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Hauntology in Stranger Things

The show Stranger Things is contemporarily one of the most popular shows globally. One of the reasons for its popularity is the period in which it set, the 1980s which most of its viewers have largely forgotten or did not experience. It evokes a haunting feeling in the viewers as they get to relate to the world during this period. An example of a scene that evokes this haunting feeling is in episode one when the three boys are on their bikes headed home after a game of dungeons at 00:04:48 to 00:05:00. In this scene, Stranger Things uses lighting, focus, and camera movements that echo modernity’s break from the past which haunts its viewers hence the show’s popularity.

The selected scene is an example of how Stranger Things uses camera movements to evoke the break between modernity and the past. As the boys make a turn around the corner, the camera lens is in soft focus producing a blurry and romantic effect. The blurriness caused by the soft focus is an escape from actuality where there is a focus on portraying things as clearly as possible. Additionally, an extreme long shot is used in this scene. As such, the space between the three boys and the landscape that surrounds them is well defined. It haunts because in modernity, space is hard to come by but here in a scene set in the 1980s, space abounds. With the spatial contrast evoked using this shot, the break in time between the viewer and the show is emphasized. As such the scene is an apt example of Mark Fisher’s description of hauntological as a piece of art that “marks a relation to what is no longer” (19). The scene evokes the feeling of space and community simultaneously as the boys and the family to the far right of the shot are shown to be part of a community. The viewer is haunted by this scene as they know they can never experience it again and this makes them yearn for more experiences that allow them to connect with the period of Stranger Things’ setting. This is why the show is popular.

The lighting in the scene also haunts because it emphasizes the contrast in the scene and reminds the viewer of the difference between modernity and the time of the show’s setting. The scene is set at night and flat lighting is used. The brightness of the boys’ bicycles’ lights and the light from houses in the background are emphasized. The wide shot used in the scene ensures that the different sources of light are well defined. Through this lighting, the scene creates a landscape of modernity but also of simplicity. The breaks between light and dark are distinct hence creating a haunting landscape. The landscape haunts because it is “stained by time, where time can only be experienced as broken, as a fatal repetition” (Fisher 19). The scene is not contracted and the effect is that a landscape that is starkly different from modernity is produced. The viewer experiences the past when the “capitalist dystopia of the 21st-century culture” was not a reality (Fisher 39). It makes the viewer remember a part of themselves that desired a society that was built upon such a society where three boys can circle in the night, have their own space in an environment without hyper-urbanization. The scene can thus seem like a utopia for viewers who long for or recall the times that Stranger Things is set, which explains the show’s approval with viewers.

The scene of the boys riding their bikes as they head home combines camera movements, shots, focus and lighting to create convey modernity’s break from its past which haunts and attracts viewers. The scene uses soft focus to romanticize the objects in the frame. The scene also employs an extreme long shot which shows the space between the objects in the frame. Furthermore, the scene uses flat lighting which echoes the simple modernity of the time. Juxtaposed to modernity, the scene emphasizes the break between the past and the present hence haunting the viewers who wish to connect to those past times. Its popularity implies that the show’s techniques of hauntology are effective.

Works Cited

Fisher, Mark. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. John Hunt Publishing, 2014.

“What Is Hauntology?” Film Quarterly, vol. 66, no. 1, 2012, pp. 16-24.


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