LOS ANGELES — In this sleepy coastal town, and across America, a picture is emerging of why we can’t have nice (Stranger) Things. When the Netflix drama was released on July 15, few could have predicted its popularity. The biggest name attached to the show was Winona Ryder — best known for her iconic roles in several ’90s film favorites — the material was nostalgic, and the tone was earnest. Would it connect with a mass audience?
Netflix got its answer. According to SymphonyAM, a technology company specializing in data collection, Stranger Things is the third-most-popular original show that the streaming platform has released recently, ranking ahead of House of Cards Season 4, Daredevil, and Making a Murderer. It’s inspired fan art and even a delightful imagining of what it would look like as a torn and tattered VHS cassette. The first season of Stranger Things is also a hit with critics, racking up a 94 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes’ complex Tomatometer.
However, the reception to Stranger Things is following a familiar arc in American popular culture: Nothing can be loved without also being hated.
The counterrevolution is taking place at a new content site called The Ringer. Founded by Bill Simmons, The Ringer specializes in profiling lonely NFL players and celebrating the work of Todd Phillips. But within this seemingly benign editorial venture lives a lunatic fringe who target the most beloved Stranger Things character, Barb.
"The only thing upside down about Stranger Things is the obscene obsession that human shrug emoji Barb has spawned," exclaimed Mallory Rubin, who owns one cat, at least two pairs of shoes with laces, and a Postmates history longer than the Bible. "Barb love has seeped through our walls and exploded through our speakers, and it’s high time we lock it in a bear trap, beat it with a baseball bat, and light it on fire. What exactly did Barb contribute to this story? She failed to shotgun a beer, slut-shamed her best friend, contaminated a family pool with her oozing bodily fluids, and then fucking died. In a tale full of heroes and charmers, Barb’s just another haircut. She’s the Eggo waffle no one toasted, the walkie no one turned on. I’m right-side up, people. I’m out on Barb."
Reactions to Rubin’s invective mirror those of the crowds attending Donald Trump rallies. Perhaps they don’t know what they are saying, but they sure are saying it loudly. Danny Chau, a competitive eater and part-time basketball blogger, claimed, "I watched 1.5 episodes of Stranger Things waiting for Barb to get iconic. Never happened."
Micah Peters and Rob Harvilla, fancying themselves something of a Statler-and-Waldorf duo, chimed in as well. "Is Barb’s screentime analogous to the Joker’s Suicide Squad screentime?" Harvilla asked, possibly rhetorically. Peters then responded, apparently having never heard a rhetorical question before: "You mean in that it was cut way down and there was still too much of it." The duo then high-fived.
The Barb rancor and Stranger Things concern trolling even colored the responses of the show’s nominal supporters on staff. "My main issue with Stranger Things is that it’s not as good as The Wire," said Sam Schube, who was promptly separated from the company for his take-crime. Jason Concepcion offered, "Stranger Things is like Benihana. The appeal is watching familiar ingredients get chopped and fried in kind of entertaining fashion while you and your coworkers look on." Several of the younger staffers were seen Googling "Benihana," after this Barb barb.
Characters who had nothing to do with the Barb debate were not spared. Ryan O’Hanlon claimed, "Steve’s hair was the most disgusting thing to happen on the show," even though no one asked him about hair, Steve, or his television takes. Alison Herman, saddened that the staff was complaining about the right show but the wrong thing, offered that "the sad irony of this is that I am onboard with the ST backlash, but 110 percent behind Barb." Ben Lindbergh, sensing a changing of the tide, offered tepid support: "I like Barb better than Millie from Freaks and Geeks."
As the sun set on another day on the internet, most of the staff turned their attention to trying to figure out when one Frank Ocean song ended and another began. Only Chau was left, asking the important question.
"Does anyone know the precise time/episode Barb slices her hand open trying to shotgun a beer? Because I haven’t seen it and I don’t know why anyone would go so hard on a beer can with a knife. You just take your car keys and press onto the side of the can."
No one was left to answer his question.