Intertextuality can be seen as “weaponized” and cheap due its often use as a substitution in film plots (Nerdwriter1, 2016). However, I think there may be a case to prove intertexuality’s use as a tool to challenge genre and the representations it secures. The Netflix series Stranger Things (2016 - present) is a perfect example of intertextuality being used to challenge gender norms.
Women in sci-fi have often been depicted as sexual objects, think of Princess Leia from Star Wars (1977). Although the character of Leia and other sci-fi heroines such as Ripley from Alien (1979) or Sarah Connor from the Terminator franchise (1984 - present) “challenges conventional ideas of gender, race, and nation”, they “often at the same time”... “reinforce[s] them” (Melzer, 2006, p. 1). There is no doubt that these sci-fi heroines made a huge impact on the challenging of gender norms, especially as the fandom around them grew through “community bullying, crafting, and fan fiction” (Bruin-Molé, 2017, p. 225-226). However, it is my opinion that the character of Eleven from Stranger Things has been able to move into the feminism that re-inforces positive feminist values that are often undermined in popular culture or just plainly abandoned.
The Friendship of Eleven & Max
“Feminist sisterhood is rooted in sharred commitment to struggle against patriarchal injustice, no matter the form the injustice takes” (hooks, 2014, p. 15).
Films in general have been horrible at depicting women in their own right, but instead keep them as “make believe” supporting characters to their male protagonists that are “only ever shown talking to men or to other women about men” (PBS Idea Channel, 2014). However, in Stranger Things the friendship of Eleven and Max challenges this common narrative by creating montages of the girls shopping together after Eleven is experiencing romantic relationship troubles with Mike. Although this seems superficial as it may disregard female friendship as just ‘shopping’, - another way for the patriarchy to ‘keep us in line’ - the scene includes dialogue that establishes fashion's positive value in creating a sense of identity unique to an individual. After Eleven gazes with wonder at a piece of clothing Max asks “Do you like that?”, and after Eleven responds “how do I know what I like?”, Max advises her;
“You just try things on until you find something that feels like you”
This conversation empowers Eleven to stop defining her identity by those around her, and gives way to autonomous thinking. Max’s role in this exchange supports Eleven’s engagement of free-thinking, and ultimately sets the stage for future character development throughout the series. Although Eleven is the one with the telekinesis powers, it is Max’s presence as a supportive and honest friend that strengthens Eleven to continue to fight at the end of season 4.
Eleven - The Flawed Superhero
Eleven’s telekinesis powers serve to reinforce the gender radicalisation of the heroines mentioned earlier; Ripley and Sarah Connor, as they all “share an unusual display of technological know-how, empowerment, and the habit of saving the world (Melzer, 2006, p. 1). Although Eleven does not have the “technological know-how”, the rest remains. It is my opinion that the problem of these depictions of female characters was their perfection. Flawed characters in my opinion are necessary in depicting a more authentic representation of the world. The show is fortunate in the fact that they are using a young child because as we all know, being young comes with hurdles left right and center that take aim at our emotional and mental growth. The creators of the show use this to their advantage in the fact that although Eleven ‘saves the world’, it can’t be done without the support of her friends, and without a period of growth maturity both emotionally and mentally. This defies the gender radicalisation of the 70s - 90s films mentioned earlier that have women doing ‘‘‘unfeminine’’ things”’ (Melzer, 2006, p. 1).
A definite example of emotional and mental maturity occurs during the time between the end of season 2 and the beginning of season 3. Max looked to be genuinely happy to finally meet Eleven at the end of season 2, but Eleven, due to what looked to be jealousy, obviously did not. It wasn’t until later that Eleven initiated a relationship with Max, most probably because she was finally looking at her without a green filter.
Intertextuality - There is probably, most definitely a right and wrong way to do it.
I have been thoroughly impressed by the way Stranger Things has managed to cross boundaries within genre conventions and narratives without giving up the integrity of artistry. The creators of the show have managed to take narratives and genre conventions to tell a similar story then its predecessors, but one that does not bow down to misogynistic and radicalized gender stereotypes.
Bruin-Molé, M. de. (2018). Space Bitches, Witches, and Kick-Ass Princesses. In Star Wars and the History of Transmedia Storytelling (pp. 225–240). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. https://doi.org/10.1515/9789048537433-018
Cameron, J., Hurd, G.A. (1984 - present). Terminator (franchise) [Film]. StudioCanal.
Hooks, Bell. (2014). Feminism is for everybody: passionate politics (2nd ed.). Routledge.
Lucas, G. (1977). Star Wars [Film]. Lucasfilm Ltd.
Melzer, P. (2006). Alien constructions : Science fiction and feminist thought. University of Texas Press.
Nerdwriter1. (2016). Intertextuality: Hollywood's New Currency [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QeAKX_0wZWY
Netflix. (2018, July 14). Best of Eleven and Max | Stranger Things | Netflix [video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqiDy4vfwZw
PBS Idea Channel. (2014, April 3). How is Ms. Marvel Changing Media for the Better? | Idea Channel | PBS Digital Studios [video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VALaI9HpmUw
Scott, R. (1979). Alien [Film]. 20th Century Fox; Brandywine Productions.
The Duffers Brothers., Levy, S., Cohen, D., Holland, C., Wright, B., Thunell, M., Gajdusek, K., Paterson, I., Gwinn, C. (Executive Producers). (2016 - present). Stranger things [TV series]. 21 Laps Entertainment; Monkey Massacre; Upside Down Pictures.