By: Jonathan F. Bassett
This paper explores the Netflix television series Stranger Things from an existential perspective positing the appeal of horror as derived from its ability to elicit fears of mortality, corporeality, and impermanence, while simultaneously presenting narrative and visual messages that buttress psychological defenses ameliorating those fears. Special attention is given to the intensification of the horror elements that occurred in season 4, most notably in the character of Vecna, who evokes the requisite emotions for the experience of art horror (fear and disgust) by his macabre appearance and the gruesome way he kills his victims. Vecna is not only horrifying but also captivating because his supernatural powers cast doubts on the physical laws imposing the inevitability of death. Further, two well documented psychological defenses against death anxiety: (1) the comfort of close relationships and (2) the psychological experience of nostalgia feature prominently in Stranger Things. The series’ appeal is presented as a consequence of the skillful way it creates a powerful sense of engagement by provoking and assuaging viewers’ existential fears.
Keywords: Stranger Things, existential psychology, death anxiety, nostalgia, Terror Management Theory, horror
To cite as: Bassett, Jonathan F. 2023, “Death, Nostalgia, and Relationships: Psychological Defenses against Existential Terror and the Appeal of Stranger Things,” PsyArt 27, pp. 124-151.