How many of us have heard of the “American Dream”? How many of us have believed it? For characters like Alexei in Stranger Things, it seems more like a possibility than just some fanciful ideal people want to believe. There is a fun trend in the third season of Stranger Things that drives home the idea that we, as Americans, take for granted the way we’ve always viewed freedom, and how others used to view us as a country.
Taking place in the 1980s, the show gives us the idea of an America where kids ran around free in the streets all night with their friends, took their education for granted, and just cared about playing games. Throughout Stranger Things 3, the looming idea of the Fourth of July is on the town of Hawkins, Indiana, but what’s interesting is that the town’s mayor, Larry Kline (Cary Elwes), is the definition of American greed.
He sells Hawkins down the river to Russians, who want to use the new mall as a front to try to open up the portal to the Upside Down, in order to make money, which, when you think about it, is essentially what many American politicians are willing to do. But comparing Mayor Kline to a character like Alexei, it’s easy to see the idea of the American Dream versus the reality of the corrupt nature of this country.
Alexei starts as a scientist for the Russians, thrown into making the machine that is meant to reverse Eleven’s work on the portal to the Upside Down. He gets the job when the man before him fails, but it’s clear through his escape and journey with Hopper, Joyce, and Murray that he wants to be a part of what he thinks is the “fun” of being an American.
When Alexei and Murray go to hide out at the Fourth of July celebration in Hawkins, Alexei asks Murray if, once he helps them stop the Russians, he can become an American and then join in on the fun of the Fourth. Normally, it’d just be a funny line, but within the context of this corrupt town and the reason Alexei was there in the first place, it drives home the idea that the “fun” of being an American isn’t all it’s made out to be.
We live in a world where Mayor Kline is more often the kind of American we see in real life, though we dream of being the kind of country that Alexei clearly saw us as. It reminds me of the big question around Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan: When, exactly, was America great? When racism was even less subtle than it is today? When women couldn’t vote? In the ’80s, when we still had the rise of corrupt politicians who were only doing things for their own benefit?
Stranger Things 3 shows the truth of what being an American is and shows the contrast of this idea of a dream that we’ve long clung to. Seeing the “American Dream” reflected in Alexei’s simple statement truly made me sit and wonder what being an American even meant to me, and I love and hate Stranger Things for doing that to me.
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