Why ‘Barb is Bad’ is Not a Hot Take
This article contains spoilers for the series ‘Stranger Things’ (2016)
Barbara Holland (known to most simply as Barb) is a minor character from this year’s Netflix original ‘Stranger Things’. Shannon Purser, the actress behind Barb, admitted she couldn’t have foreseen the character’s impact; how — despite a minute amount of screen time across the series — Barb’s existence managed to polarise audiences and become a major talking point of the series.
As ever, online enthusiasm for Barb was followed by a wave of negativity. Barb detractors insist that she’s boring, she sucks — did I mention she’s boring? — and that she doesn’t have enough screen time to merit fan attention. Somehow, though, this screen time was enough for the haters to decide that she’s rubbish and everyone who likes her is, in fact, wrong. This is obviously an incredibly hot take, and Barb detractors are very proud of it.
Here’s my radical response:
And you know, turns out I’m finding the smug haters far more boring than I found Barb. After all, there must be a reason this minor character become so beloved of the Twittersphere? Here’s my theory.
The LGBT+ community is massively underrepresented in television and film, so it’s unsurprising that the smallest possibility of representation is immediately seized on. The hysteria surrounding Barb is, in part, a manifestation of this phenomenon. Seriously, though, look at her. Pals, Barb’s a homo.
It’s pretty obvious, right? No? Let me walk you through it.
Barb has a crush on her best bud Nancy, and is super conflicted when said best bud starts getting involved with someone else. She’s bitter, because how can a nerdy lesbian compete with the Cool Jock™? She keeps doing favours for Nancy (giving her lifts, helping her study, and providing a parental alibi) in the hope that eventually Nancy will realise that Barb was the one all along. Unfortunately, Barb gets killed by a jacked-up Venus flytrap before Stranger Things becomes the lesbian love story we all need and deserve.
Aside from the unfortunate encounter with a trans-dimensional carnivorous plant, this is a storyline that a lot of queer girls related to. Falling for your best friend is practically a rite-of-passage. Unfortunately, so is watching them hook up with someone who is not you, and having to be supportive as they do.
Barb detractors paint her bitterness as slut-shaming, insisting that she is standing in the way of Nancy getting with Steve because she doesn’t like sex, beer, or fun. They think Barb’s jealous of Nancy, getting that D (along with a swift boost up the social ladder), when any queer gal knows it’s Steve she’s jealous of. Everyone ditches their childhood pals for their high-school honey, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt when they leave you behind— even before you add an unrequited crush to the equation.
Expecting Barb to be chirpy about all this would render her even more one-dimensional than her detractors already insist she is. Barb is real, goddammit, and she’s someone every queer girl has been at some point. That’s why we love her. And if realistic (though probably accidental) representation of our lives bores you, frankly, that’s on you.