So Stranger Things, a show that is set during a decade that found Americans’ analog existence first ceding to the demands of the digital world, has created a beast that is revealingly non-corporeal, a powerful shadow that resides in the world’s negative spaces and, also, embodies them. Hawkins’s new megamonster is vaguely arachnoid in shape, vaguely viral in function, and by turns, apparently, both electric and gaseous. The show’s kids nickname it “the Mind Flayer,” and it’s appropriate: This is a monster of the mind. It hijacks the system—a body, a town, a world—right through the nerves. It lives among the people, below the people, around the people, in the parallel world of the Upside Down. And in its formlessness—monsters, mirrors—lurk anxieties about terrorism and climate change, about Facebook and hacking, about systems that are too powerful and not powerful enough. The invisible. The invincible. All the threats we cannot see and therefore cannot, directly, fight. No amount of human bravery or ingenuity—no well-aimed slingshot, no powerful gun, no bold act of collaboration—can destroy it. The Mind Flayer is helplessness, made monstrous.
Netflix’s release of Stranger Things 2 was long scheduled to coincide with the time of Halloween, which in the Gregorian sense marks a period of seasonal change—the sun retreats, the leaves fall away, that which has been sown is finally reaped—and which, in mystical tradition, is the time that finds the veil dividing the living from the dead to be at its most porous. The spirits cross over. The ghosts walk among us. In the year 2017, however, in the United States, the annual period of harvesting and haunting coincided with a different kind of spiritual rupture. The new Stranger Things ended up capping an October that began with, and was in some ways defined by, the revelations that Harvey Weinstein had allegedly harassed and assaulted and otherwise preyed on women. And that his alleged predations had calcified into a system.
Throughout the month, as the world turned colder and darker, more accusations arose, about Weinstein and so many other powerful men: of alleged abuses that had played out, reportedly, over months and years and decades. James Toback—more than 300 women—and Roy Price, and Knight Landesman, and Larry Nassar, and Leon Wieseltier, and Mark Halperin, and George H.W. Bush, and John Besh, and Hamilton Fish, and Ben Affleck, and Kevin Spacey, and Andy Dick, and Mike Oreskes, and Jeremy Piven, and Chris Savino, and Lars von Trier, and Oliver Stone, and Brett Ratner, and Dustin Hoffman. Day by day, as if in a horrific, late-season plot twist, there came more allegations. More revelations. More suggestions that there are monsters among us.
Over time—slowly but also swiftly, as these things so often play out—what began as “the Weinstein story” expanded, hewing to the same general trajectory that had transformed the Demogorgon of Season 1 into the facelessly monstrous void of the current moment. The stories soon turned into a phenomenon: what my colleague Adrienne LaFrance has called “the Harvey effect.” And as it expanded, the phenomenon took on environmental valences. Harassment and assault swept through Hollywood and the news media, across politics and athletics and academia, winding around every #MeToo and “David Cop-a-Feel,” every “I’m sorry if I” and “I now deeply regret” and “not who I am” and “under investigation” and “the relationship has now been terminated.”