‘Stranger Things’ shows how conspiracy theories take hold and hurt

The show’s conspiratorial leanings show how easily people can be swayed in times of uncertainty

A conspiracy theory is formed against Stranger Things character Eddie Munson. Picture: Stranger Things/Netflix

Note: The following article contains spoilers for “Stranger Things”.

Stranger Things’ The most recent season, which set Netflix ratings milestones and had an estimated budget of $30 million per episode, has a subplot centering on a famous Satanism conspiracy tied to children playing Dungeons and Dragons ( DnD) in the 1980s. And it’s one that does a pretty good job of reflecting the problems society has with conspiracy theory today.

The same weekend of the release of the season four finale of stranger thingsthe so-called “freedom convoy” returned to Canada’s capital, reminding us of the February plot-fueled event.

Stranger Things’ conspiratorial leanings highlight how easily people can be swayed when demanding answers in times of uncertainty, and how, to move forward, people must be open to having their views questioned .

Trailer for Stranger Things 4, Volume 2 on Netflix.

From Hellfire to pandemic pandemonium

In stranger things the conspiracy theory sub-narrative revolves around high school basketball team captain Jason Carver. Jason’s girlfriend, Chrissy Cunningham, is murdered by the show’s villain (Vecna) but he, the city and his police force focus their investigation on drug dealer and Hellfire DnD club leader Eddie Munson. Jason mobilizes the town to hunt down club members who he believes have become minions of the devil.

Conspiracy theories emerge from people trying to find answers. In stranger things, Jason had questions about Chrissy’s death. To him, she was the perfect cheerleader who would never do drugs, so when she was found at Eddie’s, Jason himself connected the dots with stories that were about DnD and Satanism.

A man wearing a high school jacket stands in front of a crowd
Jason Carver has woven a web of conspiracies to try to find answers. Photo: Netflix via SiimplyRose/YouTube

In a progression of truth that seems all too familiar, Jason has constructed his own narrative. He took a small amount of truth (where Chrissy was found), coupled with his beliefs (Chrissy wouldn’t do drugs) and went on a crusade that harmed his town and some of the people in it.

Something similar happened at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when there were a lot of unknowns. People wanted answers and experts were scrambling to learn and explain things quickly, which paired facts with people’s opinions, pushing us into an infodemic.

Information was disjointed, opinions were everywhere, and like Jason, people were connecting their own dots to draw conclusions. As politics, worldviews and conspiracy intertwined with facts, false narratives developed saying that vaccines are microchipped or that the pandemic was orchestrated by a cabal of world leaders.

A group of people crowd around a table while one reads.
Dungeon Master Eddie Munson reads a playbook in the campaign for his life. Photo: Stranger Things/Netflix

Like Jason, people came to conclusions based on opinions, beliefs, and small kernels of truth. We see it in all conspiracy theories, and it becomes a serious problem when communities form or leaders emerge like Jason, taking those ideas and acting on them.

stranger things and Jason’s quest reminds us that our interpretation of the world, or perspective, is central to our understanding of what we believe in.

The danger of perspective

How people are raised, what they are taught, who they are, and the experiences they have had inform their perspective. It can be great, it can get people talking, questioning things, and fostering collective understanding. But if people’s views become too polarized and they don’t want to be challenged, they can become problematic and disruptive to the safety and health of those around them.

Many people draw lines in the sand when it comes to what they believe. If a story doesn’t fit their worldview, it’s deemed fake, worth ignoring, and sometimes entirely reframed.

Five people are waiting impatiently
The Hellfire club has been touted as the culprit, at the center of a local conspiracy theory. Photo: Stranger Things/Netflix

Jason was just looking for an answer. He used the knowledge and tools at his disposal to find one that made sense. The problem was that even when confronted with alternate facts, Jason refused to challenge his point of view.

His plot was born out of emotion. He was grieving and his sadness and rage clouded his understanding. Emotions can make it even more difficult to be open-minded when it comes to questioning your own perspectives.

Conspiracy isn’t just something on TV; it’s happening in our society. A recent study showed that 44% of Canadians believe in conspiracy theories. If nearly half the population believes in misinformation or something conspiratorial, we need to challenge their perspectives, expand their worldview, and encourage them to move beyond emotional reactions.

People are immersed in a constant flow of information. The information may seem harmless, but be part of an entire industry producing fake news. It is important for people to assess where their information comes from. Broadening sources will help ensure that society remains free from an infodemic.

Before we pull a Jason and become a complete crusader for a worldview, let’s question the weird things in life and seek to learn from them.The conversation

Scott DeJong, PhD Candidate and Research Assistant, Communication Studies, Concordia University

This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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