I can’t sleep yet, on account of bad food decisions and maybe too much time today. This isn’t going to be very clear. Forgive me, future self.
Like the rest of the world, we finished off Stranger Things 2 last week, but I haven’t properly processed post-mortem perspectives about it until right now, on account of last Monday being a Monday: it came with that sort of numbing adrenaline rush you dive into headfirst, much like the cold shower you jump into just to get it over with – you’re not happy about it, but it’s happening anyway. Also, I had to finish the Beyond aftershow special as well, made all the more charming by Jim Rash – Netflix knows us so well, doesn’t it? And how well it is shaping us too – more on that later. I feel like I have much more to write about the peripherals of the entire experience – binge-watching culture, the context of adults finding escapism with a set of well-cast, perfectly-mannered talented white kids – than the actual content of the show itself.
But about the series first: 2 was awesome in its own way; agreeing with what Variety said about it taking too long with its set-ups, and having probably way too many characters; but I think at the end all of it was OK; whatever the cost was, to get more of the cast we love, it was worth it. There was less awe from the nostalgia this time, because we’ve expected all of that. More satisfaction from the characters, probably because the storylines were closely written for the actors themselves. Actually, for me, the best bits of 2 were all about the actors – how much they have grown, how well they played off each other on screen.
I now blame Beyond Stranger Things for the black hole that sucked me in this past 48 hours. It unleashed a fandom bug that hit me hard, and I’ve basically wasted this brief Undas vacation trawling the kids’ Instagram pages and voraciously eating up all the Youtube videos of the cast’s interviews. Like most viewers, I feel so self-conscious about falling in love with a storyline involving a group of children half my age. What’s kind of different from my end is that I’m actually more smitten with the off-screen narrative – how the kids are becoming friends, how they’re handling fame, the side projects they’re doing, their actual feelings about the show (even each other), and on top of that, how they’re all growing up. It’s almost inappropriate to want to be their friend, to also be part of their gang, to wish I were as cool and Prada-clad and comfortable and multi-talented as they are. I’m not sure if this is nostalgia, or the perfect veneer of a well-oiled star machine casting a glare upon my weary vision (wew). It’s probably both. I’m aware that things are not what they are – that it’s all representation and promotion and a lot of adults beyond the frame actually most probably orchestrating this “organic” portrait of youthful digital natives; also, Hollywood offers such a myopic view of the so-called overachieving Gen Z. I’m so aware, and I can be critical, but I can’t help myself because I also crave the escape, creativity, fun, and success that these kids represent. I project and idealize unto them things I’ve always wanted, somehow.*
But also – it’s just really captivating and satisfying to observe and partake of. I’ve always been the type to be starstruck, to micro-obsess and have phases of intense deep-dives** about personalities I like, unpacking everything I can about them. I should be turning all that into something productive, I know.
Thus, after watching the nth video of Finn Wolfhard doing a guitar cover of a Weezer song, and after spotting comments echoing my sentiments – “Is there anything this kid doesn’t do?” “I wish I was this cool at this age” – mental flashbacks ensued: at 13 or 14, I was also trying to figure out what I’d be good at. I was learning to sing more, to play the guitar and piano more, and also write. In various slam books, I asserted that I liked anime, also Incubus, also retro fashion: in short, I was trying to master skill after skill, to figure out and assert who I was. I was idolizing a lot of older people and claiming role models. And so were my classmates, and probably any person during that age, where we define who we are by trying new things. And we were all super-confident about our exploration and our skills and our potential. But I didn’t have Youtube or Snapchat to document it all (or an Emmy winning show, or 5 million followers), to get feedback, to build legitimacy. What I’m trying to say is that what these kids are doing is completely normal. They’re building their identity as most kids have always had and will do. But social media does something weird about all of this – posting gives these teenagers a new kind of self-determining power. The act of making a post public makes it more credible than a bedroom-mirror sequence or a diary log (seems like that’s what I’m doing with this post now, a-ha!) Some years from now these kids will probably cringe at these things they’re doing (or not***). They already seem waaay more confident and well-adjusted than me, good for them.
Now, if I had spent this break reading a novel, I wouldn’t have had to endure this mentally and battery-draining exercise of stalking + introspection + overthinking shit. This is why I prefer reading more than binge-watching – books always give me a new way to look at the world, practical takeaways on top of the pleasure of getting lost in a world. I read to consciously feel happier, and I can do it in five minutes or three hours. I have less control once I start binge-watching, and it physically drains me: my eyes hurt, I get constipated, I get cramps. Post-credits, I stay stuck in a haze for hours, force-secluded from my very acute anxieties and hesitant to swim back to my reality.****
I worry about the impact of streaming beyond the entertainment scene – binge culture affecting our worldview, making us intermittently useless on weekends when new seasons premiere. Or is it the other way around? Netflix grew because we now expect things in an instant, complete, on-demand, ready for our consumption, ready for our periodic escape. Who do we blame? The Internet? Steve Jobs? Worsening Traffic? Duterte?
This has not helped, I feel more awake. I better try to get sleepy soon. I have successfully outdone myself by overthinking even the supposedly mindless, escapist act of binge-watching. Ha.
*This is another reminder why me having kids is going to be the worst idea – I’ll be unbearable with my pressure and wistfulness.
**Most recent exhibits: Hayley Williams, Ekomsi aka Idan Cruz aka JLC
***For the record, Finn Wolfhard is the cutest, I very much believe he’ll still grow into his talents.
****Once, I decided not to finish revising my graduate thesis outline because of this. True story.
Image via People Magazine