Since you all know that I am very fond of Henry Jenkins’ concept bringing together different layers of storytelling, pop culture, video games etc., I guess it was kind of expected that I could examine Stranger Things using Jenkins’ theory of Convergence culture to underline the effective elements of Netflix series.
Being a fan of the series since season 1, I could not help noticing the wide amount of references to 80s pop culture incorporated in Stranger Things. By the way, this somehow set a trend, shared with other following storytelling products, trying to attract watchers-that-were-kids-in-the-80s, throwing at them Star Wars references, quotes and action figures, 80s music, and most of all, my beloved Dungeons & Dragons game as a (not-so) hidden key to the structure of the series.
In my experience, Stranger Things was the first time that the elements of convergence – say, the quotations of “something else” in the story, weren’t completely fictionary (as for instance, the Darksaber from Star Wars Rebels cartoons in The Mandalorian series) but somehow connected and rooted in our real reality, with a carefully and insightfully defined planning.
Stranger Things started a double-layered convergence, showing a first layer of real elements (posters, toys, games, music, movies, tv shows etc) from the past, which redirected us to a second layer of storytelling and myth-making that was particularly strong in those years, even if hidden by the general public knowledge. I am talking newborn computer / cyberpunk / hacker cultures, heroic science fiction (Star Wars universe above all), and surely roleplaying games, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) in the first place: all stuff that defined a new collective imagination, which is part of our culture now, but was very far to be considered mainstream (or even simply culture…) back then.
Personally I found Stranger Things (also) a powerful series about parenting – and being aimed at 80s-kids now 40-50 years old, it makes absolutely sense – exactly because it implies how important some silly things kids do in their basements could become, in mainstream culture of the next decades, and in this way it hints at those 80s-kids-now-parents that they should have a respectful attitude to whatever-nowadays-kids-do, and give them space, and be there to support whatever path they will choose.
The new character of heavy-metal music fan + D&D “Hellfire Club” dungeon-master Eddie Munson has a key role in this respect: he is the grown up that shows the (strange) way to kids (so: the mentor) and he also embodies everything dangerous against the good ol’ ways of parents and community. I found very interesting how a witch-hunt suddenly starts against him and his fellow D&D players, even more because it really happened back then, as this article provided by my gombaah Carmine Rodi explains extensively.
I am finding this double-layered approach to convergence culture, and its kind of new relationship with actual real objects – facts – products etc to be new level of engagement for stories users (I really do not want to write “consumers”) and a even-richer approach to contemporary storytelling. Where this would bring us? For instance, to series like Apple TV+ “For All Mankind”, where a mixture of fictionary and actual milestones of space exploration set a new course for the “what if” format – and also hints to Apple collectors about how Apple products could have been, in this not-so-distant parallel universe:
Now when I love convergence culture the most?
When it closes circles, coming all the way back through different media – stories – angles. So here we go: as you might know, Eddie has an epic “most-metal-ever” scene where he plays Metallica’s Master of Puppets on his guitar, during last episode. This made the internet get wild, with memes exploding everywhere and the song getting back at the higher positions of global charts some 35 years after its release.
What I found absolutely fantastic, is the reaction of Metallica themselves to this comeback of their song. The band I stopped listening when they declared war to file-sharing systems, finally decided to embrace the remix-culture of the internet (so getting a ton of free promotion of their former songs, ultimately leading to a lot of revenues due to their copyright, as a plus) and shared this clip on their TikTok (!?) account, which Netflix official account then retweeted: