The new age of dinosaurs

Kevin Cowherd

December 21, 1992|By Kevin Cowherd

One afternoon a few months ago, I came home and found my wife in an uncharacteristic position of repose.

This was odd because we have three children, including a 19-month-old who apparently has a natural form of amphetamine coursing through his body.

This means the boy hardly ever stops moving from dawn to dusk, which requires constant monitoring by one or both parents. This, of course, accounts for the deep bags under my eyes and the irritability displayed in this space on occasion.

Anyway, I walked in the house that day and saw my wife sitting there, feet propped up -- reading a magazine, for God's sake.

Instantly I felt an enormous irritation, as I hate to see anyone relaxing, unless it happens to be me.

So the first words out of my mouth were: "When you sold the kid, how much did you get?"

"He's watching Barney the dinosaur," she said.

And my response -- which seems so quaint now, it really does -- was: "Who's Barney the dinosaur?"

As I said, that was a few months ago, when I was younger and even less hip than I am now, which is frightening to imagine.

Now, of course, I know that Barney the dinosaur is the big, purple, touchy-feely superstar of PBS' "Barney and Friends" and that he's the biggest thing to hit children's TV since, well, since I don't know what.

In my house, Barney has become so huge that if you don't put on "Barney and Friends" at the appropriate time, the 19-month-old will throw himself on the floor and howl, and his head will all but rotate 360 degrees.

When the program is on, he sits there transfixed as Barney and his little friends sing and dance, and Barney solves whatever problem is nagging one of the gang: loneliness, family squabbles, etc.

There really is no way to describe the powerful hold that Barney has on young children, except . . . well, maybe this will help.

You remember that yogi in Oregon a few years back? Baba what's-his-name? The guy who lived on that big commune and was chauffeured around in a Mercedes limo by Uzi-toting bodyguards while his followers chanted his name and threw rose petals in his path?

Well, that's more or less the kind of devotion Barney inspires -- only Barney's followers tend to be even more fanatical. (Thankfully, Barney himself has not yet shown a fondness for automatic weapons and luxury automobiles.)

All I'm saying is, this attraction between Barney and little kids is as close to a cult-like thing as you're likely to see.

I'll tell you this. If Barney ever went on his show and said (in that goofy, hillbilly voice): "Kids, Barney wants you all to go out to the airport and hassle people for money," the kids would do it.

Barney has that kind of sway over little kids. Look, I'm not saying there's anything sinister about it. I'm not saying it smacks of brainwashing. That's just the way it is.

If there were any questions about Barney's mega-celebrity status, they were answered recently during a personal appearance at a suburban Washington, D.C., mall.

Maybe you heard about this.

A crowd estimated at 40,000 turned out to see him. When Barney finally arrived, led by burly security guards like he was Michael Jackson or something, the crowd went absolutely nuts.

A neighbor of mine was there with her kid, and she said the level of hysteria was unbelievable.

There were kids with tears streaming down their faces from pure joy, and other kids feverishly chanting: " BAR-NEY! BAR-NEY!"

Even some adults were screaming for Barney, which, it seems to me, adds new urgency to the phrase: "You gotta get out of the house more."

All in all, the whole thing was like a Beatles concert back in '64 -- except that, I hasten to point out, the crowd in this case was celebrating a big purple dinosaur.

The thing I keep asking myself is: What exactly do the kids see in Barney?

I watch the show all the time with my 19-month-old, and I can't figure it out. Basically, all it is is your standard "I'm OK, You're OK" kids show hosted by some 7-foot, do-gooder dinosaur.

I don't know . . . maybe it's me.

All I know is, the adulation accorded Barney goes way beyond anything ever directed at other children's programs, such as "Sesame Street."

Compared to Barney, Bert and Ernie are a couple of dishwashers.

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