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Catch the wave

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El & The Gang in "Stranger Things 3."
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OKLAHOMA CITY – The Summer of 1985 – 34 years ago – has been looming large in my life, once again. It was a big summer for me. Lots of travel. Lots of new experiences. The summer I turned 13. And weeks at a camp in the Missouri Ozarks that kept me away from my beloved drug of choice – Coca-Cola.

Which brings me to the third season of Stranger Things. I have been binge-watching this new season, which has been tied to a big promotional push by Atlanta, Ga.-based Coca-Cola, which has made sure that its “New Coke” product is shown throughout the season. But not only that, they have unearthed the “New Coke” formula, and, for those who actually liked that sweet-evil brew that “replaced” classic Coca-Cola for a few bewildering months between April and August of 1985, well, Coca-Cola is offering it for sale – all these years later, even though New Coke stuck around on store shelves for far longer than it ever should have. The Orwellian "Max Headroom" asked the Pepsi generation to "ca-ca-ca-catch the wave, Coke!" It was eerie, you know? And Pepsi? Who cared. Coke would win the cola wars, eventually.  Just as capitalism would win over communism (as democracy died in subsequent years. But that's another story). Push, push struggle, as Killing Joke's Jaz Coleman would say on "Eighties" ... 

In fact, interest in Coca-Cola seems to be increasing of late. It’s a subject that has long interested me and one that pops up in my sync writing, because I am a child of the 1980’s who loves Back to the Future, The Goonies, Red Dawn, WarGames and all the other touchstone films and TV shows and junk food products of the 1980s. It’s all there in Georgia-filmed, Indiana-set Stranger Things, especially this season.

Now, I don’t want to give too much of the plot away of this engaging season (which is better than season two, but not quite up to the level of the first season), but evil Russians are involved and the Mind Flayer and so forth. But what I am looking for are the hidden-in-plain site clues and “easter eggs” that Eighties kids would get.

What is great about this season, for me, is that it was released on July 4, 2019. And the events in this season take place in those first days of July 1985, leading up to the Fourth of July events to be held at Hawkins, Indiana’s “Fun Fair,” near ground zero of all the supernatural activity taking place.

For me, I was on a family vacation – with another family – that first week of July 1985. I was in the vicinity of Destin, Florida, the same Gulf of Mexico vacation destination I had visited two months earlier with my own family – and where I was stopped by a mysterious figure from getting my kite out of some power lines with an aluminum swimming pool skimmer. I know, a dumb idea, right? But as I tried to reach the kite, this figure, I remember the “man” wearing a black T-shirt and sunglasses. “Don’t do that. You’ll electrocute yourself.”

Thank you, sir. So glad you appeared out of nowhere and prevented my possible death from electrocution. Are you an angel? Before that time I had seen what I thought was an angel just once before, in the front yard of my childhood home in Little Rock - between two pine trees! The pine tree part is interesting for me, because I often imagine "heaven" as having lots of pine trees. Oh and also between the pines was a car belonging to a school friend of mine's mother - a Mrs. Buckley. (Take note, Mr. Knowles). 

And so two months later, my good pal “W” there in Little Rock, Arkansas, invited me to join him on this second trip to Destin, Florida. It was a fun trip, and July 4, 1985 my friend and I get some fireworks and go down to the beach, next to those emerald-colored waters. I carelessly throw a smoke bomb onto a dune, and the flame that comes out prior to the smoke being released catches clusters of sea oats and dune grass on fire. W and I are stunned by this and grab a cooler, running down to the beach and fill the cooler with sea water, hoping to put it out. We are successful in putting it out on that windy, salty summer day. But a black burn mark on the dune remained. That was one thing I left behind on that day. It was odd. The kite-eating wires (shades of Charlie Brown – a nickname I had in college, good grief!) and later, the

This memory reminded me of something Bauhaus/Love and Rockets bassist/singer David J (Haskins) recalls in his remarkable autobiography, Who Killed Mister Moonlight? Bauhaus, Black Magick and Benediction, which I reviewed last September.

In his recollection, on July 4, 1985, David J and his good friend Alan Moore, a gifted graphic novelist and magus of immense proportion. While high on LSD and a soundtrack provided by the Velvet Underground, David J and Moore (while over in their native England) create a “magickal working,” following a dream David J had had involving Hecate, the Greek goddess of the underworld, and “divinity of crossroads.”

This chilling story is quite gripping and absolutely frightening, as David J explains it. Moore, meanwhile, tells his musician friend that, “Yes, we’re swimming in deep waters now.”

It seems as if something was going on that Summer of 1985, something far deeper than garish neon clothes, Phil Collins and Live Aid. I sensed it at the time, as if a wave was cresting in those “deep waters,” Moore said as a “serpent god” is invoked in his home on 7/4/85. The undeniable "magic" of 1984-86 would hit me as the 80's turned into the 1990's. Something magical was gone. But new things were in store - for all of us.

I sensed that “feeling for months afterward. It was as if I was awakened. What is interesting is that one of the most important films of my life, Back to the Future, was released that very same week, on July 3, 1985. In this new season of Stranger Things, while in the movie theater in the new Starcourt Mall (no, not Twin Pines or Lone Pine Mall – but they do have a Zale’s Jewelers and a JCPenney), the Stranger Things kids leave as they pass a promo poster for Back to the Future, released that same week. Little do the kids know what is taking place hundreds of feet below them. Something sinister. And during all this, in our timeline (not Alternate 1985, where Biff Tannen is in power - or is it?) two knuckleheads are driving through Logan County, Oklahoma with a canister of uranium. When that story got out, the Back to the Future jokes were many on social media. 

There are notable allusions to BTTF in other episodes. One, where Chief Hopper and Joyce are fleeing an old farmhouse, featuring a mailbox lettered with the name of the former occupants – Hess. While Hopper doesn’t run over a pine sapling, he does run over the Hess mailbox, where in Back to the Future, Marty McFly runs over Farmer Peabody’s pine sapling (one of two – “Twin Pines”) and then he uses a shotgun to try and shoot radiation-suit-wearing Marty fleeing in his DeLorean time machine, only to shoot his own mailbox reading “Peabody.”

The Duffer Brothers are quite obviously big fans of 1980’s movies and TV shows (oddly I have been rewatching the first season of Magnum PI, only to see Hopper watching it too, and sporting a Tom Selleck-ish moustache.

Again, while Hopper and Joyce and another character are fleeing a psychotic killer, hot on their trail, they stumble upon a 7-Eleven convenience store. The set designers captured the look perfectly. The tired travelers guzzle Jolt Cola, Tab and New Coke. I am reminded of the 1983 film WarGames, where Matthew Broderick’s character is arrested by the feds at a 7-Eleven after being discovered as the hacker who broke into the war-games-playing supercomputer Joshua (aka WOPR). Broderick’s character is appropriately named “David Lightman.” He accidentally triggers the WOPR/Joshua computer into a “game” of “Global Thermonuclear War” and then is able to stop it before an actual war begins. Scary stuff, right?

WOPR? Whopper, you say? Doc Brown in Back to the Future lives right next to a Burger King. And later, Hopper (that’s Whopper, without a “W”) gets several of those burgers to a conspiracy-minded character and linguist Murray Bauman, whose home has three prominently displayed C.S. Lewis books, including two of his 1940’s “space trilogy” books Perelandra and That Hideous Strength.

Oh, and 7-Eleven? I hung out at 7-Eleven’s all the time. I always bought Cokes. And while I was away at that Missouri summer camp for weeks in August 1985 (which did not allow soft drinks on the property), I had my parents stop at a convenience store so I could guzzle a 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola Classic! It had been re-introduced at around that time after all the negative reaction to New Coke, which I suspect is what they were after all along, right? I think it was the shift from cane sugar to high-fructose corn syrup. And we know how that all turned out, right? Right around the time of America's farm crisis. 

Perhaps Murray could look into that conspiracy theory? But anyway, seeing those C.S. Lewis books in Murray’s dump of a house makes sense. He makes it clear that he is a committed American patriot and hates communism (yes, Russians are involved and Murray speaks Russian). But he is also paranoid and suspicious of everyone. And super intelligent. Even if you weren’t a Christian, C.S. Lewis’s intellectual approach to the spiritual – in the framework of the Cold War era – would have a definite appeal.

In That Hideous Strength, Lewis is addressing the horrors of transhumanism, totalitarianism and such, as in the novel, the evil organization N.I.C.E. is trying to turn imperfect humans into machines. I found it remarkable that the Duffer Brothers had to foresight to include those novels in the background in a key scene at Murray’s house.

I should also note that a couple of years ago I reviewed a recently-republished copy of Peter Kreeft’s brilliant book Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Between Death with John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley. All three brilliant minds died the same day – November 22, 1963. It’s a “dialog,” essentially, in Christian apologetics, and Lewis gets the final say, from my take on the book.

As Kreeft wrote in the prologue: “The events of November 22, 1963, almost seem to have ben providentially rigged to set up the situation I have imagined in this dialog: a microcosm of humanity’s tripartite intellectual history as well as the tripartite debate among Christian theologians. The trialog centers on the Center, the hinge of our history: its main question is the identity of Jesus.

You have C.S. Lewis. And then you have assassinated President John F. Kennedy. And then British author (who warned us of that inevitable(?) Brave New World, while also hyping LSD … and it makes for a fascinating combination. Kreeft may be right. Their deaths on 11/22/63 may have indeed been “providentially rigged.”

So, we have 7-Eleven. And the Christ-like heroine of Stranger Things is Eleven, or “El” who is surrounded by her young “disciples.” El is the “savior,” battling the demonic creatures of the “Upside Down,” which have entered our world via the scientific materialists in our government (in the US and USSR) who think they can control things they publicly say don’t really exist. But they do, and its undeniable. And it brings to mind our present time, when the topic of UFOs is actually getting a second look (or so it would appear) amongst the scientific elites who turn their nose up at anything smelling of the esoteric, paranormal or occult. But there are a few in those fields who … get it.

And El. How is El really? That dialog will continue. But then I'm not to the final episode yet, so don't spoil it for me if you know.

Stranger Things 3 images via Netflix

POSTSCRIPT: Am nearly done with Episode 8, the Season 3 finale: A few thoughts. Standout characters, for me, included Gaten Matarazzo as "Dustin Henderson," Priah Ferguson as "Erica Sinclair" and, of course, Brett Gelman as "Murray Bauman." In any event, when Dustin and Erica are in the Starcourt Mall theater, watching Back to the Future, Dustin tells Erica that "cooling off" in the theater was like Lee Harvey Oswald "cooling off" in the Texas Theatre in Dallas' Oak Cliff neighborhood following JFK's assassination on 11/22/63. The Back to the Future scenes highlighted on the movie screen during the episode take place at the Twin Pines Mall when Doc Brown demonstrates the abilities of his DeLorean time machine - just before the pissed-off Libyan terrorists show up. Of course for those out there familiar with Joe Alexander's "Back to the Future Predicts 9/11" video know, there is a helluva lot going on in BTTF, and I am glad the Stranger Things folks had the foresight to include that angle. Time travel. Psi abilities. Coca-Cola. Nuclear power and weaponry. Opening gates and portals. Secret government operations. A lot of these topics have been coming up in MAINSTREAM news sources of late. Is Stranger Things riding "the wave" or is it laying out the path? 

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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