Turning the Exorcist’s Heteropatriarchal Order ‘Upside Down’ in Stranger Things

Abstract

The popular Netflix series Stranger Things is often-noted for critiquing homophobia and conservative gender norms (Joseph 2018; Roach 2018; Berns, Fontaine and Zárate 2018). This paper expands upon Tracey Mollet’s (2019) passing observation that a scene in Stranger Things 2 references William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. I argue that the sequel, in its entirety, actively dialogues with The Exorcist to subvert the Christian patriarchal/heteronormative order the film attempted to restore. The character Joyce Byers, a single mother, stands in for The Exorcist’s Chris MacNeil. Unlike Chris, however, Joyce displays a deep mistrust for the male scientists and instead of Catholic priests performs the exorcism herself. (Of significance, in the first season, Joyce declares Pastor Charles—the only known religious professional in Hawkins—impotent in combatting the monsters of the Upside Down.) An examination of the demons and the possessed children is also telling. In The Exorcist, under the influence of a spirit that identifies as the Devil, Regan displays transgressive (lesbian) sex acts. However, in Stranger Things Joyce’s (queer) son is possessed by a monster that has been read as both resembling Christian depictions of Satan (King 2017) and as a metaphor for homophobia (Reynolds 2016, 2017; Roach 2018). In sum, the series demonizes not homosexual acts/LGBTQ identity but rather (Christian) homophobia. This comparative analysis engages Andrew Scahill’s (2010) queer reading of The Exorcist and Ian Olney’s (2014) study of a sub genre of 1970s Euro-Horror works that subversively mimicked the film.



Author Information
Jason Bartashius, Japan Women's University, Japan

Paper Information
Conference: MediAsia2020
Stream: Film Criticism and Theory

This paper is part of the MediAsia2020 Conference Proceedings (View)
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