What about Barb? How a Stranger Things Misfit Stole our Hearts

Curator's Note

What about Barb?! Passionate cries erupted on social media after fans of the 1980s-themed Netflix sci-fi series Stranger Things witnessed the disappearance of Barbara Holland. #JusticeForBarb and #WeAreAllBarb took over Twitter. Celebrities like John Stamos and Angela Kinsey even joined in on the campaign to avenge Barb’s death. So who is Barbara Holland, and why do we care so much about her?

Barb is the quintessential sidekick. She is the best friend of female lead Nancy Wheeler. Nancy fits the mold for the stereotypical 80s teen queen. Think of Jennifer Grey (Baby) in Dirty Dancing or Molly Ringwald (Claire) in The Breakfast Club. They are pretty, slim, and wholesome, yet boy-crazy and naive. Their characters are created to be fan favorites, and usually they are.

Barb is the opposite. She is curvy, nerdy, and skeptical about boys. She doesn’t fit in. Barb only appeared in three episodes and had minimal screen time. Shannon Purser, the actress who played Barb, and the Duffer Brothers, the show’s creators, have all publically said that Barb wasn’t supposed to be a big deal. This minor character was created to be forgotten, but the exact opposite happened. Barb arguably became the show’s biggest fan sensation. But why? How did this misfit character break the Hollywood mold for fan favorite?

After Barb’s disappearance, no one in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana seemed to care. Everyone went on with their normal lives and even Barb’s parents essentially brushed off their daughter’s mysterious situation. But Stranger Things fans refused to ignore the travesty of Barb’s terribly unacknowledged death. Fans created Barb merchandise, costumes, and fan art, and showed them off on social media. Hardcore fans even got tattoos of Barb! This lovable sidekick became an instant phenomenon because while she’s socially awkward and reserved, she’s loyal, smart, and a good friend. Barb became so popular because sometimes we all feel like Barb.

Who hasn’t ever felt ignored or neglected? We’ve all been Barb sitting on the diving board alone, forgotten by a friend. Who hasn’t ever felt like an outcast? We’ve all been Barb being made fun of by the cool kids. While Hollywood encourages us to be Nancies, maybe we’ve had enough. Maybe, deep down, we’d rather be ourselves than what others expect us to be. We are all Barb, and a cheer for her is a cheer for all of us.

Comments

John A. Riley's picture

Show's response to Barb

I’m only 3 episodes in to the new season, but it seems the showrunners are setting up a response to the shoddy treatment Barb received in season 1. Do you - and will other fans - feel that she’s finally getting her due, or is it a more cynical move?

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