Before I knew anything else about Stranger Things, I knew that Barb deserved better…I knew it before I even knew who Barb was. It was the first thing anyone who saw the series said – “poor Barb…Barb deserved better…Justice for Barb!” – and, after I watched the series, I absolutely agreed. Barb totally deserved better. That part isn’t really at question; what is, is why has everyone remained so attached to the character? There are plenty of characters across pop culture media who deserved better than what they got, but Barb is the first I’ve seen receive an almost nationwide outcry for justice. …Why? What’s so special about Stranger Things’ Barb?
Barb was a Good Person
First and foremost, Barb was a good person. She wasn’t a “mean girl”, an intellectual snob, or even particularly anti-social. She also wasn’t desperate to be liked or popular. She worried about her friend, Nancy, and the new group was she was hanging out with. When Nancy asked her to come to Steve’s party Barb agreed, even though she had no interest in the party herself. More importantly, even after she embarrassingly cut herself, got laughed at, and Nancy basically abandoned her for Steve, Barb stayed. She waited outside, alone, to ensure her friend remained safe and had a ride home.
Barb was a smart young woman, a good friend, a responsible person, and someone who stood by those she cared about regardless of what anyone (including the people she stood by) said. She was the person we’d all like to think we’d be…the type of person we think we are.
Barb was the “Wrong” Victim
In my previous Stranger Things article I discussed how the series set up and then subverted common archetypes and tropes. It’s one of the best aspects of the show, but also one of the reasons Barb died…and why her death was so upsetting to fans. The traditional monster/horror genre rule is pretty straightforward: If you party, drink, and/or have sex, you die. By this rule one of Steve’s terrible friends or Nancy would be the one attacked at the party and yet that’s not what happens. They’re all fine, in fact they all have a great time, while Barb gets sucked into the Upside Down and ultimately killed by the Demogorgon.
…This makes what should be typically safe characters vulnerable, which not only works wonders to increase the tension of the show, but also makes the audience instinctually uneasy. If poor, nice, Barb isn’t safe, than who is? Is anyone?
We Are All Barb
Naturally, Barb’s totally relatable to those who were nerdy, awkward, uncool, or any other form of social outcast in high school. Those who had the wrong clothes, the wrong interests, the wrong look. The kids who only ended up at parties because their slightly more popular friends dragged them along and were then discarded the moment anyone popular and/or cute started giving said friend attention. As mentioned before though, the ability to identify with Stranger Things’ Barb goes beyond those surface characteristics.
In truth, we ALL identify with her. We all see ourselves as the good person, the good friend, the prudent one who does the morally right and intellectually smart thing. Everyone watching Stranger Things thinks (or at least would like to think) they’d be Barb in the same situation she’s in; the smart, cautious, but forever loyal friend.
…Now here’s where things start to pull together…
Because Barb is all of us, or at least the all of us we imagine ourselves to be, that she dies is beyond unsettling. She isn’t the one that’s supposed to die, she isn’t the one that’s supposed to be forgotten, because if this can happen to her, it can happen to us. If someone like Barb is at risk, then so are we. We are no longer the invulnerable viewer who can smugly roll eyes and snarkily comment at those who get picked off by the monster. Now we’re the one getting picked off. We’re the one being discarded and it’s our disappearance being dismissed and ignored. We’re being murdered and no body cares! That’s what makes Barb’s demise so upsetting, so frustrating, and so very frightening…Barb deserved better, there needs to be justice for Barb, because we would deserve better and need justice.