Why We Hate Barney

An Essay on Barney vs. the Ewoks

"I love youuu… you love meee…."

How many of you end that with, "… so let's go shoot Barneyyy!?" Barney, the big purple dinosaur, has been the staple for a bazillion youngsters for over ten years. Never before have I seen such a childhood idol so hated and adored. The issue has split fandom and mundania. The intellectual vs. the masses. And so on. But why do we hate Barney so much?

When I became a parent, Barney was just starting out. I was a low-budget, destined to be dead kids show based on what I thought were unrealistically portrayed values. But it took off with the bang of a merchandising gun, and even now, after its peak, it still provokes giggles from toddlers, and gnashing of teeth from fandom. Why? I, too, felt the pangs of hate, angst, and some of my old punk blood boiled with a frenzy of anti-Barney bile that even to this day I feel. I wasn't alone. I don't remember one person in fandom that says they like Barney. People even hate Ewoks less than Barney, although not by much. I have seen shirts with Barney on them with rifle marksman's crosshairs aiming to kill. They sold like hotcakes at sci-fi conventions, even to those people who don't have children. Why would a character, who praises love and trust, be so violently hated by people who think those values are a good idea? It's almost a contradiction. I couldn't full answer it myself, so I went to fandom, and found some striking reasons.

One of the panels I hosted on why "Fandom Hates Cuteness" brought out many comments. Oddly enough, most of the people I spoke to liked Sesame Street, and the thought of killing, say, Cookie Monster, were just short of blasphemous. Here are some of the choice ones that gave me insight and depth into the reasons that lurk in the darkness of fandom consciousness:

"Barney is a fake guy in a foam suit with a dumb voice and gay eyes!"

"Those kids are like slaves, one of them looks like the Hitler Youth!"

"It's like when they expect you to think the 1-900 girl really cares about you. Barney doesn't either."

The underlying hatred that was spewed out at one meeting caused a near riot that I am sure, if someone showed up in a Barney suit, we would have pummeled the poor soul within an inch of his life. Nothing in fandom even comes close. You mention Ewoks at these meetings and some people say, "They ruined Return of the Jedi," and "they did it just for marketing," but Barney elicits a deep animal-like rage. Why?

Discussions that came forth were deep and insightful. The "fake guy" with a "dumb voice" and "gay eyes" (not meant as a slander on homosexuals) seems to point to anger at falsification. The comment about slaves and Hitler Youth point to fear of takeover of innocent minds. And the last comment about the 1-900 girl who doesn't really care really drives the nail in the discussion.

Barney represents lies. Evil, emotional lies.

And where does fandom become sensitive about this issue? Childhood. Barney is supposed to be a childhood icon, but in fandom, childhood is often one that does not provoke fond memories. The average fan has had a childhood far different that the average person. Often, someone who is in fandom has had a strained childhood where you were at a serious disadvantage by being a child. Either you had to mature fast because it was a fight for emotional survival, or you never grew up with normal children. I break them up like so:

  1. Geographical stability. Children who had parents who traveled often never gained a secure footing with tradition, friends, or environment. Maybe their parents worked for the State Department, a company that had offices all over the world, or the military. Your life consists of moving, setting up house, getting used to a new neighborhood, friends, or even cultures, and as soon as you start to settle, it's time to get up and move again. Even the most secure person starts to wobble under this sort of loose foundation.
  2. Family Stability. Mom and dad don't get along. Maybe you don't live with your mom or dad, but with an aunt, who has never raised children before, and there is a reason she's not married. Maybe your parents never should have had children. There are a lot of different combinations possible here. But the essential truth is that your caretakers were faulty for one reason or another in supporting you as a child. Maybe they didn't shield you from harm, support your self-worth, or maybe they were outright your enemies.
  3. Maturing Stability. Most kids have a kid phase. They have time to play, learn, and find out about themselves, and how they fit in the world. But some have to mature quickly from toddler to adult, with no time to pass Go or collect $200. Maybe they had to take care of younger siblings, act as their parent when parenting wasn't strong enough for more than one. Maybe they had to take care of ailing parents, or bring dad home from the bar when he was missing. Maybe they had to fight to stay alive and sane in a venomous environment where just living day to day was a struggle.

Not everyone in fandom has these backgrounds, but a majority of fen I know have had one of those three, if not a mixture of all of them, play a dominating factor in their lives. So to these people, being an adult is usually a better option. Often, many in fandom are bitter about this. You are surrounded by others and the media who portrays childhood as an innocent and fun-filled time, and being an adult is not fun anymore. So in essence, the osmosis of "child = fun, adult = caring" is contradicting and unsympathetic. So many people who live like this, in order claim a self-survival, a glimmer of hope, turn to the fantastic worlds of imagination, supplied by science fiction and fantasy.

Now back to Barney. He is the exact opposite. He preaches love, harmony, and fun times with children who will carelessly follow him to the ends of the Earth in his joy-filled dance. This image seems so blatant, so taunting a cry to those who are looking in from the cold, harsh outside, like orphans looking in from the blizzard at a bakery where the chef taunts them with warm and delicious food that sucks at their empty bellies. Such idols like this cannot hear fandom's screams through the thick window of "what could have been." One of the first survival tactics of dealing with this is to deny it before it gets to your vulnerable spots. Do what you have to do just to shut out the annoying music, the stupid voice of the uneducated idol, preaching values that you in your heart know are lies.

"Childhood is hell," fandom seems to scream, "hell, I say, HELL! DON'T YOU SEE THAT???!!" usually said with same tone of voice as Charlton Heston at the end of Soylent Green. "Soylent Green is made from people, from people!!!" So in the same vein, Barney is made of lies. Why is Sesame Street different? It never pretends to be more than it is, a puppet show teaching you letters and numbers. They don't really deal with social issues, and when they do, they aren't preachy and unrealistic. Sesame Street isn't taught by clueless stupid people who have never had to want for anything.

So should we kill Barney? No. Okay, maybe. I am not immune to this, and I know fandom isn't the only group to suffer. But maybe we should just let Barney die on his own.

But just to be safe, I do realize Barney is a carnivorous tyrannosaurus rex, so… I am going to keep my guns clean and knives sharpened… just in case.

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