Melissa Vosen Callens, "Ode to Gen X: Institutional Cynicism in 'Stranger Things' and 1980s Film" (UP of Mississippi, 2021)


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In Ode to Gen X: Institutional Cynicism in "Stranger Things" and 1980s Film (University Press of Mississippi, 2021), 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.

Rebekah Buchanan is an Associate Professor of English and Director of English Education at Western Illinois University. Her research focuses on feminism, activism, and literacy practices in youth culture, specifically through zines and music.

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