BY JORDANNA GARLAND
In July 2016, the absolute last thing I wanted to do was watch “Stranger Things.” It was all anyone could talk about at the time. I quickly became annoyed by all the “Stranger Things” YouTube recommendations, the radio commentary and the hallway chatter of Eleven’s obsession with Eggos. Then one day on the bus to school, my friend handed me the other end of her (wired) earbuds and told me it was time to give in. I was hooked before the theme song could even play, and it seemed many other Generation Z (Gen Z) kids felt the same way.
“Stranger Things” revolves around four Dungeons and Dragons loving best friends Mike, Will, Lucas and Dustin in 1980’s Indiana. When Will goes missing, the three friends agree to search for him, despite the county police urging them not to. Instead of finding Will, they find Eleven – a girl with buzzed hair, selective mutism and telekinetic powers. With the help of Eleven, the three boys uncover the deeper and darker mystery of where Will might be.
It’s rare that a show can come along and captivate an audience the way “Stranger Things” has, but how did this phenomenon happen? What about “Stranger Things” is so intriguing to Gen Z? I believe there are four reasons: nostalgia, relatability, the appeal to digital culture and the binge-ability factor.
According to Pew Research Center, Gen Z has little to no recollection of the world before the existence of smartphones. “Stranger Things” offers us a glimpse into this pre-smartphone world. Instead of communicating via text message, we see communication via walkie-talkie. We see young teenagers spend their free time at the arcade and roller rink instead of online. The four main teenagers in the show are often seen riding their bikes through the neighborhood, something that isn’t quite as common today.
The examples I’ve mentioned are all instances of nostalgia. They evoke a longing for a time when society was different. When I first watched “Stranger Things,” I was immediately captivated by the town simply because of how different it is from society now.
As established before, a defining trait of Gen Z is our connection to technology. According to Forbes, Over 60% of TikTok users are Gen Z. It’s no surprise that when the latest season of “Stranger Things” dropped, users were quick to create “Stranger Things” inspired content. Many Gen Z users of TikTok took to the app to cosplay their favorite “Stranger Things” characters while others participated in popular trending audios such as the “Chrissy Wake Up, I Don’t Like This” audio and the “Running Up That Hill” audio.
The “Chrissy Wake Up , I Don’t Like This” TikTok audio is a remixed version of a scene of dialogue from the show. In short, the scene is of Chrissy, who is possessed, and Eddie, who is trying to wake her up. Created by TikTok user @Schmoyoho, the sound was originally intended to be used as an alarm ringtone for people named Chrissy, but the sound went viral on the app.
The “Running Up That Hill” audio is a snippet of the 1985 song, “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush. The song recently has been re-popularized due to a scene in “Stranger Things Four” where Max is running to a portal to Hawkins, away from the villain Vecna, who is trying to possess her. The song plays in the background as she is escaping. TikTok users who are fans of the show have parodied the song, causing it to trend.
Though the world of “Stranger Things” is vastly different from society today, the characters aren’t all that different from modern teenagers. Besides dealing with demogorgons and telekinetic powers, the characters of “Stranger Things” display real emotions and experiences that come with being a teenager – dating, maintaining friendships, coming out and more. The writers also don’t shy away from exploring darker and heavier themes such as loss and trauma.
Gen Z viewers may also find it easier to relate to the characters of the show because the majority of the actors that play them are a part of Gen Z themselves. Eight out of the 14 cast members of “Stranger Things” were born between the years of 1997 and 2012, making them a part of Gen Z. As the seasons went on, we watched the cast grow older while the viewers were doing the same.
Cable television is rapidly declining in popularity with streaming services subscriptions and binge watching is on the rise. According to Attest’s US media consumption report of 2021, 44% of Gen Z participate in watching three or more hours of streamed television per day. Streamed television makes it easy for people to spend hours watching because of the release format of the show. For seasons one through three of “Stranger Things,” all of the episodes were available to stream the day of release.
For season four of “Stranger Things,” the approach was to drop the first seven episodes as a part of volume one on May 27 and then release two more episodes as a part of volume two on July 1. On the weekend of May 27th, “Stranger Things” season four volume one had a total of 286.79 million hours of viewership. On the weekend of July 1, “Stranger Things” season four volume two had 301.28 hours of viewership. This makes “Stranger Things Four” the first English language series to ever reach 1 billion hours of viewership.
The Duffer Brothers, the creators of the show, have begun writing season five of “Stranger Things”. The news of the renewal was confirmed this past August when the Stranger Things writers room posted a picture of a blank whiteboard with “Stranger Things 5” written on it. The caption of the tweet read: “Day 1”. The release date for Stranger Things Five has yet to be revealed.