“Barney & Mates” was a mainstay of daytime tv within the early Nineties, making a star out of the title character: a purple anthropomorphic T. rex who extolled the virtues of affection, kindness and cleansing up your toys.
The character was an avatar of goodness, endearing himself to numerous younger kids around the globe at the same time as he typically grated on their beleaguered dad and mom. He was inescapable.
However not everybody thought-about Barney a good friend, a phenomenon on the coronary heart of a brand new Peacock documentary sequence referred to as “I Love You, You Hate Me.” (NBC Information and Peacock are each owned and operated by NBCUniversal.)
The docuseries explores how, all through the ‘90s and early 2000s, Barney was a cultural punching bag, the topic of disdain from adults and derision from youngsters determined to disavow their infantile pastimes. He was the Jar Jar Binks of youngsters’ TV.
Faculty-age youngsters added violent lyrics to the “Barney & Mates” theme music. NBA nice Charles Barkley beat up Barney in a “Saturday Evening Dwell” sketch. City legends concerning the character’s darkish secrets and techniques sprung up. The web gave rise to new genres of anti-Barney humor that freely blended winking irony with seemingly actual rage.
“Barney is on the receiving finish of extra hostility than simply about some other standard cultural icon I can consider,” the College of Chicago tutorial W.J.T. Mitchell wrote in 1998. “Mother and father admit to a cordial dislike of the saccharine saurian, and no self-respecting second-grader will admit to liking Barney.”
Bob West, a veteran performer who offered the voice for Barney from 1992 to 2000, remembers the manufacturing of “Barney & Mates” as a blissful expertise that was typically shadowed by darker intrusions from the broader world, like a string of demise threats he says he obtained by way of e-mail.
In a cellphone interview final week, West (who seems within the docuseries) mirrored on the success of “Barney & Mates” and provided a couple of theories on why Barney proved to be such a lightning rod. In his thoughts, the backlash was pushed partly by youngsters attempting exhausting to flex their “machismo.”
Thirty years after Barney first confirmed up on TV, nonetheless, West nonetheless believes that Barney’s mates outnumber his haters.
The dialog has been frivolously edited for size and readability.
NBC Information: I’ve learn that you simply began working as a voice performer within the late Nineteen Seventies. How precisely did you wind up voicing Barney?
Bob West: I began doing industrial work and narration in 1979 or so. I put collectively the world’s looniest demo tape. I had achieved some costumed character work. I labored as a robotic character referred to as The Blaster for a hospital within the Dallas space.
My agent really helpful me to Dennis DeShazer, who was one of many producers of “Barney & Mates.” I auditioned with plenty of folks. Due to a fluke, that they had began to construct the costume earlier than casting the voice. I used to be too tall for the costume. [The costume actor] David Voss, who was shorter than me, match the costume whereas I obtained the voice. We simply synced up collectively.
“Barney & Mates” was a real popular culture phenomenon. The present was ubiquitous after I was rising up within the ‘90s. What did it really feel prefer to be on the heart of such a giant hit?
It was utterly surreal. We have been within the studio so typically, and we actually didn’t see plenty of the response to the present. However then we’d exit and do private appearances, and we’d have meet-and-greets with youngsters and oldsters. We’d get to see the love that was being poured out towards Barney, and that was simply superb.
Once you present up at a shopping center in Hartford, Connecticut, and the sidewalks are lined with dad and mom and strollers, and also you get inside, the place you anticipate 600 individuals however there’s 6,000, that’ll carry you to the current. [Laughs.] It’s a reasonably good indication the love was robust.
When did you first begin to understand there was all this hatred swirling across the present, although?
I’ve been on-line since approach earlier than most individuals accessed the web. I had heard about some web teams that have been on the market doing this role-play factor the place they have been preventing Barney as a result of he was evil and such. However that turned out to be all in good enjoyable. They have been actually good at it. [Laughs.] I truly logged in and stated howdy. They have been very receptive to me, very good.
Each every now and then I’d exit in a Barney jacket and I’d hear, “Oh, I hate that present!” It was sort of unhappy, however you simply need to chuckle it off.
Within the docuseries you say you obtained demise threats round this time, which is horrible. Did you ever get a way of the particular motivations behind the messages?
The particular motivation was rising up. The individuals who despatched me these threats have been all youngsters in center college. They have been doing the factor the place they’re attempting to throw off childhood and attempting to be cool. I’m positive plenty of them have been having emotional points or perhaps they have been having bother at house. There’s simply no approach to know.
However often when individuals lash out like that, there’s one thing they’re coping with. They’re hurting, and that’s the one approach to know how one can cope.
I truly responded to plenty of them — after I was nonetheless on AOL and it was cool to be on AOL — and most of them would write again and say, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t understand there was an actual individual that was going to reply.” I by no means heard again from some.
It’s actually a part of rising up, though I’ve to say that we appear to have amplified that part of life in the US. I don’t recall that sort of backlash taking place in different international locations. We might go to Eire or wherever, and there have been youngsters within the viewers who have been 12 years previous, singing alongside. I believe there is likely to be a cultural distinction.
What’s it about American tradition or the American psyche that fosters what you’re describing?
I believe we have now this give attention to, and typically an obsession with, rugged individualism. I received’t go into an evaluation of John Locke or something. However there’s a sort of machismo that children are inspired to undertake once they’re rising up, and I believe that could be a massive contributor.
I believe consumerism is a giant contributor, too, as a result of plenty of youngsters are pressured to put on the good factor or purchase the good toy, in order that feeds into it. I believe we’ve obtained some rising as much as do as a society when it comes to studying to reside collectively and assist one another, and to place the neighborhood earlier than the person.
If the present premiered right this moment, do you suppose there could be a comparable backlash?
I believe that’s very doable. I believe that innocence is valued in several methods by totally different individuals. Barney will at all times have a spot in schooling, in tradition, in serving to youngsters develop up feeling protected. Who is aware of how lengthy this present wave of social and political clashing will proceed?
Barney was cherished by much more individuals than he was ever hated. It’s not a real assertion to say that he was equally cherished and hated. The thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of people that watched the present … they cherished it.
It’s simple to amplify the detrimental voices, and I believe that we look at the detrimental suggestions and name it what it’s: anyone is reacting to innocence in a detrimental approach, and we have to discover out why. We have to speak about it. If we don’t, that sort of factor can snowball on you.
Did all of this take a toll on you personally?
It’s humorous — after the very fact, we’re listening to extra concerning the hate than we did then. I’ve to say it didn’t actually take a lot of a toll on me on the time.
When social media began taking off, particularly when Fb obtained rolling, I began to reconnect with previous mates from faculty. A number of guys stated, “I used to utterly hate that present. However then I had a baby, and now I get it and I like the present as a result of my youngster loves the present.”
It’s been reported that Oscar-winning actor Daniel Kaluuya is growing a live-action Barney movie. Has anybody concerned in that mission reached out to you?
I’d say, to begin with, there’s been plenty of clickbait concerning the mission. [Laughs.] There’s been plenty of bloggers and folk who like to say, “Oh, this mission goes to be so darkish.” However so far as I do know, Daniel has by no means stated something concerning the mission being darkish. It’s a meme that was created.
I’ve not been contacted by the manufacturing. I’d like to take a gathering with Daniel, and I’d love to speak to him about doing the voice. I’ve a vested curiosity in seeing that the custom of the character is honored. However then again, I completely perceive the impulse to increase the character and herald new subject material.