In honor of the new season of Stranger Things I was thrilled to find this video essay while searching for examples of video responses. In this criticism Just Write is responding to a video made by The Nerdwriter on the subject of intertextuality in films – that is, how a subject in a text (in this case, a film or tv show) is shaped by another text (a book, play, song, or another film). As Nerdwriter points out, this concept is nothing new. Languages and ideas are processed and informed by how they were used in the past. The world is defined in comparison to one another.
Nerdwriter calls attention to what he sees as a relatively new trend in Hollywood cinema, where movies will use intertextual objections, people, or situations to specifically trigger a dramatic emotional response. Not that it’s a bad thing, but it’s a device that lacks the full emotional depth of a fully flushed out concept. It feels half baked.
Just Write on the other hand points out how intertextuality can be used to it’s full potential. For anyone who has seen Stranger Things on Netflix, they will know that the show doe a spectacular job at capturing a particular aesthetic from the 1980s. Just Write points out that when it comes to intertextuality there is a difference between a text referencing itself and referencing another work. He argues that the term of “pastiche” is more appropriate for the latter. Stranger Things relies heavily on pop culture references from the 1980s to give sustenance not only to what appears within the show but also to contextualize it.
An example I liked in particular was how the boys on the show use pop culture to communicate and understand one another. They share an affinity for games such as Dungeons and Dragons and can use those references to build on metaphors that give them a language and a code of ethics to understand the world that is around them. Likewise, pop culture references allow the audience to understand these characters. Just Write points to how the character of Eleven draws heavily from other 1980s films. She is compared to E.T. through the plot and the camera while also being given a dark edge as her supernatural powers reference two Steven King protagonists: Charlie and Carrie. Viewers who have seen these films will make these associations with Eleven and because these references offer characteristics that juxtapose one another intertextuality can be used here to create conflict.
Just Write takes us back one step further though and argues that what is so wonderful about this show is that it has been able to become a pop culture touchstone even for people who don’t understand all the references. Stranger Things not only invites comparison through intertextuality but it truly masters it by reflecting back. Likewise the structure of this video essay allowed us to see that there are layers when it comes to comparison and that a good tv show understands that as well.