On October 27, 2017, Hollywood was once again turned upside down.
Stranger Things, the television series produced by Netflix that amassed great (albeit surprising) success, is just a click away. Last season, the Duffer Brothers devised a masterful tale of demogorgons, ’80s nostalgia, and of course, the Upside Down. While the impact of Stranger Things certainly was felt in the immediate vicinity of Hollywood, the broader implications of exactly what Stranger Things meant—in both the context of the television market and our current episteme—may be felt on the benches of Washington Square Park.
Stranger Things defies genre. Existing in the murky realm between science fiction, horror, adventure, and thriller, the television series manages to capture its audience with a charming parable. The show follows an endearing group of nerdy youths as they take on the world, and perhaps the underworld. All of the characters fit neatly into a caricature, yet all of the characters—innocent kids, rebellious teenagers, and fraught adults—seem to be railing against the greater evils of the world. The show masterfully handles the complexities of generational difference while negotiating the capriciousness of the modern audience.
We find ourselves in Hawkins, Indiana, in the 1980s. The ’80s appears onscreen in that slightly off-hue yellow that we associate with the curtains of kitchen windows of that era. While perhaps pastiched, the treatment of the time is not overwrought. We find ourselves in a time like–the-’80s. Granted, I did not (nor did the show’s creators) exist in the ’80s, but we nonetheless feel privy to a world of which we were deprived. There is a sense of Reagan-era unease, a discomfort with corporate America, and a pervasive suspicion of lawlessness.
That sense of lawlessness points directly at my 2017 edition of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure as if to say, “You’re not very trendy.” In the series, we see teenagers who swear and climb into each other’s windows late at night (on school nights!). We see children riding bikes in the middle of darkened streets. We see huge government agencies colluding without restriction behind rusted wire fences. And we see police officers, listless and detached, paralyzed by their own self-imposed powerlessness. It’s like the Wild West—except in the ’80s, in the thriller genre, in a world where saloons are actually sensory deprivation tanks.
Nonetheless, the two eras are not irreconcilable. The element of lawlessness that so attracts an audience to Stranger Things is not at odds with my 2017 edition of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Risking cliché, we could say that vibrating beneath all of our rules and regulations is the valiant goal of encouraging and enforcing justice (either I am incredibly cynical, or we all enjoined in a concert of rolling our eyes together). Truthfully, however, Stranger Things illustrates the cycle we see again and again in our casebooks. There is a constant Apollonian and Dionysian swing between the commercialization and aggrandizement of the law and legal procedures in mass media, countered by a wild and spontaneous break into mayhem. Think Narcos, followed by Law & Order. In legal proceedings, this takes the form of liberal pleading standards, countered by heightened pleading standards. The welcoming of a class under 23(b)(3), and the subsequent binding of an individual who was not yet born when the parties proceeded to court. A rule turned standard and a standard turned rule.
On October 27, we yet again faced the terrors in Hawkins, Indiana. There is no law, and there are certainly no lawyers, but there is the intrepid valor of precocious middle-schoolers as they face imminent evil armed with only their trusty bikes. Take a break from outlining and be refreshed by the simple imagination of it all, forged in the threads of our past. Root for the characters as they battle against the law of the land, the laws of nature, and the law itself. I will join you, armed with my Federal Rules. Note: not because I will be vigorously tracing any Apollonian or Dionysian swings, but rather because I have an assignment due.