Monday, January 11, 2010

Barney the Dinosaur

When you look back wistfully on beloved characters from your childhood, you may notice that some of their back stories were a bit questionable. As a child, I would never dare have questioned the existence of a towering overly jolly purple dinosaur who resided in the abstract realm of our collective imaginations. He could only spring to life from his miniature plush toy existence if we just believed. Too bad when our parents bought us an official licensed Barney stuff toy and we tried to imagine him to life, nothing happened. The power of our actual imaginations had been dulled by the glittering allure of television entertainment. It was a lot easier to watch kids imagine something than to go through the whole ordeal ourselves. So thanks a lot, Barney and Friends. Our parents spent $24.95 on this stuffed Barney and it won't even come alive and interact with us. Sheesh.

Truth be told, Barney's habitation of our imagination was nothing new. Kid's shows have been featured imaginary characters for generations. It's pretty much par for the course for adults trying to make a buck off of children's natural sense of wonderment and naivete. Usually, though, it didn't come out quite as sugar drippingly sweet as Barney and friends. The fact that our friends at Guantanamo use Barney's signature "I Love You" played on loop as a form of auditory torture to detainees probably says it all; I can imagine our parents felt the same way after hearing it blaring from our television sets for the 12th time that day.



That song has a way of lodging itself in your brain to a place where you can't seem to wrangle it free. So, sorry, readers. If you've even begun to inwardly play the song, you're pretty much stuck with it for the day. I guess that's just the power of imagination coming back to bite you in the butt. Tough break.

The Barney the dinosaur character premiered in 1987 in a series of videos called Barney and the Backyard Gang. My family owned these videos, and I played them into the VHS reel was sputtering to cough out its last whirring rotation. I yearned for an imaginary dinosaur friend and accompanying backyard gang with whom I could put on talent shows and have campfire sing-alongs. In my reenactments, though, I pathetically had to imagine not only my dino pal but also summon a nonexistent gang of backyard pals. While now the suggestion of a backyard gang sounds pretty threatening, dangerously proximal, and somehow involving meaningfully-colored bandannas, at the time it seemed like a warm and inviting proposition of friendship.



Barney and the Backyard Gang was adapted for television as Barney and Friends in 1992 as part of the PBS kids' programming block. The show quickly caught on and became a phenomenon for small children. Like many things that appeal to small children, the show was chalkboard-scratchingly irritating to the rest of the world. To justify its presence in our home despite being generally repugnant to anyone over the age of eight, the show's theme song lauded some hefty promises set to the toon of Yankee Doodle:

Barney is a dinosaur from our imagination
When he's tall, he's what we call a dinosaur sensation
Barney teaches lots of things, like how to play pretend
A-B-Cs and 1-2-3s and how to be a friend!
Barney comes to play with us, whenever we may need him
Barney can be your friend, too, if you just make believe him!



Once your adult self has quelled the inevitable gagging from reading these sickly sweet sentiments, consider the educational value of Barney. Yes, the theme song extols Barney as a sort of teaching jack-of-all-trades, bestowing timeless wisdom onto eager young devotees worldwide. Kids may have fallen for his insidious purple charm, but a fair proportion of parents weren't buying it. While they may have sung Barney's praises for his ability to keep their children glued to the TV while they conducted some household chores, they weren't wholly impressed with his purported dissemination of important life lessons.

As a character, Barney isn't a bad guy. He's generally a pretty positive role model for children, save for the fact that he's imaginary and a dinosaur. He's upbeat, optimistic, and an all around decent dinosaur. Barney's relentless cheerfulness, however, has been the subject of critical scrutiny. Some critics claim Barney's overly positive spin on life and lack of attention paid to any negative life experiences could numb children to real emotion. This claim is pretty ridiculous, assuming that the children in question are exposed to any other life experiences than their Barney videotapes. Sorry, researchers. You can try to take down Barney, but he'll just continue his reign of jolly terror. You can't win that easily.

The television version of the show features a different group of kids, continually cycling out once they reach a point of maturity that renders questionable their consorting with imaginary dinosaurs. PBS also threw in some younger dinosaur characters like Baby Bop and BJ to broaden the show's appeal. All secondary characters are typically just as nerve-grinding and irritating as the originals, performing equally irritating signature songs and dances. It's no wonder our parents left the room when this came on. As a child, it's all sort of cute and enticing, but as an adult it's just grating.

In case you were worried that kids today might go hungry for the Barney they so desperately crave, you needn't worry. Barney's still churning out the episodes, meaning you may soon be getting a taste of your own karmic medicine when you have your own preschool-age children. Purple, imaginary dinosaur-flavored medicine with bits of cloying song stuck in it. I'm sure all of our parents will gleefully delight in our slow progression to craziness after hearing that damn "I love you" song for the umpteenth time. We put them through it, though, so it's probably only fair we have to have a go at it from the other side.

24 comments:

Shannon said...

This post brought back so many memories for me. My brother and I used to absolutely love Barney (& the whole backyard gang), and I'm not ashamed to say that. While it wouldn't be fun to watch now for obvious reasons, and many many many people make fun of it, it still holds a special place in my heart. In fact, I still have a bunch of VHS's that I'm saving for my kid(s) one day! (if and when I shall ever have any) I'd like to think we turned out just fine, so Barney didn't numb us emotionally like those researchers said :)

Amanda said...

Sorry, but I have a HATE-HATE relationship with the purple monster. Reminds me of babysitting my siblings and watching the tapes over and over and over. I know some people loved it, but I wanted to chuck him and especially Baby Bop out a window

Mr. Condescending said...

I was 11 or 12 when barney came out so I never had to watch it as a kid. I do remember all the fun parody songs we would sing though, like...

"I love you, you love me, Barney's gay and has HIV"

Shannon SVH said...

Mr. Condescending, I was about that age, too, but I was the oldest of four kids so I did still have to watch it. Oh, how I hated Barney. I decided a long time ago that I'm not letting my children watch it.

Children of the 90s said...

My boyfriend and I were talking about that, too, that once you got to a certain age it was considered cool to make fun of Barney and horribly uncool to admit you ever watched it. Sometime after the age of 7 or 8 it was completely taboo to admit you'd ever watched an episode, so I had to keep the fact to myself that I cherished those old Barney and the Gang videos.

Andhari said...

Ohhh the good old days. I used to watch Barney alll the time with my friends after school :D I collect all the video cd's :p

Melanie's Randomness said...

I was just a lil too old for this when it came out. I remember him tho. All the parody songs. "I hate you, you hate me, we just started World War 3." it was awful. lol.

If I had kids I wouldn't let them watch it.

I tagged you for an award on my blog too!!

Charlotte said...

That is such a catchy song! I'm trying desperately to think of another song that's even catchier, just to take its place in my head. All I have so far is "The Song That Never Ends," which isn't necessarily a whole lot better.

Optimistic Pessimist said...

my son used to watch barney & friends at the beach over and over, again and again. I still can't get that stupid 'i love you, you love me' song out of my head.

Sadako said...

This is off topic but I found Barney fanfic where Barney and Baby Be Bop are plotting to take over the world by brainwashing kids and having them murder their parents.

Dani said...

I was never a fan, but I'm catching myself signing along...this will make for a long day!

Nessa said...

Ahhhh, my homeboy!! I LOVED this guy.

Ali said...

Oh LAWDY, I can still recite the song word-for-word! Bad news...or good? Ha!

beeyum said...

aw. i loved Barney!

Miss Caitlin S. said...

I love this. Not only did this bring back memories but I love the thought process behind what he represents. Amazing!

Badass Geek said...

Even as a kid, I hated Barney. My hatred has only grown since then.

Leesie said...

Oh this cracked me up, but sorry I never liked that big purple monster. He trutfully kind of freaked me out. I was older luckily when the Barney craze was going on so I didn't have to deal with him much.

Randi Troxell said...

and now.. i'm pretty sure.. the theme song will be lodged into my head for the next week.. lol!!

Lil' Woman said...

I used to love that show...me and my sister used to sing the 'sister song"...remember the 2 latinas (I think sisters)


But now Barney kinda creeps me out, but I enjoyed him in my younger years.

Alex said...

My little sister LOVED Barney. It was painful for me, being 4 years older than she was, to have to sit and watch hours of Barney cassettes. To this day that damn purple dinosaur still makes me cringe.

KyohakuKeisanki said...

Just stumbled on this while Googling around. I haven’t watched the newer ones (I stopped watching right before Selena and Demi were on it), but I used to watch the old ones (seasons 1-6) all the time (over 250 times a year probably… keep in mind that there are only 261 weekdays in the average year). Even 5 years after I stopped watching it (I stopped at age 7 I think), I picked the colors purple and green over all others for school supplies. I didn’t know why at the time, but a recent spark of memory has revealed the likely reason. For those who say the show messes up kids’ brains, I have one thing to say: Last year I got the top scores possible on both the SAT and ACT. TAKE THAT HATUHZ!

JouKai said...

Ha, I just got done watching it. I think a lot of people here are being dramatic. I am 20 years old, I let my baby brother watch it. I watched it. I was actually made to feel really embarrassed when I was in the first grade because I still liked Barney. I liked him because I enjoyed singing and my parents didn't much feel like singing with me. Barney is positive. Not much was positive in my life as a child. He made me happy through my parent's divorce. Sometimes you just want a distraction. Barney was just that good.

Keeley anne said...

Whats with hating on barney, i would watch barney (the original) religiously i owned every video and cd ever made. Barney is a very special part to my childhood and i can safely say he does not brainwash kids :/

kid at heart said...

Well I must be weird I watch the new episodes being mad bc of the way they changed it from the original and I was the eight year old who pushed the kid who made fun of it bc I was an only child with a bad attention span it was the only thing to keep my attention so to don't hate on Barney!

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