One of the most unexpected things to emerge from the Netflix sleeper hit Stranger Things is the outpouring of love for the show’s awkward, introverted sidekick Barb (Shannon Purser). That, in turn, brought with it a wave of analysis of why the internet loves Barb so much, including Brian Moylan’s “In praise of Barb, the best character on Stranger Things” over at Vulture. Then showrunners Matt and Ross Duffer acknowledged the whole Barb thing. And now Salon’s Nico Lang is the latest voice to weigh in on the Barb phenomenon (Barbnomenon?).
Lang agrees with Moylan that Barb’s awkwardness is incredibly relatable—as demonstrated by the #WeAreAllBarb hashtag—and adds that her kind of nerdiness is also incredibly underrepresented in pop culture. After all, genuinely awkward female characters (not to be confused with hot nerdy female characters) don’t usually get placed at the center of a story. As Lang writes:
[It’s] the Barbs of the world who too rarely get to be the center of their own narratives. For instance, what would Sixteen Candles have been like if it were told from the perspective of Joan Cusack’s character? A classmate of the Audrey Hepburn-esque Samantha (Molly Ringwald), Geek Girl #1—who doesn’t even get a name, mind you—exists on the edge of the action. When Ted (Anthony Michael Hall) lavishes unwanted attention on Sam during their bus ride to school, Geek Girl #1 is seated next to them, sighing through her scoliosis brace. If only she were lucky to have someone be infatuated with her, even someone she can’t stand.
But he also argues it’s because of Barb’s limited screen time (she’s in only a handful of scenes) that we’re able to project so much onto her. As Lang puts it, “By rewriting the narrative around Barb, fans of Stranger Things have given her a kind of second life that the show denied her.” In other words: Long live Barb!