Warning: Spoilers for season one of Stranger Things ahead.
Stranger Things has dominated the pop-culture conversation since debuting last month, and with its likeable characters, Stephen King-style small horror town and 1980s nostalgia, it’s no wonder the show has quickly become one of the hits of the summer.
Many of us went into the show with high expectations – and it delivered. It was as weird and creepy as we would have hoped. But the inspiration behind it has nothing to do with old horror films or books – it was actually based on real-life experiments.
If you’ve seen the show, you’ll be familiar with one of the characters, Eleven, and how she was subjected to mind-controlling experiments. Turns out, that was inspired by an actual project.
Back in the 1950s, Project MKUltra was launched. Not much is known about it as the majority of the project’s records were destroyed after it shut down in 1973, but we do know – in 1977 – there was a Senate elect committee hearing which confirmed that agents ‘drugged American citizens without their knowledge’. They even used LSD as a ‘truth serum’.
The covert CIA programme researched everything from mind control to telepathy, psychic warfare, ESP, and ‘remote viewing’, the Guardian reports.
Think using sensory deprivation to tune the subject into somewhere else is just a cool feature of a horror show? Turns out that was an actual belief in Project MKUltra. The belief was that it’s possible to use the power of your mind to ‘see’ events happening thousands of miles away – like what the Soviet Union are up to on the show.
The writers behind the show, The Duffer Brothers, spoke to Vulture about their inspiration:
When we were first starting to talk about the idea [for the show], we had talked about a paranormal-missing child story line.
Then we were talking about some of the mysterious government experiments that we felt were happening at the tail end of the Cold War, right when rumoured [projects] like MKUltra were ramping down.
So, thanks to some pretty quick evidence destruction, we may not ever know what really went down behind close doors at MKUltra – but it made for a pretty interesting show, didn’t it?