Opinion: What is the Upside Down? Ashley digs deeper into ‘Stranger Things’

Stranger Things

The Story Geeks blogger Ashley Pauls responds with an additional perspective to the same topic discussed in this week’s podcast – Netflix’s “Stranger Things.” Want to share your own take? Join the conversation in The Story Geeks Facebook group!

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It’s easy to answer the question: “Why is the Upside Down so scary?”

The alternate dimension introduced in Netflix’s wildly popular “Stranger Things” is a dark, eerie place. It’s a terrifying reflection of our own world; everything that is happy or bright or wonderful in our reality is twisted into something grotesque. It’s also populated by seriously scary creatures known as Demogorgons; you definitely don’t want these creatures slipping through the breach into our world.

A much harder question to answer is: “Exactly what is the Upside Down?”

According to the Stranger Things Wiki page (side note: pop culture wiki pages are one of the best things to happen to entertainment bloggers, because it’s sooo much easier to track down geeky, minute details now!), the history of the Upside Down largely remains a mystery. How long it has existed, and why it exists in the first place, are up for debate.

Maybe “Stranger Things” season 3 will answer these questions, and maybe it won’t. TV shows and movies can easily fall into the trap of over-explaining; sometimes it’s okay to leave things a bit mysterious. The Upside Down is probably scarier when we know less about it, allowing those unanswered questions to haunt our imaginations.

Yet it’s hard not to speculate and desperately want to know this information anyway. The fact the Upside Down appears to be a fairly exact copy of Earth — just darker and grimmer — can’t be a coincidence.

Is the Upside Down a vision of the future, a post-apocalyptic reality after some universe-altering event? Was it once a peaceful alternate dimension, that was then “poisoned” by those mysterious experiments at Hawkins Lab? Or is it just a construct crafted by the Mind Flayer, a paranormal monster who is trying to invade our world?

While it’s tricky to find answers within the Upside Down, it’s not hard to find symbolism.

In some ways, the Upside Down can be looked at as a metaphor for loneliness and isolation. When Will is trapped in the Upside Down, he’s cut off from all his friends and family members. He’s left alone in this world of darkness and death, that offers no hope.

However, he’s eventually saved because his family and friends on the outside refuse to give up searching for him or trying to rescue him. Throughout the series, the darkness in the Upside Down is defeated by people working together and supporting each other.

Perhaps “Stranger Things” is trying to tell us that we can save our world from becoming the worst version of itself by caring for each other, and making sure to leave no person behind. Maybe that message feels a little on the nose, but I think it’s worth sharing — especially with some of the troubling trends in online culture and how people seem to be forgetting the importance of showing kindness.

“Stranger Things” could also easily be a cautionary tale. The Hawkins Lab is obviously engaging in some unethical experiments, and this comes back to punish them later. Sometimes we create our own demons (or Demogorgons?), and our mistakes end up hurting far more people than just ourselves. When you do bad things, eventually, inevitably, the bill always comes due.

Maybe I’m off base on all of this, and the show runners intended to communicate something entirely different with this story. But one of the great things about fiction is that is challenges us and drives us to discuss topics in a new way. Like many fans, I’m looking forward to seeing what conversations “Stranger Things” season 3 will spark this week.