Stranger Things and the Beauty of the Steve-Dustin Bromance

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Stranger Things and the Beauty of the Steve-Dustin Bromance

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

‘Steve just shut up and push me!’, says Dustin as he climbs through the air ducts at the Starcourt mall shipment in Stranger Things season 3. ‘Touch my butt, I don’t care’ he screams and Steve politely does so. Steve and Dustin are two characters on Stranger Things who Stranger Things fans would have never imagined to be friends – well, at least till season 2. While Steve was a hunk and a ladies’ man (at least till the first season), Dustin was a dork and a nerd obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons. The two of them coming together was highly unlikely. Which is why this bro-mance has been the sweetest takeaway from the series for me.

Steve’s raw brawn and charisma is supported by Dustin’s nerdy wit. It’s a frictional bond, the unlikelihood of which makes it elastic and that much more enjoyable to watch.

This bro-mance stems from their need for companionship. While Steve struggles to connect with people his age (his only friend before he met Dustin was a girl he had a crush on, who later turned out to be gay), Dustin’s emotional distance from the Mike-Lucas-Will gang also made him crave companionship and an emotional bond. That was when the two met and boom – we had the perfect hair-banging, Demogorgon-slaying duo! Steve’s raw brawn and charisma is supported by Dustin’s nerdy wit. It’s a frictional bond, the unlikelihood of which makes it elastic and that much more enjoyable to watch. It’s frankly the kind of twosome I’d have loved to be part of growing up.

While Dustin acts as the know-it-all of the show, Steve’s charms make the characters, their exchanges more human. He is the average joe with good lucks, and Dustin’s maturity and wisdom make him accessible. They ridicule each other, take pot-shots and have the synergy of a relationship between equals. Vastly different, but equal. You can tell Dustin looks up to Steve when the latter appreciates him for his idea to use the junkyard as a Demogorgon trap. Dustin smiles as if he’s accomplished something great. When Steve beats up a Russian at the shipment, Dustin says, ‘You did it! You won a fight!’. Dustin at this point, knew that Steve feels emasculated and so compensates for it immediately, if not too elegantly.

Dustin and Steve’s bromance shows how male friendships truly are – simple, low-maintenance and fulfilling in many ways.

Dustin and Steve’s bromance shows how male friendships truly are – simple, low-maintenance and fulfilling in many ways. The duo wouldn’t miss a chance to roast each other but still have each other’s back. Their relationship is proof that men can, in fact, bond with each other without being overtly sexist or contemptuous towards women. On a deeper level, their bond subverts the status quo and shows that a jock and a nerd can bond despite having less things in common. Despite not having to discuss women and sex all the time.

For someone like me, in particular, this friendship is reminiscent of the bond I shared with my friends before the age of social media. The relationships were more organic, built on the virtue of trial and discovery rather than politics and judgement. Everything today is instead about political and social allies, the kind of approach to living that creates echo-chambers. Dustin and Steve’s relationship also harks back to a time when you could go on impromptu adventures, do simple things. Now all everyone is in for is either gaming, dating or a party here and there. The geometry of socialising has changed, and so has the nature of the male bond. Where would we even find somebody 6 years older or younger to us. Borders have been drawn!

Dustin and Steve’s relationship also harks back to a time when you could go on impromptu adventures, do simple things.

In the final episodes of Season 4 Volume 1, we see Dustin tell Steve, ‘you are probably jealous because I now have an older male friend (referring to Eddie Munson).’ It shows that while their friendship is tight, it is still prone to human emotions like jealousy which makes the two seem more realistic and relatable. What’s particularly heart-warming about Dustin-Steve is that they complete each other in more ways than one. Steve gave Dustin some pretty good hairstyling tips (and pretty bad dating advice). Dustin reciprocated by giving Steve the confidence boost he badly needed after his break-up with Nancy. It’s also a warm, humble view of masculinity. Men finding comfort in each other’s ability to see the truth, rather than rage about it. It’s what is missing from modern relationships in general, lest you have a Dustin or a Steve in your life to show you the way.

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