In Praise of Dorky Sweetness

OK, brace yourselves everybody, we're going to talk about Barney.


See, I'm still struggling a little bit with the feeling of having left
Strawberry Shortcake bruised and bleeding in a ditch
, then walking away
and brushing off my hands and saying, "Well, now that's done." (Yes, I
know my vision of reality is significantly skewed, and if I ever took
on Strawberry Shortcake one-on-one for real, she'd kick my ass up and
down the block. And yes, I also know that she is a fictional character
and not real and this is all taking place in my weak and fevered
imagination. So it goes.)

But I was talking about it to a very smart friend, and she said, "I don't know, it seems to me that what kids really want when they're little is sweetness." And just like that, I remembered the Barney incident.

I've written about this before, but somehow I never learn my lesson. And in an attempt to make my brain grasp the point, I will tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a very nice little girl who was 5 years old. One day she was sitting with her baby-sitter, who was greatly skilled in the art of the DVD, and the baby-sitter discovered, hidden in the extras section of a Pingu DVD, some clips of Barney! They watched all of them, and the little girl was very happy.

That night when the little girl's mother came home, the little girl joyfully announced, "I found a movie I like! It's Barney!"

But the mother, who had been aesthetically repelled by the large purple dinosaur for many years, was dismayed. Wasn't Barney cloying, treacly crap? And wasn't 5 too old? It was just so dorky and icky.  "Don't you think you're too old for that?" the mother said.

"But he's really nice! Also, he's funny! He makes jokes," the 5 year old beseeched, and led her mother downstairs to watch one.

And was this mother, and adult with, one would hope, a full set of social skills and flexibility, nice about it? No, she wasn't. "I think this really for littler kids than you. I don't like Barney."

And thus was the 5 year old shamed, and sad, and she didn't watch Barney anymore.

Here's the thing: the child (who shall remain nameless, due to the similarity between the cruel world and the mother here) was right: Barney is nice. He's simple, he's nice, he offers comfort. And if you need that, and can welcome it in to your heart, you should, no matter if you're 2 or 4 or 5 or 10. And to hell with the rest of the world saying that's dumb. And to hell with my own ideas of good and bad. And to hell with should.

I think it's hard for us grownups to conceive of just how fully kids long for uncomplicated sweetness: for the earnestness of a Mr. Rogers, the kindness of a Barney. They don't want to be cool, they don't need to be cool—whom did being cool ever help? And who cares about the aesthetics of it? That's not all the only thing that matters here, it can't be.

I don't, however, yet acknowledge the Strawberry Shortcake is on the side of good. Maybe she's trying to be, but I personally think she's failing, both aesthetically and comfort-wise.

But if someone loves her, I guess, then the love makes it worth it. Right?

PS: Need I say how much I regret trying to push someone who was already growing up, to grow up? Probably not.

8 thoughts on “In Praise of Dorky Sweetness

  1. I work with a wise and open minded kids’ singer, and his take on Barney has always been, “he’s not hurting anyone”. Sure, he is treacly and cloying and irritating, but I guess he isn’t doing any damage. I don’t think you can say the same about S.S.
    And my daughter also discovered Barney at 5 and liked him a lot. She also (still, at 6) likes Calliou, Thomas, and Kipper. This is at least partly because I am a mean, mean mom, and I don’t let her watch videos very often, and hardly ever shows that are supposedly targeted to her age group – I find them inappropriate, and she finds a lot of them scary.


  2. Wow. I see a lot of myself in this post. I never bought a Barney video. I always made sure we were busy when Barney was on. Other people gave us a video or two, and then I relented and sang along: I love you… But. I had the exact same feelings. Now, Sesame Street? THAT was a different story. I LOVE Sesame Street. I ask you, what is the difference? Geez. I am so rigid.


  3. I’ve never read that Blueberry Muffin book, but I can’t really say I have ever read a Strawberry Shortcake book that makes me feel that way. We have a lovely one where all the friends work together to save a unicorn named Ambrosia (I particularly like that one) and one where they are all in dance class, but some of them realize that their talent isn’t so much for dance, but rather for set construction and costume making. I find them very sweet and endearing and incredibly innocent.
    And I can’t tell you how many times we’ve read a chapter of Ballet Shoes or Stuart Little or Charlotte’s Web before bed and Brynna has asked for the Ambrosia book so she can have sweet dreams.
    I suppose in 30 years I may discover that my wise, witty, strong, fiercely independent girl has become a Strawberry Zombie, afraid to feel anything or be anything but nice, but I doubt it seriously.


  4. I agree w/the first commenter – better they like Barney than, say, Bratz dolls or something ‘inappropriate,’ rather than just “annoying.”
    Having said that, I cannot STAND Caillou. He’s soooo whiny! “But I don’t WANT to go to the store!” GAH WHO CARES KID. *ahem* 😉


  5. I LOATHE that saccharinne dinosaur with every fiber of my being.
    You want sweet? Elmo is sweet…but he’s also mischevious, occasionally naughty or selfish…he’s like a three year old.
    I also find Kai Lan to be kind of treacly, but again there are moments of humanism…being jealous, being upset, solving problems with others.
    I don’t see ANY value in Barney and his ilk. And I’d rather stab myself in the eardrum than ever hear its voice. We don’t even let our 19 month old ride on the Barney ride at our local mall.
    The worst part is that Barney is SO MUCH harder to avoid in Singapore. It’s like they just discovered it or something. But we have drawn our line and we are sticking to it for our own sanity.
    For the record, I also don’t allow kidzbop cds, any of those rock-a-bye cds or any modified for kids music either. I’d PREFER my kid sing the correct lyrics to whatever song parents are freaking out about…I sang like a virgin 25 years ago. Elanor can sing Lady Gaga or whoever when she’s ready for it.


  6. You remind me of an older friend–when I was in my early 20s, he was in his mid-40s and a first time dad. And he would giggle in delight at how much kids love Barney and how much parents hate that purple dinosaur. As a frequenter of internet BBSs (even then) I bought in to the “kilbarneydiediedie” mentality, but was willing to listen. With a wicked giggle, my friend explained, “Barney is all sweetness and kindness and everyone gets along and kids LOVE it. That’s how they want their world to be, and grownups can’t give it to them and they hate Barney for it.” And I never forgot it and despite never quite getting over the Grimace derivative disdain I had, I always let my sons watch until they decided themselves they were over it.


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