POPCULTURE Purple with Rage

So he’s simple-minded and sappy. So what? A fan defends Barney, Dallas’ favorite dinosaur, against a nationwide hate campaign.

SOMETHING IS HAPPENINC here. Consider these symptoms:

‧ “Finally, in New York,” jokes Jay Leno during his “Tonight Show” monologue, “a stabbing we can all feel good about.” He describes how the Barney float got punctured in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

‧ On “Saturday Night Live,” basketball’s bad boy Charles Barkley goes one-on-one with a Barney look-alike and rips him apart.

‧ While driving car pool, 1 hear one backseat cherub chant: “I hate you, you hate me, I chased Barney up a tree with my BB gun, and I shot him in the head! Aren’t you glad that Barney’s dead?”

Barney-haters meet on the Internet at “alt.Barney.dino-saur.die.die.die” and trade messages. Some of the topics: “More Ways to Kill Barney,” “Piss on the Purple Perpetrator,” and “Barney is a Nazi.” And those are the printable ones.

In a book called The Purple Messiah, a North Carolina radio evangelist claims that Barney is a “New Age” anti-Christ straight out of the world of “demons and devils.

Four young thugs beat up a man imitating Barney for a K mart promotion in Galveston, and a college student in Worcester, Massachusetts, attacks a Barney look-alike at the opening of a drugstor.

Why? “Because we hate Barney,” the attacker says.

After I bought a new computer with the on-line service Prodigy loaded and ready to use, my 10-year-old son came home from school one day anxious to log on. He wanted to access the Internet.

Amused, amazed that my little boy was ready to surf the net while his mother still can’t program her VCR, I asked what he wanted to do first. “Find the I Hate Barney Fan Club,” he said.

The cyberspace universe was at his fingertips-and he wanted to use it to bash Barney.

This is the same little boy who, as a 3-year-old, would sit mesmerized in front of the TV for 30 minutes, fascinated with the dancing, singing purple dinosaur. During the steamy summer of 1987, very pregnant with my second child and trying to find a way to escape the constant demands of an active toddler, I’d slip a “Barney” cassette into the VCR, plop my child in front of the TV, and heave myself and my enormous belly onto the couch. Neither one of us would move for a half-hour.

He loved Barney. And because he loved the big purple goof, I did, too.

Yes, the show was simplistic, sappy, and pretty silly. And yeah, after about 30 repeated listenings over a two-day period, that song (“I love you, you love me . -.”) made me crazy.

But so did that irritating commercial playing constantly on the radio at the time, “Let’s go Krogering…” and it didn’t have the total toddler-immobilizing power of “Barney.” And what about Mister Rogers? He’s a real person, an adult, and “simplistic, sappy, and silly” describe him to a tee. Going back a bit further, Captain Kangaroo was no sophisticate. Given some of the competition, I could live with Barney.

When my second child became a preschooler, he repeated the Barney love cycle, singing along, absorbing the lessons of sharing, caring, and the magic of imagination. If it is all a little improbable- Where exactly does Barney come from? Why is he purple? Does he eat meat?- well, Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy are not exactly realistic depictions of animals, and I don’t see any nationwide cults devoted to torturing them.

At about age 5, my sons simply lost interest in the purple dinosaur and his gang of cuddly kids. They moved on to other kids’ shows. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.” Anything with kicks and karate chops. Cries of “Heeee-yaaaahhhhh,” and whacks to the furniture legs became popular around my house.

Now, at 7 and 10, they’ve both hopped on the Barney-bashing bandwagon, too big to admit they once adored Barney. In fact, if any of their friends read this article my sons will have to change their names. Or leave home.

The question, which I invite sociologists, philosophers, and talk show hosts to help me answer, is Why? Why does America seem to hate this innocuous reptile? Where, when, and why did this anti-Barney jihad start?

My kids never mentioned hating Barney until recently. As the purple critter grew in popularity, becoming the number one children’s show on PBS and raking in big bucks for its Dallas creator, mom Sheryl Leach of the Lyons Group, Barney-bashing began as the sport of adults who- betcha money-didn’t have little kids.

Perhaps the anti-Barney fervor was inevitable. Anything so successful, spawning such incredible merchandising opportunities, invites caviling. But money and envy don’t explain the spleen being vented at Barney. After all, Disney is the master at squeezing every drop of marketing juice from its video products, and nobody but the French bash Mickey Mouse.

Susan Pecyna, a Park Cities mother of two small kids, admits to being baffled by the Barney backlash. Her son Sam is 3, and she doesn’r yet allow him to watch Saturday morning television cartoons. (just wait until the testosterone kicks in, Susan.) “Barney does not bother me one bit,” she says. “He’s real positive and Sammy’s learned good things from him.”

And, not to be scoffed at, for those 30 minutes that “Barney” lasts, Sam is out of her hair.

Pecyna isn’t alone. A recent study by researchers at Yale University concluded that an episode of Bamey is healthy, contains as many as 100 “teachable moments,” and actually reduces violent play and overt aggression among preschoolers. There’s one more baffling question: Why, amidst all the creepy pop culture being sold to little kids, do people pick on Barney?

Exchange while browsing at the local video store: “Mom, can we rent MK II?”

Andrew, the 7-year-old, has posed what sounds like an innocuous question. But the sly way he asks alerts my highly tuned Mom radar. Mentally, I scroll through what little I know about video games. M K. Mortal Kombat. Mortal Kombat 11, the second m a series. Not only do heads roll and blood spurt, but organs sploosh out and spinal columns are ripped from defeated opponents ’ bodies.

I fix him with the “I-don’t-think-so” look, perfected over several years of Super Nintendo ownership. With a grin, he shrugs and trots off to look for another, less-offending candidate.

Except for a brief flurry of public debate about the violence level in Mortal Kombat and the resulting warning label slapped on to appease parent groups, there’s been little condemnation of video game violence. Offended parents were scorned as if they were trying to ban Huckleberry Finn from school libraries.

And those labels. So what? I’m convinced the video game producers were delighted when they were “forced” to slap on those warnings. What a great marketing tool! I can hear the kids in the aisle at the local Blockbuster: “It’s got a parental warning label; it must be really great!”

Barney gets whacked like a purple pina-ta, but there’s no backlash against the companies that make games with ever-increasing levels of violence. (Have you heard about one of the newest computer games? It allows the player to be either the serial killer or the good guy. Which one will your kid choose?) In fact, despite the vocal protests of a few parent groups, most parents I know don’t pay much attention to the video games their kids play. If it’s in the store, it must be okay. And besides, my kid can’t be the only one cm the block not allowed to play the latest, hottest, hippest game.

And I’m convinced that’s what this is about.

Barney isn’t hip. .And if there’s anything America loves, it’s being cool. Sophisticated. Cutting edge. Fly, or whatever the latest slang for hip is now.

Barney is dopey and silly and goofy and sweet. He’s childlike, or what used to be considered childlike before 8-year-olds could go on-line and download the computer game Doom.

Innocence? Good manners.’ Sweet little songs.7 Git outta my face, sucker.

Worst of all, Barney is for little bitty kids. For years, creator Leach has explained over and over that she created Barney for the 2- to 4-year-old crowd. And there isn’t anything creepier than a hip 4-year-old. Just remember little Drew Barrymore.

In the infamous words of Joe Bob Briggs, reviewer of drive-in movies, I don’t want to have to explain this to you again.

Barney-bashing must end. Recently introduced in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Latin America, Barney is going international. There are also plans to enter the Mexican, European, and Asian markets. Universal Studios Florida will add a permanent attraction called “A Day in the Park with Barney” sometime this summer, and Geffen Pictures and Warner Brothets have begun developing a feature-length Barney movie.

This is good. As the biggest moneymaker on public television, Barney and his fans may be the only thing that can save PBS from Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and the budget-whacking Republicans. That’s not to say that Barney should subsidize the McNeil/Lehrer News Hour, but Barney’s popularity can go a long way toward mobilizing public television’s defenders. Harried moms, unite: That sappy, unrealistic, well-mannered saurian is worth millions of half-hour naps each year.

And all you surfers out there on alt. Barney, dinosaur, die. die. die: Get a life. You have too much time on your hands. Besides, if there’s any justice in the world, someday cybersex may progress to cyberbirth and you, too, may be a toddler’s parent desperately in need of a Barney break.

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