A strange thing
Spoiler alert!! The following blog post contains details of the finale to Season 3 of Stranger Things … just in case you haven’t seen it yet!
During the week I dropped in to my local comic book store on the way to work (#BackTheComeback). As usual I wanted to see if anything from my standing order had arrived for pick up, but I also had another special reason for the visit … well, special to me anyway.
I was excited to pre-order a comic that is due to hit Australia some time in September:
Stranger Things — Science Camp
Even now my whole body is buzzing with the anticipation of it. Why? Well, it’s a bit of a long story but perhaps you will be interested.
The first thing I should cover, as background, is an interesting and little known phenomenon that is associated with the condition known as Borderline Personality Disorder. BPD is something I have had my whole life, and am only recently coming to terms with. For forty years I thought I was perhaps alone in experiencing this phenomenon but I have learned recently, through online support groups, that it is quite a common event in the BPD community. Indeed, it appears occasionally amongst the symptoms of other mental illnesses as well.
The phenomenon, as far as I know, doesn’t have an official name. It involves a disappearance of the boundary between reality and fiction, beyond the regular levels of immersion and imagination that most people might experience. Whilst watching a film or television program, or even reading a book or listening to music, it’s like there is a switch that intermittently shifts your existence between that world and yours.
It’s not akin to mere escapism or the voluntary thought processes of wondering or investment — it’s a genuine displacement. You really are in an alternate reality. The closest thing that I can think of, that many people will be familiar with, is those dreams that you have that feel absolutely real. As with dreams, however, you have just enough of a sense of being an observer that you don’t experience full-blown psychosis, per se. (That’s a separate issue for another time!). Interestingly it seems to be fairly controllable. I find that I almost exclusively experience it when I am alone, and only if I have given myself permission, as it were, to allow it to happen.
So what’s it like when it happens? In my opinion it’s actually wonderful. My emotions become ultra-heightened and I feel like a caged bird set free. Sometimes, when I find myself inside a particular moment in a film or TV show, that has just the right blend of emotions, it feels like that scene actually becomes a tangible piece of the fabric of my being. Certain scenes seem physically and emotionally a part of me, from the moment I first experienced them, to the present day.
They even become quite important during times when I feel out of control. In the swirling river rapids of anxiety and depression these key moments from pop-culture are akin to floating logs that I can grab hold of. Brief moments of safety. A chance to breathe.
So what does all of that have to do with the new Stranger Things comic series called Science Camp?
Oh, boy, everything!
Stranger Things has quickly become my favourite television show of all time. I’ll try my best not to gush. It ticks all the boxes for me emotionally and artistically. It’s not a case of rose-coloured glasses associated with “the good old days”. In fact, that’s a concept I am quite opposed to. I am also acutely aware of the pandering that organisations like Netflix demonstrate toward my particular demographic; not that I don’t appreciate it! The reason that Stranger Things resonates with me is much more complex than all that.
For me, reminiscing through TV and film often involves strong feelings of regret, a sense of deep and painful longing, a desperate desire to be able to go back and do it all again — very, very differently. It’s the double-edged sword of watching the misfit kids of the 1980s becoming heroes; a retrospective element of cool being associated with the adolescent I used to be. Of course, in reality, actually being that misfit in the 1980s totally sucked.
Anyway, enough of that. The finale to the most recent season (season 3) of Stranger Things features my number one favourite moment in pop-culture history. That’s a big call, I know, but no scene in any film, TV show or book has ever consumed me as much as this did.
In classic 1980s storytelling style the end of the world is nigh. The majority of the main characters are engaged in seemingly impossible situations involving a secret underground Russian facility and one hell of a Dungeons and Dragons monster which has crossed the plains of existence into our reality (hmmm).
Separate from the other main characters, two of our heroes, Erica and Dustin, are on top of a hill, with the latter’s homemade ham radio. Dustin is trying to remember the finer details of Planck’s Constant so that the world can indeed be saved. In the pressure of the moment he isn’t certain he has it quite right … but he knows someone who will. The whole season Dustin has unsuccessfully been trying to convince his friends that he has a girlfriend, Suzie, whom he met on science camp (Camp Know Where ’85 … oh yes!). Up until now we don’t know if Suzie exists or not.
Well … she does. Dustin contacts Suzie, via ham radio, and we first see her in her bedroom, 1500 miles away, reading A Wizard of Earthsea. Suzie, after chastising Dustin for not contacting her sooner, promises to remind him of Planck’s Constant under one condition. “I want to hear it” she says, thus setting up the classic pop-culture trope where the male character must say “I love you” in a typically embarrassing, usually public, scenario. It should be noted, at this point, that all of the other characters, in various locations, can hear this conversation.
After the required hesitation Dustin agrees to the request. At this moment, with juxtaposed scenes of stylised horror (monster) and stereotypical evil (Russians) plus the expectations of the conditioned audience awaiting an “I love you” moment, Dustin begins to sing …
The song is instantly recognisable to me, given the year that I was born and my lifetime love of the fantasy genre. Dustin is singing the theme music to the film Neverending Story. As the kids say these days … OMG! As if this isn’t perfect enough, Suzie then chimes in with her harmonies, whilst the other characters face enormous peril in the delay to using Planck’s Constant to break into the Russian facility (it’s a door code). Right then absolutely all of the pop-culture, storytelling, nostalgia and emotion stars align.
On my first viewing I went deeper into another reality than I can remember going before. I didn’t fully re-emerge until a full half hour later, when Eleven was reading Hopper’s letter … and, let me tell you, with the emotion of that scene I broke down entirely. Luckily I was home alone that day! On subsequent viewings of the episode I realised that there were entire sequences that I didn’t remember seeing the first time. So, was that a frightening discovery? Not at all. Because I have always experienced television and film that way. But, until now, I haven’t really spoken about it.
When I was a kid, I learned to hide or disguise all of the things that made me different. I discovered that talking about such things evoked mockery, disbelief and often aggression. I was made to feel ashamed of the fact that I experienced the world very differently to the status quo. Consequently many of the topics I am discussing these days, in my blog, are a revelation to all of my friends and family. After decades of suppressing these things it’s extremely challenging to find a safe and coherent way to set them free.
So back to the comic book. The four edition storyline will cover the events of the camp where Dustin and Suzie meet; thus setting the wheels in motion that lead to a moment of pure transcendence that I will treasure forever — however silly that may sound.
In case you’re wondering, I have the scene between Dustin and Suzie saved on YouTube and I regularly watch it — it’s like a toddler’s security blanket. And if you ever go to the movies with me and wonder why I stay for the credits … well, they offer an opportunity for a slow transition back to reality; just in case I disappeared a little too far down the rabbit hole.
Also by Chris: