Barb from Stranger Things Stinks
Note: this semi-coherent screed contains spoilers for season 1 of Stranger Things
Netflix’s latest original smash hit Stranger Things is the most compelling, addicting new show I’ve seen in a while. It’s like a combination of cult favorite star-starrer Freaks and Geeks combined with Super 8, with all the 1980s nostalgia and supernatural tension that entails. I threw on the first episode looking to get a taste of what everyone was talking about before I went to bed; five episodes later, I had to conjure all the willpower I had to turn it off and go to sleep.
The breakout internet sensation of Stranger Things (aside from the child actors who are all awesome best friends) is Barb, the best friend of the beautiful and unrealistically-unpopular Nancy. Something about her awkward disposition and… I don’t know, huge glasses or whatever, connected with people. My girlfriend, for example, was team #ProtectBarbAtAllCosts, despite the fact that she’s not even in enough scenes to populate a Buzzfeedy “16 Times Barb Was Totally All of Us” gificle (they still tried, though).
Unfortunately, the town of Hawkins, IN was not team #ProtectBarbAtAllCosts as much as they were #LeaveBarbForDeadAndGoodRiddance, because the people of Hawkins, IN, knew the truth: Barb stinks. Barb is not worth your sympathy. Barb is not worth the effort of even pretending to care about her, let alone actually rounding up a search party to actually find her.
Barb has two opinions: teen drinking is very bad, and Nancy should not fuck Steve. Both of these opinions, in one way or another, are wrong.
First of all, if Barb wasn’t a total nerd who stabbed herself in the hand because she apparently thought that the way to shotgun a beer is to cut it in half like she was in an infomercial for a set of knives, she wouldn’t have started bleeding and gotten herself kidnapped by a transdimensional Demogorgon in the first place. She’s like the archetypal kid who never drank in high school who gets hammered and dies falling down a flight of stairs the first weekend of college, only if that kid did it before drinking anything and was being really stuffy and judgy about it immediately before falling down those stairs, and also the stairs were an entity of hungry supernatural evil. I’m not saying, I’m just saying.
Second of all, we see at the end of the first season that the following Christmas, Nancy is still together with Steve. The same Steve who stumbled upon Nancy and a kid who had creeped on him hardcore and taken incriminating pictures of him drinking at his parents’ house when they were out of town and helped them fight A FUCKING TRANSDIMENSIONAL MONSTER. I think having sex with a person you’re still together with more than a full year after you started seeing them isn’t so bad or at all a big deal. Maybe if she hadn’t been slut-shamey and wrong about Steve and bitter about his spending time with the only person that liked her that she stuck around bleeding into his pool alone like a psycho, she wouldn’t have gotten herself taken captive to the Upside Down in the first place.
It’s not like anyone got bombed and missed school the next day, or Nancy got pregnant and dropped out and spent her late teens and twenties as a single mother. Everything turned out fine for everyone except Barb, because Barb is a dumb idiot. Her demise is no one’s fault but her own.
Being an awkward nerd is in right now, or rather, being a former awkward nerd who glo’d up and is now attractive and cool is in right now. Because Barb was so sparsely used in Stranger Things, she’s mostly a blank slate onto which people can project whichever of their own qualities, experiences, and ideals they want. I say “mostly” a blank slate because there are three undeniable things we know about her already on the slate: no one likes or cares about her, and 100% of her known opinions are wrong and lead directly to her getting unceremoniously murdered.
A lot of people are upset that Barb was unceremoniously murdered and forgotten about after so little screen time and character development. I wish she’d had more screen time too, so she could continue to be holier-than-thou and wrong and maybe cut some of this ridiculous hype off before it got off the ground. Although the maybe it’s for the best; who knows what other disasters her continued horrible advice could have lead to?
High school was an awkward time for anyone who wasn’t charismatic, attractive, popular, or self-assured, and at that age it’s tough to be one of those things. This makes the impulse to identify and sympathize with Barb understandable. It’s important to remember, though, that if you feel like you’re awkward and no one cares about you and that what draws you to Barb, you also have to reckon with the reason no one cares about her, which is that she’s the worst.