A few years ago, a little show called Stranger Things dropped on Netflix without much buzz and without much press. Three years later, it’s become the number-one show on Netflix, with the streaming platform reporting 40.7 million accounts streamed the latest season in just the first four days of its release, which became available to stream on July 4th. Not only that, but 18.2 million accounts had already finished the entire season within those first four days since release. Factor in all of the profiles still being piggybacked on by ex-boyfriends and girlfriends, along with all the friends and family you haven’t spoken to that are still using your account— and the numbers are still outstanding. So why were so many people this year trading in the barbecue and the fireworks for a show with six teens going through puberty and hundreds of exploding rats? I have a theory.
I was scrolling through my Instagram stories a few weeks ago when a person I follow started expressing their disappointment in Stranger Things 3, as the relationships are “corny,” “awkward,” and “we’re all only here for the action anyway, right?” Luckily, I had been meaning to purge my following list for a while, so they likely were doing me a favor (haha, only joking… maybe). But really, I wanted to shake them through my phone! “That’s the point! They’re teenagers! It’s corny and sucky and it’s all stupid at that age!” This person was (maybe not as seriously as I’m making this) making an assumption that 40.7 million people were watching this show for some action sequences they could see in any of the eight movies playing on FX this weekend. And you see, that’s where they’re wrong. The magic of Stranger Things, the reason we all watch, is exactly for those ridiculous teenage moments of angst. We love to watch these characters grow, feel, experience, and, as they so often have to, fight. It’s that joyful sense of comradery between these friends of all ages, all fighting back against the same bullies. It’s hard to look away, because we hate bullies, and we love to see them stopped. And outside our TV screens there seems to be more bullies everyday who need stopping. And we’re all looking for someone to do it.
In 2011, we all heard our favorite 100-year-old Avenger say, “I don’t like bullies; I don’t care where they’re from.” And it got our blood pumping. We loved it. We felt it. It made us all such a fan of Captain America before he ever had the muscles or the shield. He was “just a kid from Brooklyn” who knew what it meant to look out for the little guy because he was a little guy. In Stranger Things 3, our heroes are no different.
Besides maybe trading the vibranium shield in for a walk-in talkie and a sling-shot, our heroes are just kids from Hawkins, Indiana. They’re just a lonely, grief-stricken police chief in a small town. Just a single mother trying to raise her two boys. Just a couple of teenagers scooping ice cream for the summer. Our heroes in Hawkins are just like us. They don’t like bullies. Even if they’re from a spooky alternate dimension that darkly mirrors our own. They’ll stand up for the marginalized and afraid, for the used and the overlooked. They’ll punch evil in the teeth, and when punching won’t do, they’ll turn to their superpowers.
Sure, one of them can move things with her mind (and it is awesome) but every single one of these characters have helped stop the Mind Flayer with their wit. It’s their intellect, and, more importantly, their curiosity, that often gives them the advantage. It’s these characters’ empathy for the misunderstood and their swiftness to shelter the outcasts that makes them heroes. It’s the “friends don’t lie” kind of energy that gets them to the finish line. And I think, at the end of the day, we see the best parts of ourselves in these make-shift Hawkins heroes. And it keeps us wanting more. Stranger Things 4 can’t come soon enough.