How was your Halloween? This year I decided to join in and buy a big box of sweets and put a Jack-o’-lantern on my doorstep. The pumpkin was a mistake: the doorbell rang so many times that after half an hour I was down to just two boiled sweets and an apple.
I picked up a love of Halloween from America, where it’s a kind of secular holy day – the mockery of witches and demons implies a belief in God, of sorts. And who can resist a combination of sugar and scares? Hence the popularity of Stranger Things, now in its second series on Netflix – the story of four boys battling supernatural evil in 1980s suburbia.
My friend Damian Thompson wrote a superb book on how makers of cocaine and cupcakes fuel addiction, and this show plays by the same rules. The main ingredient is nostalgia. “Vote Reagan” signs on the lawn; electropop sounds; the kids dress as Ghostbusters. Add hints of ET, telekinesis and guest stars from the era – the comedian Paul Reiser, who played the villain in Aliens – and then, this is the key, they pump up the last 10 minutes of every episode towards another startling revelation, and then … Stop! Credits. I want more, give me more!
In the 1980s, the actual 80s that I grew up in, I’d have to wait a week to find out what happens next. Instead, I can just wait for the subsequent episode to start online.
Thus something that should be consumed in individual doses is gulped down in one sitting. I guess Damian would say that supply fuels demand: we watch so much internet because there’s so much to watch. And Stranger Things is worth ruining your life for because it is very good, thanks to inventive camera work and clever plotting.
Will Halloween ever be as socially acceptable in Britain as Stranger Things? You can tell how un-English trick-or-treating is by the fact that it was the first time I’d met many of my neighbours. But the kids seem to like it. I gave one little zombie some sweets and he waved goodbye and cried, “See you next year!”