“Barney & Associates” 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 youngsters all over the world whilst he generally 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 known 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.
College-age youngsters added violent lyrics to the “Barney & Associates” theme track. NBA nice Charles Barkley beat up Barney in a “Saturday Evening Stay” 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 every other widespread cultural icon I can consider,” the College of Chicago educational W.J.T. Mitchell wrote in 1998. “Dad and mom 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, recollects the manufacturing of “Barney & Associates” as a blissful expertise that was generally shadowed by darker intrusions from the broader world, like a string of loss of life threats he says he obtained by way of electronic mail.
In a telephone interview final week, West (who seems within the docuseries) mirrored on the success of “Barney & Associates” and supplied a number of theories on why Barney proved to be such a lightning rod. In his thoughts, the backlash was pushed partially by youngsters making an attempt laborious to flex their “machismo.”
Thirty years after Barney first confirmed up on TV, nevertheless, West nonetheless believes that Barney’s pals outnumber his haters.
The dialog has been calmly 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 business work and narration in 1979 or so. I put collectively the world’s looniest demo tape. I had finished some costumed character work. I labored as a robotic character known as The Blaster for a hospital within the Dallas space.
My agent beneficial me to Dennis DeShazer, who was one of many producers of “Barney & Associates.” I auditioned with a whole lot of folks. Due to a fluke, they’d 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 received the voice. We simply synced up collectively.
“Barney & Associates” was a real popular culture phenomenon. The present was ubiquitous after I was rising up within the ‘90s. What did it really feel wish to be on the middle of such an enormous hit?
It was fully surreal. We have been within the studio so typically, and we actually didn’t see a whole lot of the response to the present. However then we might exit and do private appearances, and we’d have meet-and-greets with youngsters and fogeys. 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 count on 600 individuals however there’s 6,000, that’ll convey 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 manner 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 combating 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 from time to time 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 snigger it off.
Within the docuseries you say you obtained loss of life threats round this time, which is horrible. Did you ever get a way of the particular motivations behind the messages?
The precise 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 making an attempt to throw off childhood and making an attempt to be cool. I’m positive a whole lot of them have been having emotional points or perhaps they have been having bother at residence. There’s simply no solution 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 solution to know find out how to cope.
I truly responded to a whole lot 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 person who 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 section of life in the USA. I don’t recall that sort of backlash occurring in different nations. We’d go to Eire or wherever, and there have been youngsters within the viewers who have been 12 years outdated, singing alongside. I believe there may be a cultural distinction.
What’s it about American tradition or the American psyche that fosters what you’re describing?
I believe we’ve got this give attention to, and generally 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 huge contributor.
I believe consumerism is an enormous contributor, too, as a result of a whole lot 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 received some rising as much as do as a society by way of studying to dwell collectively and help one another, and to place the group earlier than the person.
If the present premiered at the moment, do you suppose there can be a comparable backlash?
I believe that’s very potential. I believe that innocence is valued in several methods by completely different individuals. Barney will all the time have a spot in training, 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 liked by much more individuals than he was ever hated. It’s not a real assertion to say that he was equally liked and hated. The tens of millions and tens of millions of people that watched the present … they liked it.
It’s straightforward to amplify the destructive voices, and I believe that we study the destructive suggestions and name it what it’s: someone is reacting to innocence in a destructive manner, and we have to discover out why. We have to discuss 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 actual 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 received rolling, I began to reconnect with outdated pals from school. A number of guys stated, “I used to completely hate that present. However then I had a toddler, and now I get it and I like the present as a result of my little one loves the present.”
It’s been reported that Oscar-winning actor Daniel Kaluuya is creating a live-action Barney movie. Has anybody concerned in that mission reached out to you?
I’d say, initially, there’s been a whole lot of clickbait concerning the mission. [Laughs.] There’s been a whole lot of bloggers and people 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 alternatively, I completely perceive the impulse to increase the character and usher in new subject material.