The Stranger Things 4 first episode opens with a content warning, explaining that viewers may find the opening scene disturbing in light of the recent Texas school shooting.
The subsequent scene flashes back to protagonist Eleven’s childhood in Hawkin’s lab. Children with extraordinary abilities are given “lessons” inside the establishment, which offers uncanny similarities to a school-like environment.
When Dr. Brenner urges a child to use his abilities to see what his peers are doing in other rooms, things turn dark. The child panics at the sight of his dead peer. Dr. Brenner is knocked unconscious and awakes to evidence of a massacre: dead bodies everywhere.
Though the scene incorporates supernatural elements, similarities to real-world tragedies are apparent. The massacre mimics the murder of innocent school children, and an attack America has become heartbreakingly accustomed to.
On May 25, 19 children and two teachers were killed in a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. According to The Washington Post school shootings database, the Texas shooting was the 24th act of gun violence on K-12 campuses this year alone. Last year, there were 42 school shootings, more than any year since they started after Columbine in 1999.
The Texas shooting occurred two days before the Stranger Things 4 premiere, and Netflix knew that the opening scene would be particularly disturbing for Americans. “We decided to add the card given the proximity of the premiere to this tragedy,” a Netflix spokesperson told a reporter from The Hollywood. “The opening scene is very graphic,” he added.
Before audience members view that scene, the content warning occupies a black screen and reads: “We filmed this season of Stranger Things a year ago. But given the recent tragic shooting at a school in Texas, viewers may find the opening scene of episode 1 distressing.”
Emotional disturbances resulting from the Texas shooting impacted other television programs as well. Lifetime delayed The Bad Seed Returns movie’s release, detailing the life of a murderous high schooler. CBS pulled the season finale of the show FBI, which was set to include a story involving a deadly robbery.
Audiences look to television to escape from real life, but that outlet loses its efficacy when fiction reminds us of true tragedy. When acts of violence against children are counted by the dozens, accumulating faster than ever before, it becomes increasingly difficult to ignore what is deeply concerning about our country.
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