Audiences are attracted to cultural similarity or proximity.Joseph Straubhaar
It’s no secret that Stranger Things has taken the world by storm. The Netflix Original has inspired spoofs, bars, designer fashion shows, video games and an international sing-along named the ‘Neverending Challenge‘, truly becoming a pop-culture phenomenon. But, if audiences “tend to reject cultural products… too distant from their own cultural realities” (Straubhaar, 2007) how can this be?
Stranger Things is a very unique TV show. It’s fantasy, its drama, it’s adventure, it’s… 80’s. Firstly, the show focuses on simple themes that are recognisable across cultures such as love, violence, evil, and family. And, it’s plot-arc follows the Hero’s Journey, a widely-adopted narrative structure. It also generated it’s own lore surrounding the ‘Upside Down’, creating something new that has helped it bypass the proximity issue, despite being set in a specific time and space.
Stranger Things is wholly 80’s. The soundtrack, costumes, dialogue, setting and thematic issues ooze the iconic era we have come to love. And, this appeals to multiple generations.
The 80’s theme is nostalgic for older generations and also appeals to era-lust of young hipsters. The coming-of-age story of the show’s younger characters leaves audiences invested in them as we watch them grow and learn. As the older characters deal with adult struggles, we sympathise with them; while the younger characters remind us of the joy of being young and discovering new technologies.
But the essence of Stranger Things’ success comes from Netflix’s ability to tailor content based on data insights, and geographic location. Straubhaar (2014) explains that “in the formation of television markets across national boundaries, almost all studies to date agree on the importance of language in creating television markets.” Likewise, the show is dubbed in multiple languages with subtitles offered in more than 20 different languages. And, Netflix works to localise the content to bring it closer in proximity to as many cultures as possible. A great example of this is the Dungeons and Dragons plot.
“The game Dungeons & Dragons figures prominently in Stranger Things‘ plot, namely the Demogorgon monster. But the game isn’t widely played in certain countries, so Sheehan’s team had to tweak the dubbed or subtitled dialogue in certain cases to avoid confusion for some international viewers.” – Tom Huddleston, Jr.
So, although Stranger Things is within cultural proximity to Western cultures, it has had success globally. Elements such as fantasy themes, localisation, and appealing to multiple generations aid it in breaking cultural barriers.
Why do you think Stranger Things is so successful? Let me know in a comment below.
Straubhaar, J.D. World Television: From Global to Local, Los Angeles: Sage (2007)
Straubhaar, Joseph, D. ‘Choosing National TV: Cultural Capital, Language and Cultural Proximity in Brazil’ in The Impact of International Television: A Paradigm Shift’, edited by Michael G. Elasmar, Oxofrd: Routledge, 2014, pp. 77-110.