A new documentary about Barney the purple dinosaur is streaming on Peacock. I show up at the 47th minute sounding a little crazy.
I babble about how Barney talks to kids on a frequency that adults can’t hear. The clip is from an interview I did with CBS News in 1993, and in my defense I spoke metaphorically.
In February 1993 I had written what might have been one of the first anti-Barney screeds The post‘s (later, lamented) Outlook section on how my 18-month-old daughter Gwyn was smitten with the sugar-sweet, glittery, eggplant-colored dinosaur and how I felt left out.
The essay went as viral as could be in these barely-digital days. Bill Geist and a CBS camera crew came to my house and turned a video camera on Gwyn as she watched Barney & friends. I was interviewed by the BBC.
For the next weeks, The post‘s Free for All page contained letters from readers supporting or disagreeing with my point of view.
It was kind of fun to be briefly famous. Eventually Gwyn outgrew her Barney phase and I forgot about him. This documentation – i love you you hate me – brought everything back.
All that and more. Somehow I hadn’t noticed how congealed and violent Barney’s backlash became in the years that followed. The two-part documentary is full of literal Barney bashing, not just from people brandishing bats at Barney piñatas but — because this is America — from people firing handguns at purple plush dinosaurs. There is no Barney-on-Barney violence, but there is San Diego Chicken-on-Barney violence (an interesting First Amendment case, actually).
I will not spoil the VH1 of the documentary behind the music-style revelations, but suffice it to say there was a lot of sadness attached to a show designed to make kids happy.
i love you you hate me I felt bad about my small part in the anti-Barney industrial complex. The documentary posits a unified field theory of fin-de-siecle snark, where the nascent internet and the cynical sarcasm of David Letterman combine in a bitter brew. I think that’s true up to a point.
What the filmmakers don’t do is check if Barney & friends was good to start with. They mention Barney in the same breath as Mr. Rogers, Big Bird, and Kermit without trying to understand why those characters didn’t receive the same level of insults. When I was looking for my 1993 Outlook essay, I came across something I had written six years later that I had completely forgotten.
In 1998 I reviewed Barney’s Great Adventure, His Purpleness’ jump to the big screen. I wrote: “My problem with Barney has always been that a show that claims to be all about imagination isn’t that imaginative. Children are capable of far more interesting flights of fancy than those portrayed on morning television programs. ‘Let’s introduce ourselves,’ says Barney, and then he proceeds to act out the most mundane of fantasies.”
But maybe that’s elitist. I wouldn’t blame the creator of Barney — a Texas woman named Sheryl Leach — for believing that coastal elites are after their old-fashioned, home-spun T-Rex.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/new-documentary-makes-me-take-stock-of-barney-the-dinosaur-backlash-42083741.html A new documentary has me taking stock of Barney the dinosaur backlash