Containment Culture in “Stranger Things”

For the majority of the 20th century, the United States was dominated by a culture of containment. This culture has seen a reemergence in the wake of the tragic attacks on September 11th, 2001. Just as containment dictated both policy and domestic life during the Cold War, so too does it have a firm grip on those two aspects of US society today. This containment culture is demonstrated well in the Netflix Original Series Stranger Things (2016-).

At a surface level, Stranger Things is a direct nostalgic callback to the 1980’s, an era where anti-communist rhetoric reached a peak. The show follows a group of misfit kids who are forced to team up against a mysterious otherworldly threat with the help of a young girl with powers. The town, called Hawkins, is a fairly good representation of the Cold War Era United States at large. The otherworldly creature is a force not quite understood that is capable of unstoppable destruction, a fair metaphor for nuclear weapons. Its presence, much like the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation, forces the town to live in fear.

This fear, in line with containment culture, creates a strict duality between Other and Same. Thus, the group of misfits is lumped into the category of Other, because they do not fit within the definitions of “average American children.” One has a birth defect, one is African-American, one is thought to be gay, and all are considered “nerdy.” Thus, they face both the destructive threat of the creature and the threat of fellow classmates who see the group as Other. The show is a thought provoking look at the nature of exclusion and of Otherness in an era that in reality is not much different from our current one.

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2 thoughts on “Containment Culture in “Stranger Things””

  1. This definitely is a very interesting angle on Stranger Things! I have only recently finished watching the show, and I’ve never considered it from this perspective before reading your post. Following the same metaphor of Other/Same, I think it is also very interesting that even though the children were classified as ‘Other’, they nonetheless chose to protect ‘Same’, which in itself might be a political message to the audiences.

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  2. I completely agree with your depiction of the kids’ “otherness” during this Cold War era. They are different, and thus they stand apart from mainstream society. The fear of the creature in the show is very similar to the fear of the nuclear weapons, as you described. I never really connected the two, but while juxtaposed, this comparison makes complete sense!

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