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Ode to Gen X - Institutional Cynicism in Stranger Things and 1980s Film

Ode to Gen X

Institutional Cynicism in Stranger Things and 1980s Film

By Melissa Vosen Callens
Hardcover : 9781496832412, 198 pages, March 2021
Paperback : 9781496832429, 198 pages, March 2021

A comprehensive study of cynicism in popular 1980s movies reflected in the television series Stranger Things


Even for the casual viewer, the Netflix series Stranger Things will likely feel familiar, reminiscent of popular 1980s coming-of-age movies such as The Goonies, E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Stand by Me. Throughout the series, nods to each movie are abundant. While Stranger Things and these classic 1980s films are all tales of childhood friendship and shared adventures, they are also narratives that reflect and shape the burgeoning cynicism of the 1980s.

In Ode to Gen X: Institutional Cynicism in "Stranger Things" and 1980s Film, author Melissa Vosen Callens explores the parallels between iconic films featuring children and teenagers and the first three seasons of Stranger Things, a series about a group of young friends set in 1980s Indiana. The text moves beyond the (at times) non-sequitur 1980s Easter eggs to a common underlying narrative: Generation X’s growing distrust in American institutions.

Despite Gen X’s cynicism toward both informal and formal institutions, viewers also see a more positive characteristic of Gen X in these films and series: Gen X’s fierce independence and ability to rebuild and redefine the family unit despite continued economic hardships. Vosen Callens demonstrates how Stranger Things draws on popular 1980s popular culture to pay tribute to Gen X’s evolving outlook on three key and interwoven American institutions: family, economy, and government.


"Melissa Vosen Callens’s analysis is spot on, capturing elements of Stranger Things that seemingly pass by in the show unremarked but that reflect the lived experiences of Gen X then and since. Eminently readable and thoroughly enjoyable, it is a model for how pop culture scholarship should be done. "

- Kevin Wetmore, professor and chair of theatre arts at Loyola Marymount University