Stranger Things

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Netflix, Stranger Things.

UPDATE: Oh man, it’s all just “Frankenstein,” isn’t it?? Which means it’s 4th season Buffy. Nooooooooo… I don’t have time to write this. And thanks for all of the thoughtful comments to this over on FB, but dudes… if I’m ever to gain traction for this poor blog and embed it in a website, comments here will help a bunch! ♥

Early, primary notes on Stranger Things, post first pass. By no means do I think these are concretely “right” thoughts, just early ones utilizing a few schools of theory focusing on a little bit of race, a little bit of psychoanalytics, and a whole lot of gender.

And, you can’t talk about female characters with super powers without talking about Buffy. Of course.

Spoilers. So many spoilers.

  • If the creature–which is clearly meant to imply “organic,” plant-like, something “grown”–is patriarchy manifested (a viewing the narrative and subtext strongly lend themselves to), how does that frame all of the men in the show and boys who have not yet fully matured? The fact that the creature seems to be a government (society / culture) experiment that escaped also offers that Eleven is another product of the same system–a brutalized shell of a girl with a few exaggerated strengths and not much else remaining of her own self.
  • And, if it is patriarchy manifested, what does it mean that it is drawn to fresh blood and bleeding? Like a narcissist, do the show writers offer that patriarchy sees someone or something that is wounded as an invitation to cut deeper / be preyed upon?
  • How does this situate the women and girls on the show? The children?
  • If Brenner is the WORST man (less than only the creature and that’s actually arguable), Hopper is grey. Hopper gaslights Joyce until she hurls a comparison at him he can directly relate to (asking if he would know his child’s breathing if he heard it). Then he mostly stops treating her as “hysterical”* and begins to try to find her missing child. But, but, but… he gives up Eleven to save the missing boy, prioritizing a boy’s life over a traumatized, abused, and kidnapped preteen girl’s. (Could be further illuminated however, as the narrative develops.) But he gives her cookies at the end so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • The further issue with this is that it exhibits Hopper as unable to relate to or feel empathy for  Winona Ryder’s Joyce, unless she can make a direct comparison to his life that he has experienced. Does he even have the ability to really empathize?
  • In contrast, we have what I find to be one of the emotional hearts of the show, the brief relationship between El and the diner owner. Here is a large, imposing man (Chris Sullivan) caring for and concerned for El in a supremely parental way, entirely occupied with her well-being and best interest. So it’s interesting then that he should be so quickly killed as a direct result of caring, and by a woman–the only woman we see involved with the government branch that produced the creature and El. His care becomes his liability.
  • What are the pills that Hopper is taking?
  • What does the mention about aliens (if I remember correctly… aliens having visited) which is never revisited, imply? And what does it imply about this world? If aliens are a fact the charcters accept, are people not super surprised by the creature? Or the Upside Down? What else is liminal in the show’s reality?
  • What does it imply that the creature makes its home in the Upside Down, but can hunt and exist in the show’s reality world? Is the Upside Down a world of the creature’s creation? Or is it just an inhabitant?
  • What does the narrative between Lucas and El exhibit? Rightfully, he struggles with her–doubting her intentions and presence. How could he not, as a young black boy in America? He has no reason to trust anyone until they prove themselves and even then, he would probably keep one foot near the door. Lucas and El seem to find a trust over time, but the fact that they do, and that they struggle against the same thing (the creature and Brenner), possibly posits that Lucas can see *why* El is the way she is–she was tortured and traumatized by white men for her entire life. The way she is, is entirely because of who, and how, they made her. Something Lucas can possibly relate to.
  • Who is “good” and who is “bad”? Is anyone really good, aside from the intentions of the children? Joyce is rightly panicked, but when she meets Eleven, why is her first move not to get her to her mom, (presumably) Terry Ives,  the mute woman who had her child stolen from her, whom Hopper and Joyce visited for information? The same for Hopper–a man who lost his child to cancer doesn’t think to return this long-missing girl to her mom? Immediately? Rather, Joyce uses Eleven to try and locate her son, offering herself as a sort of stand-in “mom,” who will help El through the event/sacrifice/spell. This is barely different than Dr. Brenner, commanding El to be tortuously experimented upon and carry her back to her room at the end of the day, likely as an act of “love” in his book.
  • There are few African American or POC in Stranger Things. Similar to the Smurfette trope outlined below, it seems like a deliberate move on the part of writers to have not only a token girl, but a token black friend, as 80s TV / film regularly did. Aside from Lucas and his parents, police officer Powell (Rob Morgan) who often seems like he is a little fed up with the white folks’ shenanigans, and one lab assistant, POC are rare in Stranger Things, seemingly to make a point: What has really changed, 30 years later? If Stranger Things is trying to hold a mirror up to our culture, is it doing so successfully? In some ways, I think yes, very much. In some ways, if feels phoned in–short hand for things that need and deserve deeper development in commentary and character. Perhaps later seasons can kick it off the fence it seems to be perched upon.

This article* states critically: “Eleven is often treated like a liability—a major character relegated to the corners of the story unless it’s time to save the day…”. Yes. But because that’s how women and girls are generally treated in our culture (see above where Hopper prioritizes Will over Eleven).

The same article goes on to say: “Eleven is clearly the token girl of the group—recalling the “Smurfette Principle” trope that pervaded children’s TV during that decade—but the show doesn’t display much self-awareness on this point.” Absolutely. Spot fucking on, BUT, Stranger Things also displays the Buffy Principal (I just made that up) which is a female character that fantastically depicts the depth and ability women have and contain (hello… Potentials!?), but generally learn to minimize or atrophy, outright deny, or temper because our society cannot integrate or tolerate it. Buffy, and in Stranger Things El during a few scenes, try/tries repeatedly to be “normal” only to realize that they have to be who they are, and utilize all that they are to save the situation. They can try to be what society wishes and wants, but they can’t do it for very long and certainly not well, an experience many, many young women have. In Stranger Things, we have El, curious about what she looks like in a dress and wig, and clearly admiring of Will’s older sister, who has a perpetual application of fresh Bonne Bell or Kissing Potion on. But we see El rip off the wig after a few scenes in it, knowing she can never be that. And in Buffy, we have Buffy out patrolling in a cemetery with a crossbow in her beloved prom dress, or showing up to the Bronze for one of her first dates with Angel, makeup smeared and grass in her hair.

And finally the article finishes with: “Stranger Things is unwittingly guilty of this mistake, overwhelmingly privileging the happiness, desires, words, and lives of El’s friends over hers.” I see why this is said, but can’t agree. Too much in the show points to the fact that the show’s writers and producers know exactly what they are doing, and to what end. Whether they are successful is for viewers to decide.

 

* http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/07/stranger-things-netflix/491681/

Summer things now…

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Welp. I guess I just found out how I’ll be spending my summer… Clicky-click: http://www.watcherjunior.tv/08/lavoie.php

Recently rewatched “Lullaby,” Angel S3E9. Hence, top photo.

Reading Angel: After the Fall… which is amazing.

Other recent viewings (you can tell school just ended): Film: This Must Be the Place (interesting, Penn is incredible, story and writing miss on few important marks), Silver Linings Playbook (eh, wonderful De Niro performance and I didn’t hate Bradley Cooper, which is something), Hunger Games (eh), White Light/Black Rain (*amazing.* In the way that will make you want to give up entirely and hate a lot of things), Magic Mike (such a good idea but mark very missed… subtext fell flat but had great promise)…

Buffy: Ten Years On

I am fortunate, compared to so many that have fallen deeply down into Buffyverse post original airing, that I mostly watched the series as it unfolded. I had a friend during undergrad in the late 90’s who was very important to me. His mother had MS and was bed-ridden. He insisted I sit down, join in their weekly ritual, and watch Buffy on Tuesday nights with himself and his mother. I had seen one episode prior, S2E4’s “Inca Mummy Girl,” which I have talked about before here. It didn’t stick, and if you watch it now and out of context, you can see why.

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Thus, the first episode I saw on original air date aside from “Inca Mummy Girl,” was S3E8’s “Lover’s Walk.” And in the scope of Buffyverse, it’s a huge episode. Spike returns to Sunnydale and kidnaps Willow, Xander and Willow’s affair is found out by a shattered Oz and Cordelia, Buffy, Spike, and Angel all fight together forecasting things to come, and Cordy (very shockingly) gets impaled. Needless to say I was addicted, and saw every episode in real time from then on.

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To that end, I have personal context in my own life for Buffy. I generally know what was happening in my life “when.” As in, the experience of Buffy somewhat framed my life for that period of time… when I graduated, when I got married to my first husband (and subsequently got divorced, not long after Angel left Sunnydale), when I started working in wine (Buffy started college), when I had certain love affairs, when I moved into apartments that would become important to my history, when my Dad died (“Into the Woods”), when I, when I, when I…

This of course gives Buffy a deep level of resonance for me, but the nostalgia is not what keeps me fascinated or returning to it. At all. The work itself continues to gain credibility as time passes. Buffy not only stands up in all schools of critical theory, it reveals new commentary pertaining to those schools regularly, in a way that few works of art, and especially few TV shows, have been able to. In a very real way the craftsmanship and depth written into Buffy paved the path for shows like, The Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men. Until that time, psychologically aging characters had only been half-heartedly accomplished among any TV series. And no show has so successfully used heavy plot-metaphor and myth to boldly elucidate the universal pains of maturation and living.

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As I sit here, ten years since the last episode, newly graduated with an MFA, miscarrying my third pregnancy in a year, watching the Stanley Cup playoffs (go Pens), and listening to my husband outside mowing the lawn — the doors thrown open and early summer air clouding in, Buffy feels more relevant than ever. I think of things like: the quality of light that meets Buffy’s traumatized expression when she opens the back door in, “The Body” (those windchimes and the sounds of her neighborhood). Or the way the wooden box holding the syringe hits the wall to the right above Giles’ head in “Helpless”…

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What Joss Whedon understands better than anyone else working in TV (and arguably film) and what he portrays, is what’s most important in our experiences: the moments in between; in between finding the body and the arrival of the EMTs. The moment before having to ruthlessly end a friendship (Faith), or maturely and painfully realizing that life has a greater purpose than hedonism (Angel and Buffy and Buffy and Spike). The decisions that are made because we *let* the head or heart win out, and alternately the blinding fear that accompanies trusting our instincts and parenting ourselves.

Whedon’s characters fail time and again in their execution of most decisons, especially where relationships and their own best interests are concerned. They doubt themselves and let their desires win, or worse, let their wishes guide their actions; wishing things were different than they really are and acting as if that were true until they can no longer lie to themselves.

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Ten years ago it was Tuesday, of course. And when the final episode of Buffy ended (“Chosen”), Angel started; the season finale for Angel season 3 “Tomorrow,” where Cordelia is whisked into a divine region and Angel is dropped to the bottom of the ocean.

For me, every Tuesday, and indeed nearly every day for many years consisted of a harrowing, humbling, selfish, and indulgent life, of: waking, writing, working, returning home, yoga, dinner, watching movies/Buffy/Angel, and going out dancing. I knew at the time those were rare, valuable days. They were also extremely hard days of working relentlessly on myself, forcing change and growth, developing disciplines, cornering and conquering fears, and generally using all of my time to craft a larger vision of life. And also  to begin to heal, and tell my truth. I often think of those years as one huge panic attack, fueled by PTSD and panic/anxiety disorder.

While the skills I sought and gained in that time I did not learn from Buffy, I watched it happen for the characters of Buffy, and during the most personally-productive and alienated years of my life, I really was in the best company and that is: the company of very great art, art which retains and compounds its relevance, and facets more deeply  with each passing year.

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“…fire bad, tree pretty…”

That about sums it up. Thesis turned in. It was supposed to be around 50 pages; mine was 84. IDK. I tried to cut 10 pages and my advisor wouldn’t let me.

I feel like I cut out an organ and gave it to the world and now it’s out there, being my organ, but roaming around in the world, getting dirty, drinking in slummy bars, wearing bad clothes…. Probably I’m also losing my mind.

How many times have I wondered if Whedon was trying to tell us this was actually the reality…? Often. Keep the cell warm, Buff. I’ll be there very soon.

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How these things start/Potentials

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Snagged from The Hooded Utilitarian, Ats, S5 screen shot.

* Becka H. – Hold up: Angel and Nina have sex, right? How is that possible again? Is it because he doesn’t love her? I’m trying to make a point that he only engages even in loveless sex when under duress in some way (the curse = Eve, straight up not giving a fuck = Darla). But… Nina!

* Jill McKenna Reed – I believe yes they do. At least there seems to be an “after” scene of them in bed. Yes, doesn’t love her. No true love. Like him and Eve. Nina is a poor man’s Buffy!!

* Becka H. – Nina sux, I kind of want to pretend she doesn’t exist in this essay. Because I’m trying to show how he kinds of trains himself into this asexual mode as a sort of restrictive safeguard against soul loss. And how he doesn’t date or have sex with people even when he doesn’t love them, because he takes his asceticism to such annoying extremes (this is also like how he extends the “true happiness” thing to be a reasoning for why he doesn’t get close to people in a platonic way either, etc.). At least with Darla and Eve there are explanations for his risky behavior, but Nina fucks it up.

* Jill McKenna Reed – Arguably, the move to WR&H empowers him somehow and makes him arrogant and cocky. I think he feels “entitled” to some spoils. He gets loose and messy. This is also when he gets shunned by Andrew and Giles as no longer being “good.” And really, Giles/Andrew/Buffy are right. AI can’t be as long as they are associated with WR&H.

* Becka H. – Oh yeah, I forgot about the whole scene with Andrew taking the slayers. I think you are right but I’m struggling because getting into the moral complications of WRH kind of derails things… it’s a rabbit hole I don’t think I can travel down with the scope I have. Maybe I will just leave Nina out (of my work). EVERYTHING AFTER CONNOR = RUINING MY LIFE

* Jill McKenna Reed – The way the show ends up, and the move to WR&H, in a lot of ways exhibits *that* Angel… The Angel that has a soul, but sits there and throws his smoking cigarette into the pool of gasoline that lights up Darla and Drusilla. He’s not a white hat, he’s not a black hat, but he sure as hell is a dark-shade of grey.

* Jill McKenna Reed – And season 8 (graphic novels) furthers that to some degree. Angel isn’t “good”. He sometimes is for a while (and Buffy motivates most of that), but he’s happy to get dirty (for fun and power partly) if he can do some mental gymnastics to justify it enough.

* Becka H. – IA. I think it’s really important just how straight up EVIL he is as Angelus (and beyond that, how generally shitty he was as a human). He’s not just a normal vampire when he’s bad… he’s really, really bad. I cited Spike when making that distinction. I think that’s why he takes such extreme steps in keeping his soul, because he worries that any small temptation will bring that back. And I do think it’s important that in moving to WRH, he’s giving up on some of that extremity, and look what happens.

* Jill McKenna Reed – I think his natural state is grey. We see that when he first sees/meets Buffy. She motivates him out of his previous ways of being, which weren’t good. All those years he had a soul, he didn’t do anything good for anyone, he just flogged himself and ate rats in alleys.

* Becka H. – Yeah exactly. It’s almost like… the chance for human recognition is what gets him out of his self indulgent homeless life (“You could become a person, someone to be counted,” etc.) and idk. Maybe when Connor comes into the picture and he feels like he has this family at AI and then the WRH thing happens, it’s like he’s getting too big for his britches and thinks he’s achieved that human status (even though he never really can).

* Jill McKenna Reed – Yes. And it always makes me wonder how much his subconscious “lets” his “family” die off… Fred…Cordy…Wesley… He can’t keep it up past a few years. He slinks back to his natural state.

* Becka H. – It’s very strange because he’s like… the word I use is asymptotic, to the normative sphere. So he like lets himself get within reach but always kind of knows that he can’t have what’s there. It’s infuriating the way it plays out but I kinda feel for him. Whistler warns him about it early on (the more you live in this world the more you see how apart from it you really are) but I feel like he has to learn it the hard way on several occasions.

* Jill McKenna Reed – I think he subscribes to it tho’, and wraps it around him, much the way that Buffy sees her friends as a burden, often. Angel believes nothing is for him so he lets everything “go away,” even people that he loves and could potentially save.

* Becka H. – I definitely agree that he subscribes to it

* Jill McKenna Reed – He figures he will lose everyone anyway, so what does it matter that much if it is sooner or later. (And this is why I often see Angel as namby-pamby, QQ, “poor me,” even though he is usually fostering it.)

(What I didn’t say to Becka H. and should have… I LOVE her point about Spike/Angelus… one is bad and one is *really, really* bad.

Spike’s scene in the church after gaining a soul, draped on the cross, burning and crying, shows that he has a wish to be rectified to God (‘We were young (innocent) once too…’). Angelus/Angel does not even broach the topic. The closest he gets is giving a watch to the PTB (Powers That Be). He doesn’t feel as if he could ever be/should ever be forgiven. But the pain of that fact doesn’t stop Spike from wanting. And that leads to my very long-believed/held/conceptualized & very deeply rooted essay on why Spike’s love is more righteous than Angel’s.

One gets the idea that Spike won’t rest until he finds a peace with God (however Whedon interprets God, arguably Christian), any kind of peace. Angel on the other hand won’t let the redeemer/God do his/her work because he cannot get over himself enough. His pride and self-punishment always require more (addiction)… and this backs DIRECTLY into Heathcliff/Cathy/Wuthering Heights… Oh man. I need some wine…)

In conclusion, I wish I could go back to the days before I searched Spike/Angel Google images… sigh…