Today, we are taking a deep dive into the lovable dinosaur sensation that captivated the minds of children all around the world. That’s right, I am talking about the hit television show Barney & Friends, but what if I told you there was more than meets the eye with the children’s show. Let’s rewind back to the 90’s and take a look at the dark side of a television show that brought out a seemingly irrational hatred in a big portion of our society.

Barney’s Background

Barney was a show created by Sheryl Leach and was directed for children between 2-7 years of age. In fact, Sheryl created Barney for her son Patrick when she noticed just how much he enjoyed the show Wee Sing Together. Sheryl noticed that there was a major lack of content for children of his age and in seeing what Patrick reacted to she was able to better craft Barney around the interests of younger children.

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Barney & Friends began to pick up steam quickly even as it was still relatively low budget. In fact, in the beginning, Sheryl lacked a marketing budget and instead relied on local moms to call their friends or visit local daycares and market to other moms through word of mouth.

Barney & Friends caught on like wildfire as children all over were glued to their televisions singing and dancing along with the friendly purple dinosaur. Barney continued to expand beyond just television as Sheryl moved forward with live shows, birthday parties, and in person appearances as very quickly, Barney the dinosaur became a cultural phenomenon seemingly overnight.

The Barney Backlash Begins

With such a massive cultural pull, Barney became an early friend to the generation he fostered with his singing, dancing, and educational segments but with so much love of the big purple dinosaur came a dark underbelly of hatred. Believe It or Not!, the Barney backlash ignited nearly as fast as one generation grew to love him; other generations saw him as shallow, annoying, and some even felt that he was pure evil.

One of the earliest examples of the cultural shift on Barney made itself apparent on college campuses. College students, at the time, grew up on Sesame Street with characters like Big Bird and any attempt to tarnish or try to rewrite sacred childhood nostalgia can seem like an act of war.

Enter the “Barney Bashing Events” which were held on college campuses and encouraged students to take their frustration and hatred out on the purple dinosaur. By having dedicated tables with stuffed Barney dolls and hammers, students were encouraged to smash Barney to smithereens. The grand finale of the event was a wrestling match between Big Bird and Barney!

The most interesting aspect of this event is how no matter what the content is, what we grow up on and the childhood nostalgia we have attached to our earliest memories are almost sacred. To see a new generation, have its own form of books, television and characters they hold near and dear can feel as though it is an attack or an effort to white wash the very things the generation before held close to their heart.

The Barney Secret Society

The cultural (and literal) bashing doesn’t end there as a growing number of adults found Barney & Friends to be annoying, repetitive, upbeat, and not indicative of the real world. Enter Rob Curran, an ad salesman and disgruntled parent that felt cheated by Barney. After returning home from a business trip rather than being greeted by his daughter, Rob watched as she stayed glued to the television watching Barney.

Rob took the bottled-up anger that other parents were feeling and channeled it through a website and newsletter that he started known as “The I Hate Barney Secret Society.” The newsletter, although satirical in nature, struck a chord with other disgruntled parents and Rob was shocked when he received more than 7,000 letters in six weeks!

This immense response indicated that parents all over related with the feelings that Rob was having towards the purple dinosaur. As Rob’s newsletter continued to publish, his audience grew and actually propelled him to a status of notoriety as he was interviewed on various television shows and publications. Rob became the face of the disgruntled parent that had grown tired of Barney and skeptical to what it was that was holding the attention of their children.

So, there you have it – from the children’s television show of a generation, to bashing events, to disgruntled parents rallying around an all-encompassing newsletter. The cultural shift Barney faced is one of the most interesting spectacles in modern entertainment history! Even as a kid in elementary school, I remember singing songs with friends about hurting Barney or hearing rumors that Barney was evil or satanic. Let me know in the comments below if you have any personal experience with the Barney backlash. Until next time, I’m Jordan Neese, and this is Ripley’s Rewind.


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