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Don't dig Barney? Just join the club

Published Sep. 5, 1993|Updated Oct. 10, 2005

"I hate you, you hate me. Let's hang Barney from the nearest tree."

Parents, if you sometimes catch yourselves inventing such songs about the object of your preschool child's adoration, join the club. Literally.

In the I Hate Barney Secret Society, you can vent Tyrannosaurus-sized wrath at the "Purple Bore-asaurus," or "Insipidus Rex.'

Then, smiling at your little one as sweetly as Barney would, you can go back to shelling out $19.99 for plush toys and listening to those songs over, and over, and over, and over . . .

"You don't have to tell your kids you belong," is the motto of the club founded by Robert Curran, an advertising salesman whose 2{-year-old daughter is "an extreme Barney fan, if not an addict."

In barely a year, the singing dinosaur has led Barney & Friends to the top of public TV's children's series while attracting a legion of tiny dino-disciples whose parents will spend more than $200-million this year on related merchandise.

And the purple reign may be just beginning for Barney, who evolved from the frustration felt by an Allen, Texas, teacher in 1988 about the lack of quality programs for her 2-year-old.

Last week saw EMI Records release Barney's first album, titled (ominously, for parents) Barney's Favorites _ Volume 1. A prime-time network special and a feature film are in the works.

Sprawled in the living room of her home in the Broward County suburb of Davie, Michelle-Christine Curran cradles her Barney and Baby Bop stuffed toys as Barney's theme, to the tune of This Old Man, ends the show: "I love you, you love me . . ."

"I love Barney! I love Barney!" she squeals. Little does she know she is in Barney-Bashing Central.

At the kitchen table nearby, her father looks through papers filled with anti-Barney venom.

"I am sick of Barney," Greg Hudson writes from Richmond, Va. "What did we parents do to deserve this?"

A T-shirt advertised in the club newsletter depicts "Blarney" interrupted in mid-song when a T-Rex bloodily chomps his head off.

At first glance, it's difficult to understand such fury at the helpful, never-roared-a-discouraging-word purple playmate.

"I find it to be a wholesome experience for children," said Dr. Joseph Rabinovitz, a Boca Raton child psychologist. "The messages that come through . . . are positive and deal with realistic issues.

"I also like the fact that they draw from a cast that is culturally diverse (and) they will introduce children who are blind, who are deaf, teaching kids sensitivity. . . .

"You could say at times it's very sappy, but every generation has grown up with shows like that," Rabinovitz said.

Barney's creative mother, ex-teacher Sheryl Leach, said recently the show pleases the audience it's meant for: "Barney is simple. We're very proud of that."

Through hundreds of letters Curran has identified common Barney blasts:

Too repetitive: With only 30 half-hour shows so far, children often sit through the same episodes. And the songs, such as The Ants Go Marching, have simple lyrics set to familiar tunes that stick in adult minds, replaying on the drive to work, at the coffee machine, in bed.

Too bland and sickeningly sweet: "Next to Barney and his friends, Sandy Duncan is a flesh-eating succubus," James Gorman wrote in the New York Times.

Too commercial: Parents complain their toddlers want an ever-growing line of merchandise. The Texas-based Lyons Group reportedly has approved 200 licensed Barney products, and knock-offs abound.

Curran and his wife, Diane, have been learning to "just say no to Barney."

However, Diane, due in December, pats her belly and worries: "I shudder to think if this one is a big Barney fan. Another few years would be murder."

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