There is no escaping Stranger Things right now. It currently has a demogorgon-sized control over our tube stations, our daily conversations and, most of all, our social media feeds since its release onto Netflix. And rightly so.
It’s difficult to find anything not to love. A killer 80s soundtrack, hilarious and astute young actors, a Hollywood sweetheart with a badass streak (we’re looking at you, Winona) and a terrifying demonic threat from geek-inspired parallel universe, the Upside Down.
While a ragtag bunch of kids often contend with truly adult problems on the show (often coming up with plans to save the world from a load of other-worldly monsters), the Duffer Brothers have cleverly woven squeaky clean, honest-to-goodness friendships and schoolkid romances into their storylines, stealing our hearts in the process.
Enter the Internet obsession with pre-pubescent Stranger Things characters Mike and Eleven (Mileven, apparently). Fresh-faced, geeky boy meets traumatised telekinetic girl, pure and unadulterated cuteness ensues.
In an age where instant gratification is at a dizzying high, with dating apps and smartphones giving us the convenient option of moving swiftly through romantic conquests, the idea of a young boy waiting for a young girl for 353 days or more is almost unfathomable, and beyond adorable.
These tender characters are played wonderfully by budding child actors Finn Wolfhard (who also killed it in Stephen King’s It earlier this year) and Millie Bobby Brown (all-around icon in the making, having graced countless magazine covers and turned heads with her rap on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon in the last month).
But here’s the issue. Since Stranger Things 2’s release two weeks ago, the Internet has been saturated with downright disturbing reports of overt sexualisation of these child actors. These actors, however exceptionally talented they may be, are children.
Despite his clear discomfort, Wolfhard was the subject of jokes at San Diego Comic Con, apparently because he had “the greatest porn name ever”. 27-year-old model Ali Michael also came under fire online for insinuating that 14-year-old Wolfhard should call her in four years. He responded uncomfortably to these comments, calling them “nuts” and “gross”.
Confusingly, Millie Bobby Brown was also featured in a WMagazine round-up of actors that prove “TV has never been hotter”. She is 13 years-old.
With the breaking of countless sexual harassment stories across Hollywood continuing to dirty our news bulletins, now is a more important time than ever to hold on to the captivating joy that comes with amazing fantasy storylines and incredible acting. NOT sexualising a 14-year-old boy and calling him “Daddy”.
What we should be doing is revelling in the warm and fuzzy nostalgia of the Stranger Things universe (when they’re not under attack by demons or sketchy government officials, that is), as well as celebrating the success this has brought to these talented young people.
When talented young children are being subjected to this kind of attention, it really highlights the normalisation of both the lewd, creepy obsession and the sexualisation of TV and film actors.
Child actors are expected to grow up quicker in so many ways, but it’s important that the most crucial elements of their innocence are left well alone.