Archives on TV: Stranger Things, "The Monster and the Superhero"
[Spoilers for Stranger Things, just in case!]
Okay, let's see if I can actually write a short article about a fairly short scene in one episode of Stranger Things.
This is the greatest challenge of my life.
It's not an epic moment of awesome backed up by Kate Bush or Metallica, but for your friendly neighborhood archivist it was pretty awesome to see Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) doing the foot work of research to satisfy a hunch. For all the talk of superheroes between Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) this episode, it's nice to see the real Lois Lane of the group flex her investigative reporter chops.
In the aftermath of the supposed murder of cheerleader Chrissy Cunningham (Grace Van Dien) by Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn), Nancy talks to Eddie's uncle who claims Chrissy was killed by Victor Creel, Hawkins' very own bogey man appropriately played by Robert Englund in episode four, "Dear Billy". Describing her idea as a "shot in the dark," Nancy decides to branch off from the group to investigate Victor Creel only for Robin (Maya Hawke) to tag along so she's not by herself with a supernatural serial killer on the loose. The two head to the Hawkins Public Library where Nancy requests the key to the archives.
So, the scene in the archives is interesting for a couple of reasons. The first being the actual layout and geography of the scene. After requesting the key to the archives, which the librarian happily provides, Nancy and Robin are left to their own devices for what appears to be hours. The next time we see them after the key request they're in a dimly lit room looking through microfilm. Needing another reel, Nancy heads down a flight of stairs into a small but packed basement full of cabinets containing microfilm as well as shelves of books and other archival materials.
Yes, I know, a basement archives. Shocking.
I will say that the dim lighting while looking at microfilm is a bit unnecessary. Microfilm and microfiche viewers are backlit for a reason. You can absolutely read them in a well lit room, which is how most people do their research. We had the same viewers Nancy and Robin are looking at in my college library and the building lights were always on. But I suppose that takes away from the intimacy of the moment as well as indicating the passage of time. I don't know, it's just more dramatic when people research in the darkness, I guess. It's also worth noting that there's no archivist to speak of, just the librarian handing out the keys upon request with no guidance or help provided that we see on screen.
When we get into the archives, which while packed and cramped are clean and dust free, Nancy and Robin start going through microfilm cabinets, pulling out cartridges as they hammer out their relationship statuses (like ya do!), when Robin finds reels for The Weekly Watcher, the Hawkins equivalent of the weird news tabloids about aliens and bigfoot. But it turns out that the Weekly Watcher has exactly what they're looking for.
A fun fact: The Indiana Historical Society was the driving force behind an initiative to preserve the state's oldest newspapers. Starting in 1980, communities could gain access to microfilmed newspapers via the network of state and public libraries going back to the 1800s. And if season four of Stranger Things takes place in 1986, then it's very likely that the Hawkins librarian, or some unknown archivist, was part of those efforts to preserve local newspapers, including the Weekly Watcher.
I know no one asked for this type of background information but I like knowing that Nancy and Robin finding what they need actually has some precedence in statewide archiving efforts. I can't imagine the Duffer Brothers knew this, but it makes sense to me as a head canon reason for why the girls find exactly what they need to make the right connection via the archives. Would I have liked it better if an archivist or librarian helped them in some way, shape, or form? Yes, but that's not the world we live in currently so I have to take what I can get.
So, yeah, short and sweet. Looks like brevity won out this time!
I mean, stranger things have happened.
I'll see myself out.