** Major spoilers ahead for Netflix’s STRANGER THINGS— read at your own risk! **
By now, if you’re any kind of career binge-watcher, you’ve consumed Stranger Things on Netflix in one, possibly two sessions.
For me, it was definitely on the horror/thriller spectrum but others have described it as scifi. In any case, it’s a creature feature with a liberal dosing of government conspiracy and paranormal abilities set in 1980’s Michigan.
All. The. Nostalgia.
There was a lot that I liked about this show but the creature aspect sold me. I love anything that pays homage to some twisted animal eating people.
- JAWS (and subsequent sequels)
- Alien (and subsequent sequels)
- Jurassic Park (er, and subsequent sequels)
- Deep Blue Sea
- Lake Placid
… the list goes on for a while. I’ll remain hooked until I find out how– or if– someone can defeat the monster while people are being eaten in the interim.
But the more I watched (and enjoyed) Stranger Things, the more I felt very aware of a certain agenda. Unconscious or unconscious, it’s there.
Skinny people live to fight the monster and win. The fat ones (all two of them) died. Horribly.
Benny hit me hard because he was so likeable and was almost immediately executed in the first episode. I’d begun fangirling, I’d sent a text to all my friends claiming him as MINE. (Dibs is an important facet of our friendship when it comes to manflesh.)
But he was gone, to be discovered at a later point in the show, his body having been staged to look like he’d committed suicide.
And then there’s Barb. Oh, Barbara.
She seemed quiet, but intelligent. After all, brainy kids tend to hang out with other brainy kids and her BFF* was always getting comments on how smart she was. But Barb was more than that.
Barb was loyal. Despite being a(n) (assumed) good student, she had her BFF’s back. She was responsible enough to have her own car. She was a voice of reason when dick fever was taking over her normally intelligent BFF’s brainy head.
She had zero personal stake in going to a party where she knew she’d be a third wheel. “Two couples and me? Yeah, that should be fun,” thought NO SINGLE, [OVERWEIGHT] GIRL EVER.
But she went anyway. Because her best friend was going and when your best friend goes somewhere, there’s at least a minimal chance that the time you spend there won’t suck.
Except, for Barb, it did.
She got pressured into trying to open a can from the side with a pocket knife and cut herself, thereby sealing her fate for being reluctant to join in on the fun.
THEN! When her BFF bailed on her to go upstairs and get some, saying some decidedly un-BFF things to Barb, she didn’t turn around and bail on said BFF. She knew that they were a duo, that her friend wasn’t thinking with the brain Barb knew she had, and that she would never leave her friend stranded after her first time.
So Barb went to go dangle her feet in the pool.
And got sucked into the Upsidedown by the monster.
But some little boy playing D&D in the early episodes of the show seemed to have survived thus far, somehow. Barb could, too, I reasoned with myself. Two intelligent characters. They can both find a way to survive.
Only, that’s not how it went down. We see Barb screaming and trying desperately to climb out of the pool in the Upsidedown and losing the battle, disappearing beneath the lip of a pool that has no water.
My heart sank. But it was about to get worse.
Nobody cared that the chubby, glasses-wearing girl went missing.
Let me just qualify that statement for you.
Her BFF, now slightly less a virgin and not feeling as amazing as she probably had hoped made some mild inquiries. Some talking to the Weird Boy who lost his younger brother. Some lying to Barb’s mom and, eventually, some going to the police.
The little D&D-playing boy had massive manhunts over the course of days (at least a week? The timeline was a little fuzzy). Full investigation of family and friends, going so far as to pull known friends from class to question them. The Sheriff was going nuts trying to find this boy, the town was going nuts, his mom and brother were going nuts.
NOBODY went nuts looking for Barb after she was reported missing. Despite the fact that a boy had just gone missing and, oh, I dunno, they COULD POSSIBLY BE RELATED, nobody freaks out over the chubby girl with glasses up and vanishing.
She’s a good student (presumably). Quiet. She’s never made her mom worry. Unremarkable, perhaps, but with zero signs of outwardly rebellious behavior. Nothing to indicate why she might just “run away”.
And yet that’s exactly the kind of conclusion everyone but BFF comes to.
How utterly devaluing. A boy disappears; everyone in the town looks for him. A girl disappears; she must’ve run away.
After the singular– lying– conversation BFF has with Barb’s mom, the woman is never seen or mentioned again. She, too, is forgotten.
Because the loss of a chubby girl is nothing.
She’s simply a casualty to the monster.
But you know what? She was given a name. We were introduced to her, for the little time she got. You don’t give names to characters who aren’t important. You don’t dedicate screen time to characters who aren’t important.
But in this case, the only importance Barb served was in being the impetus for BFF to get her head out of her ass and– in so doing– become the center of a Twilight-esque love triangle between The Jock and Weird Boy while trying to track down the monster.
Her loss was not felt. Not by anybody. Is it possible she had friends other than BFF? Of course. Family who cared about her. Maybe she had siblings, too.
But it wasn’t Barb’s place to have meaning, herself.
It was Barb’s place to serve as someone else’s meaning.
The nail in the coffin was not when Eleven finds Barb’s decaying corpse in the Upsidedown. It was during the ‘ONE MONTH LATER’ pseudo-epilogue for season one.
BFF gives Weird Boy a camera to replace the one that was broken when he picks up his D&D-playing little brother– who got to survive the Upsidedown, no matter if you argue his biological state in flux– and she curls up on the couch with The Jock, looking all cuddly and Christmasy in their holiday sweaters.
Listen. I don’t care who you are.
You have a best friend, who you presumably have grown up with all your life? Or, forget that, just a best friend who’s always had your back and who you love like an extension of your own heart? You’re so deep, dark down in grief that holidays are worse because they aren’t there to share it with you.
My best friend lost her sister last year. I felt that loss for months and we weren’t even super close. And this show didn’t bother to show a friend’s grief a simple month after the event? I call bullshit.
There is no mourning for Barb. There is no misery in BFF’s face. Just a mildly vacant expression on her face after confirming with The Jock that Weird Boy got the camera.
I will watch season two. But I will always remember Barb.
Because, apparently, no one else will.
*BFF, Weird Boy, and The Jock used as monikers because this blog post isn’t about them. It’s about Barb. They stole her importance in the show, they weren’t going to steal it in this blog post.