A New Stranger Things Clip Weirds Me Out, and Not in a Good Way
Let's leave this kind of humor behind.
On Monday, Stranger Things 3 dropped a teaser for the upcoming season centered on Billy (Dacre Montgomery) and his summer job of being a lifeguard at the pool. This is highlighted by an extended scene of the moms of Hawkins, Indiana—including Mrs. Wheeler—primping by the pool before ogling Billy as he walks by shirtless. The rest of the scene is a comedic bit about Billy terrifying a kid who’s running by the pool, but the centerpiece is Billy being sexualized by a bunch of older women.
Honestly, it doesn’t sit too well with me.
— Stranger Things (@Stranger_Things) May 20, 2019
I know that Montgomery is not a teenager (he’s 24) but his character is just 18 in the newest season. The moms obsessing over him are all much older. If we raise a fuss about eighteen year old girls being ogled by older men, then it stands to reason that we shouldn’t really be thrilled that a younger guy is being objectified by older women. It’s not a good look period, regardless of the teenage character’s gender.
Billy is also somewhat of a garbage character/person. He tried to murder Mike, Dustin, and Lucas at one point early on in the season (and went after them and Steve later on as well), he was openly racist towards Lucas, and he was abusive towards his sister Max. He’s not really a teenage dream, though I suppose the marketing team might’ve been focusing more on the “humor” of the scene rather than the gross nature of the character.
Women ogling younger men is usually played for laughs. Older women coo over pool boys and flirt aggressively and we’re supposed to laugh, because it’s funny when older women are predatory towards younger men. Stranger Things isn’t the first show to do this, nor will it probably be the last. The big problem is is that it keeps happening, and as a result it continues to perpetuate the harmful myth that sexual harassment and assault is funny when it happens to men.
While it falls prey to a lot of problematic tropes at times (see, the treatment of Nancy), I genuinely don’t think the writers of Stranger Things want to make light of predatory relationships. People making eyes at a hot lifeguard? That’s a popular summer eighties movie trope. But it’s not really funny any more, because there really isn’t much to laugh at about a teenager being the object of a bunch of older women’s attentions.
This does come on the heels of last season’s episode where Billy, at age 17, attempts to seduce Mrs. Wheeler, which was highly uncomfortable to watch. Maybe Billy’s story will be given more nuance in the full season; he’s probably still the worst and I’ll never forgive him for how he treated Lucas and Max, but he doesn’t need to be just there for a bunch of jokes about how horny older women are.
Stranger Things might do better by women this season, but they should continue to aim higher and do better in general, and that probably means that jokes about older women lusting after teen boys should be left in 1984.
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