Barney bashing: The unexpected hatred for TV’s best-known dinosaur


Thirty-five years after Barney’s debut, the friendly dinosaur is the subject of a docuseries on how people turned against it, seemingly rejecting its values of inclusion and respect. Photo: Handout

It all started with a Plano mum, Sheryl Leach, who drew inspiration from her dinosaur-loving son to bring a stuffed toy to life.

Today, 35 years after Barney’s debut, the friendly dinosaur is the subject of a docuseries on how people turned against it, seemingly rejecting its values of inclusion and respect.

The two-part docuseries, titled I Love You, You Hate Me, premieres Oct 12 on Peacock, the NBCUniversal streaming service, in the United States.

Peacock dropped the trailer recently. In it, multiple personalities from NBC’s Al Roker to Bill Nye share accounts of how quickly the world turned against Leach’s creation.

In the 80-second trailer, Bob West, a Barney performer who put on the 70-pound (32kg) puffy purple costume, said death threats were made against his family.

“They were violent and explicit, death and dismemberment of my family,” West said in the trailer. “They were gonna come and find me, and they were going to kill me.”

Another man who wore the suit also said the backlash was a problem.

“As (Leach’s) beloved character was heading into the stratosphere, people couldn’t accept that this was just a show — and so, let the bashing begin,” said David Joyner, a former Texas Instruments software analyst.

According to one man in the trailer: “Some of the rumours I heard: Barney hides drugs in his tail.”

The vitriol for Barney grew. Even Texas Monthly dogpiled by making Barney a winner of one of its Bum Steer Awards in 1999. Barney was the object of hate on YouTube and parodied in pop culture.

Why the hate for Barney? The reasons are so many and so diverse it takes a Wikipedia entry to cover them all.

University of Chicago professor William J. Thomas Mitchell’s 1998 book The Last Dinosaur Book: The Life And Times Of A Cultural Icon analyses why Barney is a universal target of parody and attacks by children and adults.

Mitchell cites notions that the show is boring, annoying, sugary and even dangerous. Other children’s characters have been subject to subversive adult humour, but Mitchell writes that the humour is far more dark and vicious toward Barney “than just about any other popular cultural icon I can think of”.

In an email, Mitchell said: “When I interviewed school children, boys would routinely say that Barney was ‘too childish’, and was loved only by their younger siblings. They would tell me that Barney is not a ‘real’ dinosaur. Real Dinos are big, strong, violent, they said.”

This was far from the intention in 1987 when Leach created the Barney character and developed the show in 1992. She joined Kathy Parker and television producer Dennis DeShazer to develop Barney And The Backyard Gang And Barney & Friends.

“We really wanted for the kids to see that he was human, that he could make mistakes and that he could also laugh about it,” Parker told The News in 2005. “He kind of guides, but he’s not the authority figure.”

Barney & Friends was first taped in Allen, then moved to the Studios at Las Colinas before setting up shop at HIT Entertainment’s studios in Carrollton. The series was helpful in building resumes for North Texas singers Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato.

Beyond the Peacock docuseries, we might not have heard the last of Barney. Get Out star and Barney fan Daniel Kaluuya told Entertainment Weekly that he’s working on a live-action Barney movie.

“Barney taught us, ‘I love you, you love me. Won’t you say you love me too?’ That’s one of the first songs I remember, and what happens when that isn’t true? I thought that was really heartbreaking,” Kaluuya told EW. - The Dallas Morning News/Tribune News Service

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