Stranger Things provides us with a blast from the past, but the show carries more than a nostalgic feeling of warmth. Specifically, the character Barb Holland represents a rarely discussed television/film trope that functions as one of the few complaints of the show: Bury Your Gays. The Bury Your Gays trope utilizes LGBTQ+ characters deaths to further the plot of a straight character, or for shock value. Essentially, the trope is a remnant of the 1930's Hay's Code for motion pictures, which bans "impure love" not outlined in "divine law." During its standing (1930-1968), the Hays Code was responsible for the erasure of queer people within film, and the propagation of negative stereotypes ("sexual perversion" was allowed if it was in a negative manner, i.e.: psychopaths, adulterers, anti-social, etc.). While this code has not been in place since 1968, its effects are long lasting and influence how queer people are portrayed in mainstream media today.
Countless pop culture articles, themed blogs, and fan response videos have made the case that Barb is queer: she does not quite fit in to 'traditional' performances of femininity, making her (at least) an icon of gender nonconformity. Barb also shows no interest in boys, and is depicted as the 'third wheel' at social gatherings. So, when she suddenly disappears into the Upside Down (and, ultimately, from the show for the remainder of the season), many fans took to social media in anger - even trending the hashtag #justiceforbarb.
The manner of her death begs further explanation: the Demogorgon finds Barb by following the scent of her blood after she accidentally cuts her finger. Because Stranger Things takes place during the early 80's, one would be remiss to ignore the implication of using blood as a lure during a pivotal time in the history of the AIDS crisis. (On season two, the quick cover up of Barb's death by government employees is representative of the governmental denial of the AIDS epidemic. There are even regular sightings of 'Reagan and Bush '84' election materials - an administration that was the main culprit of AIDS denial.)
Stranger Things represents an opportunity to bring back elements from the golden era of horror while addressing a terrifying trope haunting entertainment's past (and present). If this trend of nostalgic media making continues, here is hoping this is one trope that can remain in the past.
I wanted to make sure that my student, Samantha Haskell, also got credit as a co-author for this piece. She was integral to bringing this trope to my attention, and provided all of the research related to the trope itself.
Other examples of this trope?
Thank you for drawing attention to this trope. I was wondering if you could elaborate on what you think the most striking examples of it are? I'd especially be interested in examples that date from around the time that Stranger Things is set.
I found this to be thought provoking as someone unfamiliar with this trope! It's interesting to think whether other nostalgic media (whether this be movies, shows or video games) also make use of similar popular tropes from the time of this setting, perhaps this is a common danger of nostalgic media?
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