SEAN I was born in 1983. That's the same year that the first season of Netflix' Stranger Things is set. We've all spent countless hours dissecting the sweet 80s nostalgia of Stranger Things. The show references tons of classic films like ET, Close Encounters, Alien, Star Wars, Altered States, Body Double, The Goonies, Jaws, The Last Starfighter, Nightmare on Elm Street… The list goes on and on. The whole series is chock full of homages and visual details that remind people like me of all the great stories we grew up with. The thing about that much nostalgia is that it can easily ruin a movie. We see a shot from the Adam Sandler film, "Pixels". SEAN But with Stranger Things, it works. I think the thing that makes it actually feel like all those great movies from the 80s isn't just the clothes, the cars, or the production design… It's that the kids themselves are the heroes. And they're not only fighting monsters, but the authority figures in government who unleash the monsters and the other adults that don't take them seriously. The story embodies a critical point in every kid's life when they have to learn to take responsibility for themselves and make their own decisions, especially when things get tough. And that makes sense. Stranger Things takes most of its cues from movies like ET, It, and The Goonies. Movies where the adults are often absent, or so far in the periphery that the kids are left with lots of freedom to explore the world, make mistakes, and develop into better versions of themselves. And the government - the ultimate authority figure - was usually the bad guy. For those of us born in the 80s, this freedom was so important to the way we grew up. It's not that our parents didn't care or step in to protect us kids when we got in serious trouble, but for the most part, we were allowed to, well, be kids. To play. To venture into the wider world without constant supervision, or “helicopter parenting” as people say today. We were, to use author Lenore Skenazy’s term, “free range kids.” And that freedom made a huge difference. We learned to get along with friends and deal with conflict. We learned how to solve problems ourselves without running to authority figures. We learned self-reliance. And psychologists suggest that this freedom is actually really important. But between helicopter parenting and the ubiquity of mobile devices, kids are getting less time on their own and don't have the freedom they used to have. Schools are assigning more homework. They're reducing time for recess. And parents are filling up after-school and weekend time with scheduled, structured activities like tutoring sessions and sports. Boston College Psychology professor Peter Gray believes that the dramatic decline of free play in recent decades has contributed to the sharp rise in anxiety disorders and depression among children. Perhaps stories like Stranger Things are set decades ago, because they have to be. A story set in modern times in which children have the freedom and the boldness to head out on their bikes and find adventure just wouldn’t be realistic. We all need freedom in order to learn how to be better, more powerful versions of ourselves. We've got to be able take risks, try new things, learn from failure and build self-esteem from success. That's how kids grow into confident and responsible young adults -- and it's how adults find meaning and fulfillment in their lives and become more self-sufficient providers for themselves and their families. If we stifle the adventurous spirit we see in Stranger Things, we end up with kids who seek out "safe spaces” and who are always looking for someone else to solve their problems. But what we want is a society filled with people equipped to judge right and wrong and who have the individual authority to act on it. We want people to be skeptical of power. We want people to believe in themselves and respect others enough to believe their freedom matters too. And that's what Stranger Things is all about. The series opens with the boys playing Dungeons and Dragons. They are playing a game where they have to make choices and live with the consequences of those choices. But... It's safe. Then they meet Eleven, a young girl who was controlled and trapped in a laboratory who finally learned what it meant to be free. But she doesn't understand the responsibility that comes with it. They screw up. They get hurt. But they learn from those experiences and in the end, discover that they're the ones who have to help each other and save the world. Stranger Things is an awesome series that manages to balance tons of cool nostalgia with a really mysterious original concept, but the best thing about it is that it shows how we can all learn to be the heroes of our own story. SEAN Hey everybody, thanks for watching this episode of Out of Frame. If you liked this video, check out FEE's Essential Guide to Self-Directed Learning, which you can download for free at the link in the description. And if you want to see more video essays like this, hit that subscribe button and check us out as @FEEonline on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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About this show

Video essays that explore the intersection of art, culture, and big ideas written & produced by FEE's Director of Media, Sean W. Malone.

November 2, 2017

The Netflix original "Stranger Things” is a show full of nostalgia and adventure. It’s a show about how we can all be the heroes of our own story. But Stranger Things could never be set in the present day. This video explains why. And don't worry, there are no major spoilers here! After you're done watching, download our FREE Essential Guide to Self-Directed Learning right HERE.


Written & Produced by Sean W. Malone
Edited by Jaye Davidson & Sean W. Malone