July 27, 2022
Stranger Things & the Invasion of Iraq I Remember
This diatribe on the plague that is retconning was inspired by a GQ UK article I came across on Twitter:
“Viewers who still have physical copies of Stranger Things season one noticed something odd having gone back for a rewatch on Netflix: a scene wherein one-time weirdo Jonathan Byers takes spying, lewd snaps of now-lover Nancy Wheeler from a bush has been erased on the platform. And it’s not the first time the Duffers have gone back to the cutting room after the fact.
In an interview with Variety in early June, the sibling directorial duo confirmed plans to “George Lucas” — ie. retrospectively edit, as has been the Star Wars progenitor’s unpopular bent with later editions of the original franchise trilogy”
Performing retroactive continuity, AKA retconning, is nothing new in the realm of popular media like TV and movies. A byproduct of the franchise-hungry and profit-driven entertainment industry, retconning has typically been used to patch up glaring errors in multi-part narratives that afford an overarching narrative in a new chapter to continue without viewers being hung up on key details established by previous canon. Franchises I’ve long been a fan of, like Star Trek & Star Wars, retcon the shit out of their universes & storylines; and my typical gut reaction to retconning is usually disappointment.
To be clear – my disappointment has nothing to do with any notion of entertainment being sacred or of the story belonging to the fans. I am disappointed that writers & filmmakers are so lazy that they can’t write the story in a way that makes logical sense. I’m disappointed that everyone in Hollywood has lost the ambition & appetite to create new heroes and original stories. I am disappointed that people are too stupid (or probably more accurately Hollywood thinks people are) to overlook gaps like actors dying in real life. But, over the years, I’ve always tried to look past the disgust and just accept retconning as part of the entertainment landscape and the world we live.
This is why I find the retconning of Stranger Things troubling – because it isn’t about patching up a small gap, it’s about changing someone’s character by eliminating their narrative arc. Johnathan Byers was a weirdo & peeping tom whose heart & grit won over Nancy Wheeler…now that’s just…? GQ writer Jack King sums up this particular retcon eloquently:
“How dismaying it is that a creator should be so willing to delete a sliver of complexity because it feels a touch uncomfortable in retrospect”
A sliver of complexity. We live in a digital age and increasingly in an age where we no longer own physical media. We’re all at the mercy of tech & media companies cloud storage. The only thing standing between us and an Orwellian Ministry of Truth is…well, nothing.
A recent 99 Percent Invisible episode about presidential libraries, called Yankee Pyramids, describes an interactive choose-your-own-adventure at the George W. Bush presidential library & museum that apparently allows visitors to go through the process of making the decision to invade Iraq. Plot twist – Regardless of what visitors select in the decision making tree, they have to invade Iraq to the point where even if a visitor selects “do not invade Iraq” a video of George W. Bush pops up saying, in as many words, “Wrong, based on the information you have you must invade Iraq.” HA!
I laugh as someone who lived though what I thought at the time was the most obtuse & jingoistic collusion between the mainstream media and the United Sates government in the history of the country. The weapons of mass destruction claims by US intelligence agencies and the hit parade touting of these claims as fact was so obviously architected to create public support for, what later turned out to be, the war crimes to be committed by the George W. Bush administration (and gleefully continued by every administration since).
There’s a through line from the lies about the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent retcon to the United States of today, where a size-able segment of the US population has been brainwashed by social media & big technology algorithms into believing that the current president is illegitimate and the former president is some kind of messiah fighting a cabal of child abusers. This same segment also believes, despite an increasing amount of overwhelming evidence, that the active efforts to overturn the 2020 election and the subsequent inaction when insurrectionists attempt to overthrow the Capitol were justified as part of this good versus evil crusade for America’s soul being led by geriatric, Sudafed-addicted, billionaire.
The normalization and rehabilitation of US politicians and bureaucrats with grotesque and abhorrent backgrounds is nothing new. I’m personally guilty of cracking a smile when I learned that war criminal George W. Bush took up painting in his retirement; and again when Michelle Obama handed him breath mints at John McCain’s funeral. And now we’re in the midst of the same rehabilitation retconning with all the ghouls that supported and enabled the Trump administration: those still holding appointments across the government; the cohort that have landed cushy think-tank and lobbyist jobs; those that have secured lucrative book deals & media contracts appearing regularly as commentators on mainstream outlets; and for the (disappointingly small) handful that are choosing to speak out as part of the January 6th commission being lauded as heroes! These ghouls supported, enabled, and are now profiting off of a fascist regime’s attempt to take over the government…and now they’re being called heroes. At what point does a sliver of complexity become a piece of shrapnel? How much discomfort it too much?
Johnathon Byers isn’t a peeping tom. Cassidy Hutchinson is a hero. We had no choice but to invade Iraq. We’ve always been at war with Eurasia.
I know the Duffer Brothers & Netflix re-editing their intellectual property to make Johnathon Byers less of a creep by removing the scenes where he takes takes peeping tom photos of Nancy Wheeler is not the same thing as using tax payer dollars to justify war crimes or using algorithms to brainwash people into believing 4chan /pol/ fan fiction is real. But, they’re all signals a dangerous precedent – that uncomfortable, troubling, and sickening realities can be changed because all data and information lives on servers controlled by a handful of companies; and, more dangerously, they should be changed rather than confront the systemic rot and broken institutions that are the death throes of the United States.