Stranger Things season 3 shows nostalgia has become a genre in itself and an escape into 'happier times'
The latest season of Netflix’s hit show Stranger Things is a fitting tribute to the power of social listening, if there ever was any.
The latest season of Netflix’s hit show Stranger Things is a fitting tribute to the power of social listening, if there ever was any. One of the key buzz factors for the show has always been its ‘nostalgia’ factor, with subtle ‘80s pop culture references. This season unashamedly pumps that nostalgia up to new levels, referencing Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Gremlins, The Karate Kid, Terminator, Alien and even shows like Cheers and Miami Vice.
Stranger Things is not the only one though. Audiences seem to be lapping up anything that has its roots in what people seemingly associate with ‘happier times.’ Whether it is movies, television or music, our recent pop culture landscape is unlike any in the past because it is heavily peppered with recycled cool.
It is easy to blame everything on a younger generation’s lack of originality, but that would be ‘uncle behaviour’ at its very best. The fact remains that no generation in the past has managed to create a larger pop culture that seamlessly cuts across as many layers of age, gender, language and region as it does today. Sure, we now have the internet but that is just the vessel — it is what has poured down that vessel that makes the noise. Would it really surprise you anymore to see a middle-aged man in Darjeeling having an online conversation with a teenager in Dallas about Thor’s golden mane (in Avengers: Endgame) resembling that of Patrick Swayze in Point Break? The world of entertainment has always been a refuge. In a world that is increasingly becoming more insular at the ground level, it is ironic that there is such a huge convergence in the refuge people turn to, regardless of age, gender and personal politics.
It makes you think that all of this was no accident, but a carefully crafted strategy that is being gradually adopted by content creators around the world, to bring in wider audiences. And nostalgia does that in spades. Think of someone growing up in the '70s, getting stuck in the mundanity of life by the '80s, and eventually losing all touch with contemporary pop culture by the '90s. The revival of the Star Wars franchise brought these people back to theatres and made them relevant in pop culture conversations again. Maybe some day in the future, the franchise might get re-marketed as the films that launched a million father-son conversations. Marvel’s entire portfolio of superhero films brings back recognisable characters to multiple generations who know the comic books and animated versions. Reboots, remakes and revivals have generally done well because they are known entities to a large part of the audience, and they do evoke familiarity. Come on, who does not want to see Maverick and Iceman go at it all over again when Top Gun makes a comeback next summer?
This is not just a Hollywood phenomenon though. After Judwaa 2, David Dhawan has announced a remake of Coolie No. 1, which he starts shooting in August. 1978 hit Pati, Patni Aur Woh is being remade and will be seen in theatres next year, while Mahesh Bhatt brings back the Sadak sequel next year as well. Popular television show Kasautii Zindagii Kay made a comeback last year while medical drama Sanjivani is being revived after 14 long years.
There is no desi field of entertainment, however, that has used nostalgia as effectively as music. In an industry that has been ruled by Bollywood for the best part of a century, pop music came, floundered and stayed afloat for an entire decade by remixing old hits before rediscovering newer identities. Some of these are rooted in folk while others like hip-hop lean on a more global flavour, but it is the recreation of old songs that still rakes in the big numbers. Recreation hinges upon picking up the best of the past (read as ‘hit’ hook lines) and injecting it into an absolutely new piece of work. It is an entire sub-genre by itself, and there is no bigger stamp of approval in this country than Bollywood jumping on the bandwagon. 'Aankh Marey' from Simmba has half a billion views on YouTube, making it one of the biggest hit songs in the past six months.
Remakes and reboots aside, nostalgia has also slowly crept into ordinary narratives, giving it that extra something which can only be described as playing on wistfulness. There are countless shows and movies about teenagers today, all with different hooks. But a show like The Goldbergs never needed a hook. It took the most mundane of things and made them great through some insanely good writing, and nostalgia did the rest. Yeh Meri Family on Netflix uses the same tropes and brings back memories of growing up in the '90s for most Indian kids — it is a formula that works when executed well.
It is human nature to sentimentalise all things past. Getting people to look back at the things that shaped their worldviews might seem like a perverse way to manipulate audiences, but it also provides an escape. For some, it is an escape into the reaches of one’s mind that has long since been cleansed of negativity. For others, it is a voyeuristic glimpse into the pop culture that laid the foundation for what we have today.
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