that this is a normal or a forgivable way of thinking. Instead, it puts it front and center as evil, and on the way it creates the most terrifying on-screen presence since Heath Ledger’s Joker. When Jessica finally wins the day, you have to cheer just a little, because this battle was so personal, and her victory is completely earned.

Which is good, because Jessica focuses on almost nothing else. While the supporting cast is strong, and several secondary characters have their own plotlines, none of them manage to compete with the interest in the main story. This is unfortunate, because not every episode can be centered on the main villain. Jessica spends several episodes hunting Kilgrave without him ever appearing.

The only secondary character with a satisfying arc is Luke Cage. Apart from this also turning out to be about Kilgrave, and being defined by his relationship to Jessica, this sets up Luke’s own Netflix series for next year.

Jessica is an amazing character, and she’s put sharply on-screen. It’s just a pity that in thirteen episodes, Kilgrave is the only real case she focuses on, and everything else falls to the wayside. It would have been nice to see her take on some more P.I. work, to stop the show from focusing almost entirely on Kilgrave.

But that is one complaint in a sea of compliments. If you haven’t seen Jessica Jones yet, go and do so. You’re in for a wild ride.

-Contributed by Ben Ghan

When (Super) Strength Isn’t Enough: An Examination of Strong Female Protagonist

What if you were both invincible and had super-strength—yet you still couldn’t save the world?

That’s the problem confronting Alison Green, the twenty-year-old protagonist of Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag’s webcomic, aptly titled Strong Female Protagonist. Running since 2012 and updating every Tuesday and Friday, the comic is set on an Earth familiar to the reader, save for one detail: in the aftermath of “an unprecedented meteorological event”, “biodynamic” individuals—essentially humans with superpowers—have suddenly cropped up all over the globe. Alison is one such person, acquiring what amounts to invincibility and super-strength when she is only fourteen years old.

As she and other American teens with newfound powers are shipped off to a camp “for their protection”, and supervillains commence wreaking havoc in the country, Alison finds herself roped into a makeshift superhero team formed by a Superman fan and a fellow biodynamic. Reluctantly donning the mask of Mega-Girl, she fights supervillains with the other Guardians until she realizes that what they do won’t have any real, systemic effect on the world. This is where Strong Female Protagonist really shines as a speculative work in the superhero genre. Complicating the hero-villain dichotomy occurs in many comics, but Mulligan’s writing also tackles the consequences of superpowers in our current sociopolitical context. Alison decides to attend college in the hopes of finding a better way to help people. She comes to realize the destructive potential of her abilities, evinced by her emotional outburst on national television when she says: “My name is Alison Green, I’m 19 years old, I’m invincible, I’m stronger than any human being that has ever lived, and I don’t know what the [f***] I’m doing!”

The trope is upended, for although she is a physically strong female protagonist, this isn’t what renders Alison a compelling character. The comic focuses not on Mega-Girl’s heroic exploits, but rather “follows the adventures of a young middle-class American with super-strength, invincibility and a crippling sense of social injustice” after she becomes an ex-super hero. It is disappointing to find that the comic, which often deals with social justice issues, such as rape culture and income inequality, overlooks the ableist language in its self-summary. However, in many ways Alison’s growth as a character comes about in the same uncomfortable way, because as she comes to understand the many complicated factors that contribute to unhappiness and oppression in the world, she learns that there is often no clear or easy solution. Meanwhile, she witnesses the diverse cast of heroes around her try to find their own ways of helping as they come to similar realizations. Surrounded by people with biodynamic powers that range from mindreading to photokinesis, and from having a bat’s head to a superhuman ability to learn robotics, Alison is pitted against the reality that her brand of idealism may be doing more harm than good. She is not a perfect hero or a perfect person—Alison often seems to approach situations with more force and less tact than is appropriate, and she rarely thinks about the consequences of her actions on those around her. In this way, the comic is as much about what it means to be a human wanting to help others in the world as it is about the implications of gaining sudden superpowers.

Aside from story arcs that deal directly with particular social justice issues, the comic also does a nice job in representing the diversity present in New York City. With a strong supporting cast alongside its “strong female protagonist”, the webcomic portrays characters who are believable in their depth while refraining from invoking too many tired stereotypes. Diversity is displayed through characters from different economic backgrounds, people of colour, disabled characters, and queer characters who inhabit Alison’s immediate community as a reflection of the real world—and they occupy positions ranging from prominent secondary characters, to panels depicting passers-by on the street. Neither are they reduced to one aspect of their identities; in fact, many of them, like Alison, are trying to find their place in a setting where none of the superpowered people seem to have the ability to save the world. This alludes to darker powers at play, ones that remain mostly a mystery to readers thus far, but provide an undercurrent of tension to the comic’s overarching plot. Ostertag’s art has matured quickly throughout the series, so it will be exciting to see the plot unfold in the full colour that has been adopted since the latest issue.

Strong Female Protagonist stands out as a superhero webcomic in its subversion of common genre tropes and its nuanced depiction of complex characters confronting equally complex systemic issues. Truly speculating on a world where both more help and more harm can be accomplished through superpowers, Mulligan and Ostertag’s comic explores the ways in which these powers are sufficient, but also where they fall short in tackling the problems of our time.

-Contributed by Victoria Liao