Creating a Parallel Universe of Upside Down in Stranger Things

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By now, we all have felt the erratic changes in our weather pattern. There is delay in the monsoon and then it pours like anything. There is scorching sun above our heads in a time which is supposed to be cold. One year there is excessive rainfall-floods and next year there’s rain deficit and drought. The climate change is felt by all of us in its entirety. Extensive human activities and our vulgar abuse of earth resources is the major attribute behind this climate change. The global temperature of the earth is alarmingly in ascension and the largest human influence has been the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide which are the significant contributors to the rising global temperature. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued a warning to humanity that from now we barely have just twelve years to turn things around, before we reach the point of no return.

Tropical forests are being wiped out, making way for vast mono crops of wheat, soy, and palm oil plantations. The oceans are being turned into a garbage dump and there are certain clinical projections which are saying that by the year 2050 they will contain more plastic than fish. Animal populations are being destroyed. Recent Amazon forest fire is the fresh and best example.

The insects that form the foundation of our global ecosystem- bees, butterflies, and countless other species- are disappearing rapidly. First global scientific review analysis found that more than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered. A recent United Nations report notes that we have destroyed a third of the planet’s forest cover in the last two centuries alone. The biggest culprits—the timber, agricultural, and biomass industries—are not in the mood of slowing down. At sea, a third of marine mammals, reef-forming corals, sharks, and shark relatives are on the brink. Life on land is having the similar fate. Humans have significantly altered three-quarters of the earth’s land area, leaving more than half a million species without enough habitats to survive. Around 40 percent of amphibians are in jeopardy, and some of our most charismatic species—giraffes, grizzly bears, and right whales—are in real danger. Our only living planet is being ravaged mercilessly by our insatiable consumption, and there’s not much left to exploit further.

Looking at all these disasters being deliberately done by the human kind, it feels like the dystopia is already a reality or it is inescapable. You can say that there are a lot of positive sides to our world as well, why to look at only the negatives! Yes, agreed to an extent. There are always two sides to a coin. But that does not change the worrisome facts mentioned above. And, it is shocking!

All of these disturbing facts of earth being destroyed in front of our eyes and we being not able to stop this, is making me do nothing but come up with my own feel-good conjectures about the possibility of going to an imagined alternate universe.

Let me make a disclaimer here itself. The propositions or fictionalised world which I’m going to picturise from here, need not be taken seriously with respects to hardcore scientific facts; there would be some discrepancies because I will be certainly using my creative liberty to make it sound more like more of a fiction with few elements of science-fiction.

Parallel Universes or Alternate Universes is a wonderful creative domain to ponder over. When we associate science with parallel universes, it provides a lot of food for our thoughts. The basic idea of ‘Parallel world’ or ‘another world’ has its roots in our mythological story concepts of ‘heaven’, ‘hell’ etc. We can find many alternate universes references in Hindu mythology, Persian mythology and Greek literature. In modern usage, parallel universes can be found in a lot of science fiction works, such as books, comics, movies, TV Shows etc. For example- Books such as ‘The Hidden Reality’, ‘19Q4’, ‘A Darker Shade of Magic’, comics such as ‘Bizzaro World’, ‘The Age of Apocalypse’, ‘The Earth 3’, films such as ‘The Wizard of Oz’, ’Run Lola Run’, ‘Super Mario Bros’, ‘The One’ and TV Shows such as ‘Stranger Things’, ‘Otherworld’, ‘Parallax’, ‘Charlie Jade’ etc. So, parallel universe can be simply defined as ‘a universe theorized as existing alongside our own, though it is undetectable.’

Netflix original show ‘Stranger Things’ is an American science fiction horror web television series, created by Duffer Brothers. This Netflix blockbuster show which runs for 3 seasons (25 episodes till now) takes us to the parallel universe of ‘Upside Down’ through its wonderful storytelling prowess. The premise of the plot is deeply connected to this ‘Upside Down’ and it plays a significant role throughout three seasons.

Set in the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana, during the early 1980s, Stranger Things season 1 presents the story of four kids- Mike Wheeler, Dustin Henderson, Lucas Sinclair and Will Byers. The season begins with the mysterious disappearance of Will, which later unfolds that he had disappeared into this ‘Upside Down’. The nearby Hawkins National Laboratory, which performs scientific research for the United States Department of Energy, also secretly does experiments into the paranormal and supernatural activities, including those that involve human test subjects. Accidentally, they have created a portal to an alternate dimension, ‘the Upside Down’. As consequence, the influences of the Upside Down start to affect the unknowing residents of Hawkins in devastating ways as the story goes forward.

As Will Byers goes missing, his mother, Joyce Byers, and the town’s police chief, Jim Hopper, search for Will. At the same time, a young girl called Eleven who has ‘psychokinetic powers’, escapes from the laboratory and assists Will’s friends, Mike, Dustin, and Lucas, in their own efforts to find Will. With the additions of more characters and sub plots, the second and third Seasons deal with the continuing storyline and also they tackle other problems which are posed by the ‘Upside Down’ to the real world. Thus, the ‘Upside Down’ has a constant as well as haunting presence throughout the series.

So now the question arises, what is this strange parallel universe of ‘Upside Down’?

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Upside Down is the main factor which gives wings to the scary elements of ‘Stranger Things’ and makes it a chilling horror. The Upside Down appears to be a reflection of the real world, with structures and even trees in approximately the same place as their counterparts, but located upside down. While the buildings and other structures in the Upside Down are analogues to the real world, they are in ruinous condition. It constantly appears to be dark in the Upside Down, no matter the time of day in the real world. Also, we get to know that the air in the Upside Down is very toxic and breathing itself can cause death in ‘Upside Down’. So naturally there are no human beings living there and it is all controlled by a bitter evil entity called ‘The Mind Flayer’. As ‘Upside Down’ is devoid of human life, it is being overgrown with ropy, root-like tendrils and biological membranes covering practically every surface.

There are also weird deadly creatures inhabiting in Upside Down such as Demo gorgons and tendril-like vines. During an experiment hosted at Hawkins National Laboratory, a child test subject named Eleven makes inter-dimensional contact with a Demo gorgon and unintentionally opens the Gate between Upside Down and the real world. Through this gateway, the Mind Flayer begins to use its dominion over the Upside Down to invade the town of Hawkins, spreading toxic biological matter with the aim of invading the entire Earth.

The history and background of the Upside Down remains a mystery. Exactly how long it had existed for, and how and why it came into existence, is unclear. The Upside Down universe possesses a few observable properties and characteristics as the real world, such as, light, gravity, and sound appear to function the same way as in the regular world.

So now, getting inspired by this one fictionalised account of parallel universe of ‘Upside Down’, here I’m going to propose another similar fictionalised universe of ‘Upside Down’. In my proposition, the setting and the science of Upside Down is as same as the Stranger Things one, but characteristically it is the opposite. The ‘Upside Down’ of Stranger Things was very much of a dystopian setup whereas mine will be in the utopian setup. If the Stranger Things’ Upside Down is very uninhabitable for human beings, my ‘Upside Down’ is very ideally suitable for us. It is the perfect model of how earth is supposed to be, in order to sustain a peaceful and happy life. For example- In Earth, if we had cut down trees and built a polluting industry, it wouldn’t be the same in the ‘Upside Down’. It would be in the former original condition only. None of the man made creations will exist there, for examples- industries, buildings, roads, mines and others would not be there. As there would be no human influence in my Upside Down, it can be imagined as ‘an ideal universe’ with all ecosystems perfectly co-existing and balancing with each other according to the rule of nature, but without any human intervention. Conceptually it involves only the earth and each and every other species of earth, but in the absence of human beings.

The Upside Down of the Stranger Things doesn’t really feel like it is the fictionalised one. Although there is a certain science fiction at work there, but still we can predominantly point out a lot of resemblances between Upside Down and the real world we live in. Some people argue that the Upside Down isn’t an alternate dimension but it is on the same plane of existence, but in the future.

Today, if we look at the world we are living in, you can’t help but wonder to see the hatred, injustice, inequality and ultimately the darkness it possesses. As pointed out earlier, the phenomenon of climate change, global warming etc have certainly pushing us to the edge of catastrophe. Besides that, there are also other alarming socio-political problems which we are dealing with hopelessly. The countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan and others are rotten with civil wars. We can see the vulgar disparity of economic inequality as a gift of our capitalist aspirations. With the concentration of wealth and power in few privileged hands, it naturally makes way to the immense poverty of a majority of the people. We have certainly seen that list of cities where living is going to be hazardous very soon. Best example is our national capital New Delhi. Cities like Cape Town in South Africa, will soon be running out of adequate drinking water. So, while looking at the Upside Down of Stranger Things, we don’t really feel it as much stranger, because it feels like we have been there already. Or, we are living there right now.

In an article published in the online news portal, The Huffington Post, writer Kimberlee Koehn examines whether, have we all been to the Upside Down. She says, “I think at some point we all have or will all be able to relate to one of the characters’ passages into the darkness and they’re eventual escape—or lack thereof. For in today’s society we’ve all seen the face of the Demo gorgon, and we all know its name: Hate. Hate is the monster that feeds on us all. That which tries to rip us from our lives and fill our guts with slugs. It carries us into the darkness and strips us of our hope. What’s worse is that while we are the victims of hate, we too are its creator.”

Now, the question persists. Can we go to this ideal world of Upside Down? In Stranger Things, Eleven opens the gate between the Upside Down and the real world unintentionally which later causes many problems. Similarly here in our world, can someone find this gate and open it for the solution of all our problems and for the greater good of all of us? If we are able to find out this gate, we will definitely go to open that, whatever be the cost we have to pay for that, because we just want to survive.

Let’s assume further that, we somehow found a way to get into the Upside Down. The Upside Down universe which has fertile landscapes full of greenery, vast forest covers, fresh rivers, lakes and other water bases, hills and mountains with rich biodiversity, totally, an ideal earth for human beings. There is fresh air to breathe; fresh water sources for our water needs, no pollution, and no exploitation nothing. As Gandhi once famously said, ‘There is enough for everyone’s needs, but not for everyone’s greed’. He said that in the context of earth, but here I appropriate that to the ‘Upside Down’, because the earth has been exploited tooth and nail for human greed and we are in the escape from that and going towards ‘Upside Down’.

So, once we get into the Upside Down, what will we do? By looking at what we had done to the earth, I feel we are definitely going to do the same with Upside Down as well. Because they will argue that’s the only way we can sustain all the human beings, following the model of ‘development’ but that comes with a cost to pay. They will say that, to facilitate irrigation for your agriculture, we have to build large dams; they will make you believe that there are no other alternatives at all. So in order to build that dam, there are certain prices to pay. On earth, they had to dislocate millions and millions of people from their houses as the dam water is going to drown them. But since there will be no humans in Upside Down, the prices are limited to the loss of other bio-diversity and the environment only. People who didn’t care for their fellow human beings, do they care for these ‘trivial’ matters? Or, can they afford to care?

They will also say that, to survive exactly like how we did in the earth, we need to fulfil our other needs such as electricity, infrastructure etc. They also come with a cost to pay, but in the Upside Down, human beings need not pay anything. Trees will be cut down to construct roads and buildings. Hills, forests need to be mined to take out minerals and other geological materials. On earth, our explicit greed has made us adopt to an ideology where we are metaphorically asking the Earth that- “What is our timber doing in your forests?, what is our minerals doing in your hills?, what is our resources doing in your sea?” We will surely ask this to the Upside Down world as well.

I also wonder why can’t we turn our present world into the utopia of Upside Down? Certainly we cannot undo most of the severe damage that had already been caused to our environment, but it’s not all bad either. We can definitely work together to make the earth better than what it is today. But in the rush to earn more and more money and so called settling down in our lives, we are increasingly becoming impatient about the alarming problems that we are inviting on ourselves. Greed is such a deadly disease that it makes us smartly blind to our own naked surroundings. Until and unless we find a cure to this disease, we neither deserve to go to the utopia of Upside Down nor will we be able to create a utopia in the present world. 

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