Gender Essentialism in “Stranger Things”

stranger-things-season-1-2-the-weirdo-on-maple-street-eleven-found-mike-lucas-dustin-gaten-matarazzo-caleb-mclaughlin-finn-wolfhard-review-episode-guide-list“I don’t make any rules Nick — I go with the flow.”

I don’t think I can tackle the fine kettle of perverse nostalgiafish that is Stranger Things. I binge-watched it when it came out, now almost three months ago, and it triggered my wanting to finally get this blog rolling, but it just doesn’t seem worth it — the fact that several generations of Americans (and beyond) have developed into adults believing in and aping the behavior of a reactionary, fictional 1970s revival of 1950s atomic family values (itself largely a normative construct imposed by TV, Duh!) — to such a degree that kids today are effectively living in a simulacrum of Stevens Spielberg and King’s bedwetting nightmares and subsequent attempts to shift blame (AKA Art) — can’t be laid at the feet of one otherwise entertaining genre exercise. Especially one with Wynona.

The numbers just don’t crunch. So I will focus on the one specific bug up my butt that Stranger Things put there. As a lifelong feminist, I have always been sensitive to the retarded clichés that are routinely imposed on all genders by the industrial storytellers, and my interest is aroused when a monkeywrench is introduced to the SOP. Thus, when that buzzcut kid in a hospital gown shows up at the diner in the midst of the confusion of Wynona’s missing son and the diner dude is suddenly all like “Gorsh I’m sorry little lady” my phallic signifier alarm went Ka-Ching!

Hold on, I guess I have to review the fucking scenes before I ask my question. Goddammit! …OK, I’m back. Diner dude is Benny, and I remember my curiosity as pertains to his means of determining 011‘s gender. He seemed to have had some kind of revelation in the last shot of the scene where he first catches 011 scarfing down the french fries, but since the action cuts away to the introductory ham radio sequence, I figured maybe ol’ Benny took a quick peak under the hood or something. Creepy, but hey, the heart wants what it wants, right?

But then the same thing happens with the three lost boys from Hook they thawed out for the protagonist cluster. End of episode 1 they find 011 in the woods. Beginning of episode 2, they’re saying she this and her that. It’s worth noting that nobody that wasn’t in an industrial band in the UK had hair that short in 1983, particularly chicks, so there must have been a really big tell. I mean, it looks like she’s just wearing that yellow tee-shirt and might be rocking some Basic Instinct scissor action during that basement couch interrogation. But then the lost boys are all like “Eek!” when she start to pull the tee-shirt off in front of them. WTF?

Now I‘m all for suspension of disbelief. Vagidentasaurus from the bertweenyworld, why not? Matthew Modine playing an arrogant asshole, no problem. But this whole story appears to be taking place in some parallel universe which is exactly identical to ours (or rather the one in the Stevens’ pee-pee dreams,) except you can discern gender in a prepubescent by gazing into their eyes. What else can we diagnose there? Homosexuality? Communist sympathies? Jewishness?

And don’t get me started on that! At least her goddam nightie had dots instead of stripes! But the buzzcut, the number tattooed on her wrist? When did it become OK to appropriate that particular set of historical signifiers as a convenient shortcut around character development in a cheesy sci-fi drama? Maybe 011 slipped through a wormhole created when Magneto atomized Auschwitz in X-Men: Apocalypse (Also set in 1983! Mere coincidence?) It’s terribly, terribly Post-Modern. Where’s the Anti-Defamation League when you need them?

But the whole tat issue is what got me thinking, maybe 011 has more than one tattoo, and we, the viewers, just couldn’t see it. And sure enough, when I put that frame grab up on the big screen and yelled “Enhance!” everything became clear:

stranger-things-1-eleven

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