Screenshot of Eleven from Stranger Things

Why is Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things’ so popular? It starts with Sigmund Freud.

Eleven, the Upside Down, Vecna, the Mind Flayer. If those words read like gibberish to you, then you’re behind on one of the largest pop culture sensations of the decade: “Stranger Things.”

Even before its supersized fourth season wrapped up this past weekend, Netflix’s 1980s set sci-fi epic was one of the streamer’s biggest hits, one of the last remaining watercooler shows that could create conversation in an increasingly fractured TV landscape. The show is setting Netflix viewership records and is so popular that the flood of fans, hoping to binge the last two episodes upon release last week, crashed Netflix entirely.

Why have people fallen head-over-heels for “Stranger Things”? William Sharp, an associate teaching professor of psychology at Northeastern, has an idea–and it starts with Sigmund Freud.

Freud, the Austrian psychologist and founder of psychoanalysis, is well-known for his theory of the unconscious, which includes the concepts of the id, ego and super-ego. Sharp, who also operates a private practice in Brookline Village a few miles from Northeastern’s Boston campus, recently co-authored an article with Kevin Lu, of the University of Essex, and Greta Kaluzeviciute, of Derby University. It examines the themes, setting and characters of “Stranger Things” from a psychoanalytical perspective. Sharp says the Freudian concept of the unconscious–that there are repressed or dormant ideas and memories that can reappear in our conscious minds–is central to “Stranger Things.”

 

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