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?
Over and over I saw articles discussing the wonderful manner in which Stranger Things subverted the “bad-boyfriend” stereotype with its character, Steve Harrington. Steve starts as the typical 80s jock who’s kind of a jerk, but still cute and popular enough for sweet and brainy Nancy to turn her back on what she cares about – good grades, doing the right thing, her best friend, Barb – in order to be with him. As the show progresses Steve seems to increasingly play into his archetype until…he doesn’t. Until he stands up to his nasty friends and helps both Nancy and his romantic rival, Jonathan, fight off the Demogorgon at risk to his own safety.
…But “Bad-Boyfriend” Steve isn’t the only stereotype subverted. In truth, the magic of the show lies, in no small part, in all the archetypes and tropes it sets up and then slowly tears apart across the episodes.
In a previous post I discussed how a psychopath like the Joker can fly under the radar by playing crazy. I also mentioned that that isn’t the only way a psychopath can go unnoticed by the rest of society; they can also play subdued. This is how most function without notice, by appearing and behaving like the average, everyday, person. They have jobs, families, friends, and show the appropriate emotions at the appropriate times. Admittedly there are still moments they slip into their more cold, calculating, and ruthless nature, but those times are often dismissed as a single event (even when it’s a repeated one) or a quirk. …This seems to be what House of Cards’ main female protagonist – or will that be antagonist now? – Claire Underwood is able to do.