There is no doubt that a lot of those 40 million viewers were either too young to remember the Eighties or emerged into the world long after perms went past their use-by date. Dear reader, if you are among those embryos then you’ll have missed a lot of the more nuanced references in the latest season.
Warning: Here there be spoilers
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Stranger Things 3 showed, name-dropped, and referenced about a zillion cult classics of film and television, including movies that established iconic tropes in the horror genre. Thank The Thing for the Mind Flayer’s bloodthirsty alien tendencies and many-legged, insect-like form, and The Blob for its new ability to explode living things into disgusting, sentient flesh sacks and absorb them.
In Chapter Seven, the Scoops Troop briefly drop in on a showing of Back To The Future. The date that the episode takes place is the 3rd July 1985, the exact same day that the movie premiered IRL. Cool nod, but not exactly subtle.
But Stranger Things doesn’t just take place in the Eighties, it also parodies the era and romanticises it. One of the more clever ways it does this is by incorporating the political sentiments of the time into this season’s Russian villains.
The long and anxious years of the Cold War seeped into the cultural conscience of America in ways that have never been fully untangled. Most are as afraid of the ‘commies’ now as they were then, and even though the tensions had waned by the time that Stranger Things 3 is set in, the trope of the evil Russian was booming as much at the cinema as in Ronald Reagan’s re-election campaign.
The most obvious parallel is Red Dawn, the classic story of Soviet-invades-town, high-schoolers-fight-back. Though I’d say a bear in the woods is a lot less scary than an interdimensional tentacle beast with telepathic powers.
Another element of Eighties iconography that takes centre-stage in Season 3 is the blatant consumerism of the era, from the Starcourt mall setting to the product placement that is so obvious it can only be intentional. Beverages like Coke and Alexei’s cherry Slurpees get a crazy amount of screen time, and at one point the kids spend almost a full minute arguing about the taste of New Coke before Eleven interrupts them – a throwback to the release of the Coca-Cola Company’s failed recipe reworking that year.
At first, the scene is completely jarring and might have irritated you (especially if you aren’t wearing rose-tinted nostalgia glasses), but when you realise how common product placement was at the time it begins to make a lot more sense. Ray-Ban sunglasses sales got a great boost from Tom Cruise modelling them first in Risky Businessand then in Top Gun, while E.T. earned a million dollars for eating some Reese’s Pieces. Gotta love it when the Duffer Brothers can poke fun at their own nostalgia-gasm.
Unfortunately, it’s pretty much impossible to get a period piece perfect, and Stranger Things has its share of very subtle anachronisms. The most pedantic among us managed to spot one unfortunate error in Chapter Five, when El and Mike break out a packet of M&Ms at the hospital. The packet contains no blue chocolates, which is a good start since they weren’t around ’til the late 90s, but they failed to come through on the red ones – they were discontinued for a window between 1976 and 1987. Oof, so close people.
On the other hand, it could simply imply that there was a nearly decade-old packet of candy in that vending machine, which definitely isn’t impossible. Just a bit gross.