Welcome to Mad Science Mondays, where we talk about depictions of science in movies, TV shows, books, and the media. We dissect the good, the bad, the comical and the outright irresponsible. Who says learning about science can’t be fun?
Did you miss the previous instalments in this series? Check the archives for posts on Martin Brenner, Sam Owens, and Dr. Alexei. Today, we’re talking about my favourite character, never mind scientist, in all of Stranger Things: Mr. Clarke.
Mr. Clarke first appears in S1E1, and the very first thing he says is that experiments are not the only form of scientific investigation. Thank you, Mr. Clarke! My entire PhD* is a work of observational and descriptive science, so I was thrilled to see this guy define science in a far more open and inclusive way than a lot of real-life people do. If that weren’t enough, though, we also get this conversation between Hopper and Clarke in the woods:
Hopper: I always had a distaste for science.
Clarke: Well, maybe you had a bad teacher.
This is a thing that scientists, like writers, get a lot of – other people not understanding, liking, or valuing what we do. But Mr. Clarke knows the truth: science is COOL. Our perception of it is defined by how we’re exposed to it. If we’d all had science teachers like Mr. Clarke, the world would be a much better place.
Mr. Clarke takes kids, and their questions, seriously. If you ask, he will take the time to answer, even at 10PM on a Saturday. He helps his students open any “curiosity door,” a phrase I adore, no matter how random or seemingly bizarre their interests. Mr. Clarke loves the wild and weird, but unlike some of the other scientists in the show, he tempers his love of knowledge with compassion and morality. For Mr. Clarke, people come first. And not just his students.
In Season 3, Mr. Clarke helps Joyce figure out why her magnets are falling off her fridge – a question pivotal to the mystery. Unlike everyone else in Hawkins, who treats Joyce as irritating or unhinged, Clarke helps without hesitation. He doesn’t need to know why she’s curious to see her question as worthy of consideration. And hey, any excuse to build an electromagnet in the garage, right? Clarke’s delight in the power of science is both genuine and humble–he loves science for science, not for what it might give him.
Mr. Clarke isn’t just my favourite character. As Stephanie Garrison argues in this article, I believe he’s the real hero of Stranger Things. He doesn’t have El’s superpowers, it’s true, but he empowers everyone he encounters. He empowers them with knowledge and compassion. Without Mr. Clarke’s constant support and willingness to indulge their curiosity voyages, there’s absolutely no way these kids could save the world.
Have I mentioned I love this guy?
That’s it! We have reached the end of our look at the scientists of Stranger Things. No need for the discussion to end, though – I’d love to hear your thoughts!
*award-winning PhD, thank you very much!