[Like most of my fellow humans, I spent a good bit of the late summer obsessed with Netflix’s Stranger Things. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of topics linked to the Duffer Brothers’ nostalgic thriller, leading up to a Guest Post from an expert on supernatural cultural texts!]
StrangerStudying the show’s three badass female leads (with apologies to a fourth, the much-beloved and –lamented Barb).
1) Eleven: Without question the show’s breakout character and star is Eleven, the telepathically powered runaway girl played with a perfect combination of creepy dissonance and youthful hesitancy by British actress Millie Bobby Brown. While Eleven certainly has her 80s antecedents, including Stephen King’s Firestarter and the girl from Poltergeist, I would argue that she represents, especially in her evolving relationship with the show’s young male protagonists, a unique blend of “other” and “average kid”—a combination that makes (SEMI-SPOILER ALERT) her ultimate, crucial acts of courage and heroism that much more striking and moving. Indeed, making Eleven into a protagonist and hero as much as an outsider or threat distinguishes Stranger Things from many of the boy-centered texts about which I wrote in yesterday’s post.
2) Joyce Byers: Critical and fan opinions seem a bit more split on 80s star Winona Ryder’s comeback turn as the grieving and desperate mother to missing young Will Byers. I agree with critiques that Ryder’s performance is a bit over-the-top at times, although I imagine that virtually no reactions or behavior would be truly out-of-bounds for a parent who has not only lost her young son, but suspects that he remains somewhere close and yet frustratingly out of reach. Moreover, while Ryder’s histrionics might draw the most attention, the truth is that in many of her scenes she is not only emoting but also and most importantly taking action, and that by the season’s end she’s proven entirely right about what is happening to and with her son. Which is to say, in her crucial partnership with David Harbour’s pitch-perfect Sheriff Hopper, Joyce is truly the lead investigator.
3) Nancy Wheeler: Both Eleven and Joyce are unique and compelling leads, but for this viewer it’s Natalia Dyer’s teenage Nancy who represents the show’s most innovative female character. On the surface, Nancy seems to be drawn very fully from John Hughes romantic comedies—the shy pretty girl who is torn between the asshole bad boy and the sweet but awkward outcast. Yet while that love triangle does persist until the season’s final moments, the truth is that Nancy also kicks as much monstrous butt as any character on the show—and significantly more than either of those love interest men. I’ll have more to say in tomorrow’s post about how Stranger Things utilizes but also revises nostalgia for 80s pop culture, but certainly the character of Nancy falls more in the latter category, and reflects a show that’s aware of the gendered limitations of many of its influences and determined to move beyond them.
Last StrangerStudying tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other responses to the show?
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