Culture Clips: The Upside Down Edition

Stranger Things Culture Clips

Netflix will face some pretty serious challenges in the coming months. Right after NBCUniversal announced that it’ll pull The Office from the popular streaming site when its contract runs out (in 2021), Time Warner chimed in and said it’ll yank another wildly popular sitcom, Friends, in 2020 and slap it on HBO Max. Forbes’ Stephen McBride has declared that “Netflix’s glory days are over.”

But Netflix is offering a strong rebuttal to all this gloom and doom: Stranger Things.

Though the streaming network rarely releases viewership figures, it made an exception for its nostalgia-soaked sci-fi sensation, bragging that 40.7 million households  have been watching the show since the new season dropped July 4. Nearly half of those folks as of July 9—18.2 million households worth—have already watched the entire eight-episode season.

Those numbers are worth a little perspective. Consider that Game of Thrones—which some had contended was culture’s last watercooler show­—drew an HBO-record 19.3 million viewers to its grand finale earlier this year. (Note, that’s viewers, not households, as Netflix measures.) On more widely available broadcast television, NBC’s Sunday Night Football was by far the most-watched program, also boasting 19.3 million viewers. That means that Stranger Things is at least doubling the viewership of today’s most popular non-Netflix shows.

Of course, we have to take Netflix at its word, and it’s possible that the company is lying like the Soviet Union circa 1985. But judging from the number of folks I know who won’t stop talking about the show, methinks that Netflix’s figures may be pretty on point.

And my friends aren’t the only ones discussing Stranger Things. The Atlantic tells us that the new season not only takes a deep dive into 1980s nostalgia, but tweaks the conspiracy theories that were in play back then, too. The Verge goes a step deeper, noting the show’s focus on “Cold War paranoia” and suggests that Stranger Things is more than a celebration of the consumerist, Reagan-era 1980s: The creatures always seem to crawl back, after all. “Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer love the ‘80s, but they also realize that something in that idyllic past went horribly wrong and needs to be fixed,” writes Noah Berlatsky.

Others are more concerned with the show’s impact on the here and now. The Parents Television Council says that Stranger Things is more explicit in Season 3 than in its previous (and already pretty graphic) two outings. And actress Evan Rachel Wood called out the show’s frumpy, violent and surprisingly jealous police chief Jim Hopper for “unacceptable” behavior on Twitter. “Extreme jealousy and violent rages are not flattering or sexy like TV would have you believe,” she said. A group called the Truth Initiative is calling out Stranger Things (and other Netflix shows) for its depictions of smoking (another of Hopper’s bad habits). “The growth of tobacco imagery on these popular shows is enabling content to essentially become the new tobacco commercial,” its CEO Robin Koval said. Some viewers are also a little freaked out that the show’s young teens are smooching.

And even as the show outed one of its main characters, speculation on the sexuality of another—the much-tortured Will Byers—has been the subject of much speculation when one of his friends said that he didn’t “like girls.” (Noah Schnapp, the guy who plays Will, says the characters’ sexuality is “really up to the audience to interpret it,” but he personally believes that Will just “still wants to be a kid and play in the basement like he did in old times.”)

But Stranger Things isn’t the only place where the world seems a little … upside down.

Fans are mourning the far-too-early death of 20-year-old Disney star Cameron Boyce, who died from a seizure brought about by an “ongoing medical condition.” His co-stars from Disney’s Jessie praised their former workmate. “He was younger than me but taught me how to spread love and kindness more than anyone that has ever been in my life,” wrote 21-year-old Peyton List, who played his sister on the show. And indeed, it seems as though Boyce was quite determined to spread that love and kindness. He helped raise more than $30,000 for the Thirst Project, a charity dedicated to bringing clean drinking water to impoverished communities. And in his last interview, he reaffirmed his commitment to helping others.

There’s a long line of difference makers in my family. I’m following in the footsteps of some really strong men and women who have showed me what it means to give back; it’s the greatest way to fulfill yourself.

If a Disney star was all about giving back, Disney itself is taking back a plush toy based on Toy Story 4’s character Forky. (Turns out it was something of a choking hazard.) But it’s not taking back its decision to cast Halle Bailey, as the star of the live-action redo of The Little Mermaid. Some folks fired off racist objections to the casting—sometimes even creating fake accounts to do so. But the original Little Mermaid, Jodi Benson, was just fine with it. “We have, as a family, raised our children and for ourselves that we don’t see anything that’s different on the outside,” she said at the Florida Supercon.” I think that the spirit of a character is what really matters. What you bring to the table in a character as far as their heart and their spirit is what really counts.”

We could go on and on and on, of course. But let’s return to the world of TV and revisit the story examined in HBO’s recently-aired documentary I Love You, Now Die. The doc examines the case of Michelle Carter, a 17-year-old Massachusetts girl who, through reams of disturbing text messages, seemed to encourage her boyfriend (18-year-old Conrad Roy) to kill himself.

The whole case was strange and tragic enough. But the HBO show unearthed something else: Many of Carter’s texts and social message missives were lifted straight from the once-popular show Glee. Director Erin Lee Carr speculates that Carter was enamored with Glee star Lea Michele. And when Michele’s boyfriend Cory Monteith died of a drug overdose, perhaps Carter was hoping to create a parallel story path for herself in pushing her own beau to commit suicide. Carr tells USA Today:

As a young teenager I was obsessed with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” I would recite it ad nauseam, but I never participated in grabbing dialogue from a show or an interview and using it as my own. So for me, it was the clearest example that Michelle Carter was living in a different reality. One of the scarier parts was that Lea Michele’s on-camera and real-life boyfriend died due to a drug overdose and it basically set this plan in motion. When Lea Michele’s boyfriend died, she was able to grieve, and everybody looked up to her and said, “You’re doing such a good job.” Potentially, I’m not certain, but what if Michelle Carter was like, “Maybe that could be me.”

The world can indeed turn upside down. And sometimes, we’re its own monsters.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous 4 months ago
I saw the premiere of Descendants 3 last night and in addition to them dedicating the movie to Cameron, they also had a sweet touching tribute to him at the end of the movie. So I'm glad Disney decided to do that for him, but in addition to that the movie itself was easily the best of the series to me. From the story, to the extra characters, to the quality of the songs, everything was taken up a notch and made the whole thing more interesting than the two previous Descendants combined. Plus maybe it was just me but for some reason I got a slight King Lear vibe while watching it, which being a huge Shakespeare nut I greatly appreciated. Either way it was a great great movie, the best of the series in my opinion, and the extra special touches honoring Cameron was just the icing on the cake.
Anonymous 6 months ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

I know of a lot of girls who are really disappointed/upset with the casting of Halle Bailey, and their disappointment comes from the fact that Disney is changing the look of an iconic character from their childhood. It’s kinda like how a lot of people reacted to Sonic’s design for his new movie now that I think of it.

I personally find it very confusing the way people react to actors of a certain race getting cast in a certain role. There are people who get upset over an actor playing a character who doesn’t share the same race (Matt Damon in The Great Wall and Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger come to mind), and there are others who are completely ok with changing the race of a character, with their argument being that the character is fictional and that it only matters if the performance of the actor is good.

Me personally, I think that actors ought to play roles that match the race of their character who can also play the character well. There definitely ought to be more diversity in films and entertainment, but changing the race of an iconic character is just taking a shortcut. The entertainment industry should just create new characters who are engaging and interesting (Miles Morales anyone?).
Anonymous 6 months ago
I think that Disney Princesses are already pretty diverse. (Mulan is Chinese, Tiana is black, Pocahontas is Native American Moana is Polanesian) They reflect the different cultures, of their countries. The Little Mermaid is a European tale, originally written by Hans Christian Anderson. Disney had respect for the culture of Moana and did not draw her as white. Let's have respect for the European culture and not cast Ariel as someone who is black.
 I have nothing against black actors though, and I will have an open mind. I just think Disney should have thought more carefully on this matter.
-Emma Bibliophile
Dan Haynes 6 months ago
If they want to be faithful to the source material, shouldn't Disney's Ariel be green with bloody, painful feet?
Anonymous 6 months ago
I finished Stranger Things 3 on Sunday, and it was definitely my favorite season so far. It was not as violent as I thought it would be, and the swear word count was down from the last season. If you haven’t watched it yet, you totally should.
B Evans 6 months ago
20 years is much too young. 
+ Memory + Eternal + 
charitysplace 6 months ago
*raises hand* I watched Stranger Things on the 4th of July and I wasn't the only one. Most of my friends had seen the entire third season by the weekend. I thought it was too gruesome / violent this time around -- I did not enjoy Hopper's extreme behavior or another character getting pummeled multiple times under torture. I also noticed way more abuse of Jesus' name than in previous seasons. Shame. It's got a cool premise, that show, and the characters grow on you.
Anonymous 6 months ago
Cameron Boyce was way too young to die, and I'll always remember him playing Luke on Jessie, Carlos in the Descendants movies, and of course Adam Sandler's son in the Grown-Up's movies.
Anonymous 6 months ago
In other news, Cuphead is getting an animated show on Netflix next year. So that's pretty cool!

- Evan