I was listening to a sports radio show recently and the host was bemoaning the new cultural norm of binge tv programming. Historically, the producers of tv shows relished the creation of anticipation from one episode to the next and the media attention they enjoyed as people speculated for an entire week about what would happen next! And then, there is the beloved season finale. Answers are given to satiate a loyal, demanding viewership, and there is also the guarantee of a tantalizing hook to carry us through the offseason while waiting expectantly for the next season to unfold. The radio host complained about how he missed the fun of the build up from week to week and the bantering of conversation among steadfast fans.
He's old. The world is changing. I can hear someone having a similar conversation when television programming was displacing radio programming, when motorized vehicles were displacing motorized transportation...change. Keep up! I actually believe that the cultural norm of binge tv programming is not new. It is bookish. Being on vacation and having no daily demands with a captivating book...one can read to the end, oh summer where art thou! I am a huge fan of this kind of programming. My prediction is that it will not displace more traditional series based programming. People like variety. We want choices. The success of programs like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead are evidence for the continued strength of weekly airings versus a series drop.
So why is Stranger Things 2 a fail? It failed because they, like so many writers and producers in their industry, succumbed to the greed of influence. Season 2 became more engrossed in pushing a flawed moral platform then they did in advancing the genius of the story created in Season 1. The ABC show Lost spanned 6 seasons and discovered historic television success because the story was always central. Admittedly, the series ultimately failed because the anticipation they created leading up to the finale became bigger than any possible outcome. It was the epitome of anticlimacticsim (just created that word). But to their credit, they never let the popularity of the show entice them to neglect the story and its fascinating plot in exchange for pushing flawed moral precepts.
Stranger Things 2 used its platform in an attempt to normalize sex among teens. Chapter 6 blatantly pushed the idea that every teen should be so lucky to find an adult who will give them copious amounts of alcohol and allow them to spend the night and have a sexual encounter with their teenaged lover. At least in Season 1 when Steve and Nancy have a sexual encounter, it is presented to us as a mistake. Steve's character at this point is characterized as a teenaged boy who is taking advantage of naive girl. The vibe is "this is bad" The sexual encounter occurs at party where teenaged drinking is characterized as dangerous. Again, the vibe is "this is bad." Afterward, Nancy's character wrestles with regret. At least the writers and the producers presented these choices in Season 1 as morally serious.
I can hear you. Your response to me is the same as my response to the radio host who lamented over binge tv programming. You are saying to me, "You're old...the world is changing." My point is not that shows shouldn't reflect cultural norms. Stranger Things 2 went far beyond reflecting a cultural norm of sex among teens. They glorified sexual activity among teens. If being repulsed by sexual moral depravity makes me old and prudish, I welcome the moniker. And if Chapter 6 isn't despicable enough, there is Chapter 9.
Nancy's mom is in the tub reading a trashy romance novel and her husband is asleep in his chair. Imagery here? Women want it and obtuse men like Nancy's Dad are sexually inept. Billy, a teenaged boy, is at the door, shirt open and Nancy's mom opens the door in a suggestive bath robe. They flirt with each other. The scene is intended to create sexual tension between a mom and someone else's child. As Billy walks away, she looks longingly at his butt. There is a word for this. It is called pedophilia. Wait, I have another word for you...adulterous.
And yet another...well two words. Gender bias. Imagine if the scene had played differently. What if this scene had been with Nancy's father as he was driving home a neighborhood babysitter? We would see Nancy's father as pervert but because the scene is with a middle aged, sexually deprived housewife...sex with a teenaged boy is presented to us not just as an acceptable fantasy but as one that all women surely share.
I can't seem to figure out why everyone in Hollywood is so shocked to learn that sexual harassment and sexual predators are so prevalent in their community. Sexual harassment and sexual predators suffer from the mythology that people are primarily sexual beings, meaning that our sexual identity is our dominant identity. With heterosexual attraction, the deception begins with all women desperately want sex and that sexually aggressive men are needed to help satisfy all the sexually forlorn women in the world. Hollywood makes millions by propagating these sexual mythologies. All these stories of sexual harassment and sexually predatory behaviors are tragic. Hollywood is a victim of its own moral abjection.
Dustin lacks a father figure. Steve is so noble walking down that wooded path helping Dustin understand how to attract women. Ignore them...drives them crazy! Sound familiar? They talk about electricity which is sexual tension. The more we ignore them the more desirous they become. Emotional neglect always leads to sexual desire in women! Wow, Dustin is so lucky to have someone like Steve in his life to perpetuate deceptions about women and sexuality. Dustin has now been initiated into the prestigious fraternal order of potential sexual predator.
The question is not whether Stranger Things Season 2 failed. The question is are you failing to talk about these mythologies with your teenagers? The question is are you failing the hard journey of self-reflection to see if any of these mythologies are in you? The question is are you recognizing the power modern media wields in shaping moral values? I'm not suggesting you isolate yourself. I am suggesting that if you are a parent, have age appropriate restrictions on media. And watch what they are watching then use that programming as an opportunity to talk abut Biblical values and how that movie or tv episode supported or conflicted with those values.
If there is any hope for Stranger Things Season 3, they will focus more on the upside down world and less on upside down morals.