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Kingdom of Binge

Stranger Things / Season Four

The Symbolism of Excess?

John Fraim

Story / Article Concept

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“Stella by Starlight” by Chico Hamilton / 1950s

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“Binge: a drunken revel : spree. b : an unrestrained and often excessive indulgence a buying binge. c : an act of excessive or compulsive consumption (as of food) went on an eating binge or drinking binge. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 5/31/22.”

Many of the things that surround us every day in life are the most invisible to us. As Marshall McLuhan would observe, they are environments. Or really mediums. Holding the activity of our cultural communication that goes on inside these grand, unseen mediums. 

The idea of the looking at the activity of consuming constant programming of the entertainment of television shows was an activity unheard of in most television’s history. Certainly, when I was growing up to early television in the 50s. Not that they probably could have created shows and simply held them and released them all at one time. Like Netflix and the others do today. 

Was our consumption patterns, particularly our consumption of television serves as a type of barometer to the entire culture? In those early years of television, the world seemed slower. Was slower. No one really seemed speeding anywhere. Not even the commuters to work. There was a slowness and innocence in those years. 

This buoyant, walk through a nation growing at its greatest. America was on top of the world after WWII and there was little question about this. Despite some first wins in outer space by the Russians in the late 50s, the nation came to have a superior space program. There was a certain unity to the nation in those years. In spite of the two political parties. Much less unity in the nation. Is binge consumption of streaming media over the grand binger streamer of them all, Netflix. 

I first became a binger on Netflix with a program called Stranger Things. Season One. I followed and wrote about them on my Midnight Oil Blog. My expectations for the show were at a high after Season Three. Like all the millions of fans of Stranger Things. In many ways, the Duffer Brothers are the new Steven Spielberg to a new generation of kids. 

But the show is stopped (like many others) by the pandemic. It is off streaming throughout the entire pandemic, coming back on streaming, after a three-year absence, in May of 2022. I watched Season Four on a binge divided into two days. But I should get additional binge credit for each episode of the new Stranger Things as many episodes are an hour and a half. Feature films within themselves a number have observed. 

The idea of binging grew up at much the same time and pace as a company called Netflix, Inc., an American subscription streaming service as well as production company. Launched on August 29, 1997, it offers subscribers a film and television series library through distribution deals as well as its own productions known as Netflix Originals. 

As of March 31, 2022, Netflix had over 221.6 million subscribers worldwide, including 74.6 million in the United States and Canada, 74.0 million in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, 39.9 million in Latin America and 32.7 million in Asia-Pacific. It is available worldwide aside from mainland China, Syria, North Korea and Russia. Netflix has played a prominent role in independent film distribution and is a member of the Motion Picture Association (MPA). 

The Happy Family of Young Victor Creel

I remember the world before Netflix like those in my generation remember it. For many years, it was a world of the rental video rental store. Like Blockbuster. Where I used to browse the shelfs like I used to go through bins at used record stores. 

But like everything else today, moved onto the grand platform of the Internet. In effect, providing entertainment libraries to subscribers over the Internet. Not having to go into the local Blockbuster and spend a lot of time picking things out. Like most everything else, life was slower in those year.

There’re little doubt that the digital, electronic world, has provided a type of new medium of time to the grand surrounding, unseen environment, all around us, of life. All life we cannot see each day because out senses don’t see them, or our cultural filters do not let us see them. 

So, one approaches watching Stranger Things in Season Four, Episode One, with some feelings of abandonment of an audience for a popular – binge worthy – story. The entire story, so far, until the last two episodes on July 2, 2022, is the most expensive television programming ever produced with the first 7 episodes estimated in the Wall Street Journal as costing $30 million per episode or $270 for the 7 episodes. 

But abandonment is somewhat understood in the changed world of entertainment after the pandemic. This all happens, the release of the reason de entre for Netflix. During the profits of Netflix down 35% for shareholders. Perhaps there will never be something like a Stranger Things on television again. Certainly, in not the massive amounts of money the network paid to create it. The program Stanger Things is one of the networks signals that it needs to stay alive. That – in fact – binging is possible in consumption of entertainment as much as drink and food. 

* * *

It was somewhat strange getting back into the story that had (left me) three years ago. Way back BP (before pandemic). The seven episodes of Stranger Things from Season Four are perhaps the most incredible moments I’ve ever watched on television. And what a way to come back!

The heroine of Stranger Things, Eleven or El, is relocated from Indiana to California. As their mother Joyce (played by Winona Ryder) feels they can start a new life out there. But El is terribly bulled by others. Even in front of her boyfriend Mike who comes to visit her during Spring break.

There is much I might say on Stranger Things after the final two episodes, eight and nine, are released July 2, 2022. A type of summing up in from my perspective on the importance of Stranger Things 4 as the prime example of binge worthy programming today. 

In effect, after watching the seven episodes, one has a somewhat difficult time processing all the storylines and action occurring in the story. There are many story arcs or storylines moving through the story and in season four the action occurs in Californian, Indiana and Russia. A clash of the symbolism of three places to start out with.

* * *

Other than watching old reruns of Twilight Zone, there is a particular spell cast over one by events in life. Watching the seven episodes of Stranger Things, Season Four, seems to be at the top of any Kingdom of Binge. If there is something like this.

In effect, the seven episodes of Stranger Things Four were very powerful. Played by teen actors early 20s actors and actresses in astonishingly real, new ways. Seldom seen in ensemble situations. Brilliant interactions together within the group. Who knows secret things like this?

It’s a combination of a few different ensembles playing out the arc of their stories as the other two play out theirs also. It is almost as if the various stories compete against each other in a parallel universe. In fact, who is the main narrator or the entire story of Stranger Things? While Eleven might be the heroine of the entire series, is she also the key narrator of the story? 

Yet is the reluctance to provide a central narrative voice to the story another technique of the brilliant Duffer Brothers who created Stranger Things. In many ways, the brilliant new filmmakers, so much in Speilberg’s path with much Stephen King added. For a new generation. 

A Boy Out of Place

After watching Stranger Things Season Four, in a binge of two viewings, I understood more about this behavior of binge viewing certain programs. It was my behavior and not someone else’s to observe. 

Yet one wonders about the type of media context this behavior occurs within. 

Did I – in fact – binge on Stranger Things. Or was there perhaps in me, hiding so far, something that was allowed out via the watching experience of Season Four of Stranger Things. Was there, in fact, some connection with me and the character in Billy Wilder’s legendary The Lost Weekend

The question of looking at the idea of binge from a different perspective than it is commonly seen (hidden, non-existent for all practical purposes). It seems like even looking at this phenomenon is not of interest to many.

Yet, there is a powerful feeling after leaving these seven episodes that does not go away into some hazy forgetfulness like so many other things in life.

I read all the reviews from the major news sources like Variety and Hollywood Reporter always appearing in my email. I read everything I could find on Stranger Things. I downloaded the pilot script for the idea. The pitch idea folder of the Duffer Brothers. I wrote about them before in my Midnight Oil blog. Three years ago. 

* * *

Season Four of Stranger Things, with the final two episodes released July 2, 2022, might represent the peak of streaming series programming. At least for Netflix it will who is already asking for fewer episodes per season. 

The story becomes spellbinding. And I mean this in the sense of what Milton Erickson might define as hypnosis. In effect, the combination of the emotion of the story immediately before me I was watching unfold. A new genius is born. General X has their new Speilberg I think to myself. I think back over the seven episodes and sort them out in my mind. 

The Duffer Brothers are truly revolutionary filmmakers. By revolutionary filmmakers, they are revolutionaries. One of their main goals is to mix up the way we perceive current reality so that we might see the world in a different light (not word or ideology but light). 

Their technique is utilized through the brilliant seven episodes of season four. In one of the most brilliant places, an hour and twenty-minutes into the monstrous episode seven of Stranger Things. About ten minutes to go until the end of the brilliant episode seven.

* * *

All of the reviews of Stranger Things Four are mostly the same. Just over and over what happens in the story. Trying to narrate four stories simultaneously. And spoil it for anyone who hasn’t watched it. No one ever goes behind the events and characters of the story lines. The child actors have grown up in the intervening three years since they were last filmed. Yet, opening in the new opening episode, we are only six months of real time into the future. 

This is the genius of the Duffer Brothers, it seems to me. For them to stir up my own creative interest after watching the brilliant, breathtaking, Season Four of Stranger Things. Less the final episodes. 

In all of this, there is still my suspicion that we are much like the modern incarnation of Speilberg’s child sense with King’s nostalgia related to horror.

But containing all of this seems to be the re-arrangement of the way we see the world. This is accomplished in a few brilliant places with Stranger Things Four, Episode Seven. Perhaps some of the most interesting film narrative technique I’ve yet to see on film. 

Bar at the Hotel Petaluma / John Fraim

I’m convinced that the Duffer Brothers understand much of our current world. They might be considered prophets to some. Particularly, those in Generation X. In so many ways, this series represents the the first creative explosion from members of a new generation. A new film generation. 

With this new type of filmmaking, come new narrative techniques, never seen in film before. I wrote about these techniques a week ago. While the world is in a binging trance watching the story, few observe certain techniques being used. 

One technique is to suggest an entirely new narrative style, not seen to screen yet. A mixture of Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse (the so-called Brown Stocking episode) form of narration. The presentation of multiple narrative voices. The question of who is the overall narrator? Or, which narrator is to be trusted? Ah, the fun of modern fiction.

Increasingly, floating behind the stories of our era, these multiple narrators of stories. Like it is with Stranger Things Four. Perhaps this will be the final secret. Revealed July 2?

There is much to explore in just this area of the brilliant Season Four of Stranger Things. Particularly, the key episode in my opinion, of the entire season at about an hour and twenty minutes into episode seven. 

* * *

The Duffer Brothers provide a new interpretation to the idea of flashback in a film. Here, a totally new exploration of the narrative aspects of a flashback after Nancy falls into the underworld of the story.

One of the most brilliant, magical, sleight of hand tricks the Duffer Brothers perform is this unseen trick about narration of the story. The audience is never certain as to who is narrating the story. And, for that matter, who is a trusty narrator of the story.

A brilliant scene sequence showing this (with music of the time in the 50s) is written about in my post a week ago on narrative technique in this scene. TS Elliot would be proud of the narrative breakthroughs suggested in Stranger Things. 

See my latest look at the narrative technique in Stranger Things 4 exemplified in my earlier post to Midnight Oil just a week ago from when I write this. The question still remains about this whole phenomenon of life today in the binge consumption culture. Binging on streaming tv programs is the largest source of media binging in the nation. And, within these streaming programs, perhaps the greatest and grandest in history in Stanger Things. In many ways, much of the edifice of Netflix is built on top of Stranger Things. Is there a relationship to leading shows of the streaming internet services and the binging behavior of current customers. In the end, the fact that binge involves an excess of consuption is very revealing.

In one sense, a binger is a member of a particular generation. More of the younger than older generations. But overall, an attempt to block out in many ways the reality of the world for a period of time. This happens with those who decide to binge on a particular tv show. This is the way that entertainment is approached today by many. As something to be taken in great gulps rather than smaller sips (like those taken during my growing up years in the 50s and 60s).

But the overall idea of binge is to over-indulge in consumption. The opposite of binge is the philosophy of the rejection of consumption as a key human behavior. Very much like many Eastern religions and teachings about life. In many ways, one could look from the idea of opposition in that Western culture has been identified with consumption much more than Eastern culture. International use of energy will bear this out.

It’s not a great step to see the activity of the binge consumption of media to equal to the symbol of consumption. Its opposite of course, the symbol of non-consumption. So many health problems from consumption in life. So few health problems from non-consumption.

* * *

The symbols of consumption and non-consumption can equal two great symbols today. In many ways this is one of the greatest unseen battles and environments of the world today. The forces of consumption and consumerism as the driving forces in our lives.

Many toss out their predictions of the future. This interesting post pandemic time – with the mid-terms about four months away – is a difficult one to figure out. Things are changing in the world at a fast pace. There are those who continue to binge on streaming media. One has to wonder about this.

More than anything, wonder about the philosphy of consume, or take from life, rather than produce, or give to life.

The idea of binge was certainly related to consume.

But then, so was perhaps the greatest piece of entertainment I had ever seen.

(My earlier post to Midnight Oil just a week ago.)

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