“Stranger Things 4”: a cultural and thematic masterpiece

by Hailey Harris (’24) | October 7, 2022

Art by Megan Wang (’25)

Roughly seven years ago, Netflix released Season One of Stranger Things. The series, which had been rejected by other studios over twelve times before its release, would go on to become one of the biggest shows on the platform. This summer, the show’s highly anticipated fourth season was played for over 1.3 billion hours and had a lasting impact on its viewers. 

From the very beginning of the season, there was a shift in the style. A massive part of the show’s popularity stems from the first three seasons’ setting: Hawkins, a small town in 1980s Indiana. However, in season four, the show branches out to new places, bringing much needed change. In California, Will, Jonathan, and Mike experience a series of events typical for a teen action thriller, complete with explosions and getaway cars. The star of the show, Eleven, fights off evil in her own mental science fiction world, while being physically present at a new laboratory in Nevada. Joyce attempts to break Hopper out of a Russian prison, and the remaining characters—Steve, Max, Lucas, Dustin, Nancy, and Robin—stay in backwater Hawkins, where they continue to encounter increasingly horrifying events. These varied plotlines come together flawlessly in the over two-hour finale, where each group confronts evil in its own way. Though much longer than previous seasons, Stranger Things 4 keeps viewers compelled throughout the show through its plot.

Compared to previous seasons, this new season developed deeper themes. Vecna, the new supervillain, preys on individuals with past trauma and are still vulnerable from it. Vecna’s victims include Chrissy, who suffers from an eating disorder; Max, who developed depression after watching her brother die; Fred, who killed someone in a car crash; and Patrick, who had an abusive father growing up. The show explores all of these too-common traumas and demonstrates the importance of having hope and not being alone in any struggle. Although the themes are different from those of the previous seasons, they lead to a much more relevant viewing experience.

Stranger Things 4 also had a significant impact on pop culture. Kate Bush’s song “Running Up That Hill,” originally released in 1985, enjoyed a dramatic revival due to its importance in saving Max in the show. Streams for the song increased by 9,000% after being featured on the show, and the song has been used in over 1.8 million TikToks. Brightly colored 80s clothing has also made a comeback, with stores creating their own Stranger Things departments to recreate 80s looks. The mullet, a classic 80s hairstyle, has regained popularity thanks to fan-favorites Steve Harrington and Eddie Munson. 

Overall, Stranger Things 4 was a perfectly executed season. Writers and producers often struggle to make the plot interesting in later seasons while remaining true to the character of the show. Stranger Things 4 successfully avoids this problem, following the same basic idea of previous seasons but adding new elements such as setting changes. With these additions, the show expands upon deeper themes and reintroduces the 80s into mainstream pop culture.

Categories: Entertainment

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