Warning: Spoilers for Season 4 of Stranger Things ahead.
Much of the Netflix hit’s charmis his 1980s setting. The Hawkins gang don’t have cell phones (although Dustin is a real ham radio specialist), and their computer use is pretty primitive. But in addition to noticing what they haven’t, viewers can enjoy elements of the 1980s (and 1970s) as a nostalgic stroll down memory lane.
I’m a retro pop culture junkie and co-author of two books on lost toys, tastes, and trends. (Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? focuses on the 1970s and 1980s, and The Totally Sweet ’90s is about, duh, the 1990s.) So when I binge-watchedto write my I kept noticing the old school details the Duffer Brothers sprinkled throughout the show.
Here’s a look at some of my totally tubular favorites.
Listen, I’m just saying that the sight of Paperboy starting the new season looks like Paperboy, the classic Atari game from 1985, that’s all. Probably a coincidence.
Young Eleven and the other kids in the experiment have a playroom called the “Rainbow Room”, for its colorful mural. Long before the rainbow became associated with the LGBT community, it had a renaissance in late 1970s and early 1980s decor. I remember owning a heart-shaped lapel pin with a rainbow and my name (misspelled, duh), and putting a rainbow sticker in my bedroom window, much to my parents’ annoyance when it was discovered that it wouldn’t peel off not really easily.
Joyce Byers is desperately trying to sell encyclopedias over the phone. Telemarketing was one of the few jobs that could be done from home in the 1980s, and encyclopedia sets were still something many homes had. (Ask any 1980s kid who had to do a last-minute book report after the library closed.) They were very useful, but became stale before they hit your shelves. In all of the World Book encyclopedias my parents had, printed in 1962, John F. Kennedy is forever president.
Dungeons & Dragons/Satanic Panic
Lucas, Dustin, Mike, Will, Erica, and new character Eddie Munson (sounds like “Eddie Munster, right?) are all avid Dungeons & Dragons players. It’s not like viewers today aren’t familiar with fantasy role-playing, but they might be surprised at how horrified parents and jocks Hawkins are. The game has been unjustly accused of murders (Google the Chris Pritchard case) and other disturbing events (the disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III in 1979). Truth be told, if Eddie, who looks a lot like the late rocker Eddie Van Halen, wasn’t a D&D player, he’d probably be mistaken for Satanism anyway, just for his heavy hair. Long hair in men was still stereotypical in the 1980s.
Steve and Robin worked at a mall ice cream shop, Scoops Ahoy, in Season 3. In Season 4, they work at Family Video, a video rental store. In 1985, there were 15,000 video rental stores in the United States, and 25,000 in 1988. (Spoiler: there are far fewer now.) Steve and Robin’s video store work comes in handy on many occasions , including when Robin searches for all named clients. “Rick” to see if she can find Eddie’s drug dealer. Ideally, he rented a lot of Cheech and Chong movies.
Lucas Sinclair is on the Hawkins basketball team, and he’s upped his hair game, sporting a high-end fade haircut. No doubt, it was a popular look from the 1980s. Kid, from the hip-hop group Kid ‘n Play, sported a famous one, even though it was a few years after 1986 when season 4 takes place.
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blue eye shadow
Cheerleader Chrissy loves sky blue eyeshadow, but don’t judge. Many of us turned bluer than blue in the 1980s.
“Never Tell Me the Odds”
Right before a particularly important D&D dice roll, Dustin announces, “Never tell me the odds.” It’s a direct quote from The Empire Strikes Back, from the scene where Han Solo tells C-3PO, Leia, and crew to “never tell me the odds” as he’s about to do them. fly in an asteroid field. Empire had been out for six years by then, and Dustin probably had the whole movie memorized.
Roller skating rinks
Roller skating rinks have been popular for many decades – they’re not just a 1980s thing. . Eleven, Mike, and Will try to have a nice day at a California skating rink, but thanks to a cocky blonde named Angela, things quickly go awry. You’ll hear Baltimora’s 1985 hit song, Tarzan Boy, in the skating rink scene. PS, it still rocks, Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh.
Don’t blink or you might miss it: a Rubik’s Cube appears in front of Steve in a scene from episode two at the video store.
Nancy and Robin go to the public library to research the Creel murders on microfilm. Yes, that’s how we used to do research back when newspapers put a lot of their archives online. If I had a dollar for every time I loaded the reel upside down, I probably could have bought a house at 1986 prices.
‘Ponch and Jon over there’
In a scene where the Byers’ house is guarded by local cops, Jonathan sneeringly asks Mike and Will if they’re worried about “Ponch and Jon over there”. Ponch and Jon, of course, were the stars of CHiPs, the drama about two handsome members of the California Highway Patrol. It ended in 1983, but a reference to Ponch and Jon in 1986 is still very cringeworthy.
‘Pass the Dutchie’
Jonathan’s new pal, Argyle, is a little addicted. So it’s only fitting that the 1982 hit Musical Youth Pass the Dutchie plays while he’s driving his van in episode four. “Dutchie” apparently means “Dutch oven”, or cooking pot, but everyone knew the song originally was “Pass the kouchie”, which means pot pipe.
Robert Englund, who famously played Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street series of 1980s slasher films, plays asylum patient Victor Creel this season. The 80s are his decade. There’s even a “Freddy Krueger Boiler Room” joke on the show, although Englund isn’t in that scene.
Do you remember the Christmas lights that Joyce Byers used to talk to Will about when he was on Upside Down in Season 1? A Lite-Brite plays the role in Season 4, when used by Nancy and her team, trapped in the Upside Down, to talk to Dustin and his group. Any kid from the 1970s or 80s who saw this immediately started humming the jingle. “Lite-Brite, doing things with liiiiiiiiiight!”
The way back
At one point, the gang are riding around in a wood-paneled station wagon. Steve and Dustin, of course, are the duo who find themselves crammed into what us 70s and 80s kids call the “wayback,” the cargo area behind the seats. Some station wagons had rear-facing seats. Were there seat belts on the way back? Probably not.
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