CFP: Looking into the Upside Down: Investigating Stranger Things

deadline for submissions: 
September 14, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Tracey Mollet / University of Leeds
contact email: 

Call for Papers – Looking into the Upside Down: Investigating Stranger Things

One Day Symposium at the School of Media and Communication, University of Leeds

Confirmed Keynote Speakers:

Professor Matt Hills, University of Huddersfield

Dr Sorcha Ní Fhlainn, Manchester Metropolitan University


Friday 14th December, 2018


Heavily inspired by science fiction, horror and ‘coming of age’ narratives from the 1980s, Netflix’s Stranger Things (2016-)follows the supernatural adventures of four young teenage boys; Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Will (Noah Schnapp), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo). The boys come across a girl with telekinetic powers, named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), who has escaped from the government run Hawkins Laboratory. They reveal the dark intentions of the lab, its scientists and the existence of an alternative dimension of monsters they nickname the Upside Down. The show is one of Netflix’s most successful ventures into original programming and has garnered both popular and critical acclaim. This conference seeks to explore Stranger Things’wider significance within the canon of cult television. Cult narratives are often associated with “empathetic audience identification with subversive characters” (Kinkade and Katovich 1992: 194), “trans-genericism” (Ross and Stein 2008: 8), and the inclusion of what Hills has termed a “hyper-diegesis” or “a vast and detailed narrative space, only a fraction of which is ever directly seen or encountered within the text” (2002: 137).

Kevin J. Whetmore Jr.’s recently published edited collection primarily focuses on Stranger Things’ first season and covers such topics as contextualisation, gender and intertextuality but largely omits a consideration of the show’s position as a cult television narrative (2018). Stranger Things excessively references cult media texts and by doing so, has developed a cult fan following through its use of a vast “intertextual network” (Jenkins 1992: 40). This is also evidenced through the show’s extensive foray into merchandising, presence at fan-based conferences such as Comic-Con and Paleyfest and its recent invitation to be a part of the immersive ‘Halloween Horror Nights’ experience at Universal Studios theme parks.

Stranger Things also exemplifies a recent trend of 1980s nostalgia within popular cult media products. The narrative of the show mirrors that of J.J. Abrams’ ode to Spielberg in Super 8 (2011), shares many similarities with Stephen King’s It (1986; Carranza, 2018) and both Stranger Things and the Marvel franchise release Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) boast soundtracks of 1970s/1980s pop and rock hits. Butler has suggested that Stranger Things’depiction of this decade reveals “the terrifying similarities between the 1980s and now; speaking to the present as much as the past” (2017: 196).

This conference aims to bring together scholars working on Stranger Things with a view to publishing an edited volume as part of I.B. Tauris/Bloomsbury’s ‘Investigating Cult Television’ series in late 2019. Paper topics (for 20-minute presentations) might include but are not limited to:-

  • The mediation of 1980s nostalgia
  • Contextuality – Reaganism/Trumpism
  • The rise of popular cult narratives in the 1980s
  • Postmodern entertainment, complex serial narratives and cult television
  • Representations of gender, adolescence, family and/or authority
  • Cult characters and their followings (Barb, Bob Newby, Eleven, Steve Harrington)
  • Generic hybridity in Stranger Things and other similar cult films and TV.
  • Music within Stranger Things and its promotional material
  • Trans-medial narratives/online fan engagement
  • Fan experience (merchandise/theme park attractions)

Please submit proposals of around 300 words, along with a short biographical note (100 words) to Dr Tracey Mollet ( by Friday 14th September 2018.

Applicants will be notified of the outcome by Friday 21st September 2018.