Television Tribune: The Cult of Barney


By James

I really like How I Met Your Mother. It’s funny, clever, and relies on a cutting edge narrative that makes it one of a few unique shows to air on a major network. With that being said, I hate some major parts of How I Met Your Mother. I am not going to delve into the critically mixed finale, nor am I going to talk about the framing of the last season. Such a venture is dealing only with minutiae, an outlier among the other eight great seasons. My issue is with the reception by the fans of the show itself.

The show is really about the characters, structuring plots around the reactions of the different friends to different situations. The characters provide foils for themselves, with character traits that are supposed to clash. Ted Mosby, the main character, is the helpless romantic, who often destroys relationships in his search for a platonic ideal of “the one”. His friend Barney is a notorious womanizer with abandonment issues, whose life is shown as empty, despite the numerous women that he has sex with. Ted’s best friend Marshall often seems childish, a simple man with the loyalty that comes with simplicity, quick to pick sides, and steadfast in his beliefs in monsters and aliens. Lily, Marshall’s wife, is a flamboyant and ditsy character, who often forgets important matters, and reverses the typical roles of sexuality. Robin, the last member of these Merry Men, is a woman who believes in her job above all else, sacrificing personal life for love life every time.

Each of these characters is flawed in a particular and unique way, carefully balancing each other out. Ted’s romanticism and Barney’s lechery balance out to the comfortable love life of Marshall. Robin’s father issues and Marshall’s over-reliance on his father lead to the happy medium of Ted’s relationship with his parents. Each character is a balance, not only of strengths and weaknesses, but also (relative) normality. No one character has a domineering role on this stage of the New York bar life. Sure, there are episodes devoted to showing us the change. Both Ted and Barney eventually start to come closer to the happy medium of accepting relationships as they are, and Marshall and Robin are forced to accept a more traditional role as children, but by and large the show remains the same. All of the friends are first among equals, but that isn’t quite true.

My least favorite part of the show How I Met Your Mother is the fans. Now, I will be the first to say that I don’t like fanboys. I have written before on how much recent Doctor Who fans have raised my ire, but there is something wholly different about fans of How I Met Your Mother. The point of the show is that everybody has their own mix of horrible and fantastic attributes. And yet, whenever I ask a group of kids who their favorite character is, I inevitably get a cry of Barney Stinson. Now, I like the character. I think that Neil Patrick Harris has done a fantastic job of making his character, creating a half James Bond, half laughable magician. With that being said, people don’t just like the character: they want to be him. There is a phrase that Barney often uses: “Legen-wait for it-dary. Legendary.” After I started watching the show in 2010, I began to notice that phrase bandied about. A lot. In fact, it seemed like I couldn’t go a single lunch without hearing a reference to the phrase, or to Barney and his cult of sexuality in some oblique way. I don’t particularly like unoriginality to begin with: banality to me is a sin equivocal with theft of time. But the fact is that this wasn’t just unoriginality, this was a much bigger deal. Impressionable kids couldn’t see past Barney’s cool façade, and wound up thinking that Barney actually enjoyed his life. The show is founded on the principle that everyone is equally miserable, but without that critical insight, nobody could see past the lampoon. Instead, they took the satire as a standard, and molded themselves to the cult of Barney.

Once again, I want to reiterate that I love the show. The plots are great, characters develop, and the entire thing exudes polish. But I also believe in impressionability, the fact that people will not always understand what they are watching. In the end, a show shouldn’t be shut down to prevent the few from misunderstandings, but I also think that it’s important to keep this in mind. It’s important not to fall under the allure of the cult of Barney.


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