The Barb Phenomenon

Let’s talk about Barb for a second.

If you know who I’m talking about, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, I’ll enlighten you. Barb is a character on the recently Golden Globe nominated Netflix show, Stranger Things. Poor Barb is the unfortunate side kick friend of Nancy, the gorgeous girl who usually gets everything while the unfortunate sidekick friend watches. Barb, lamenting her station in life at a high school party where she has been predictably left out, gets taken into the “upside down” by the “upside down” monster.

Aside from perhaps one or two lines of, “Hey…anyone seen Barb lately? No? K.”…her whereabouts are largely undiscussed. This is because they are too worried about their own son/brother, Will, who is also a captive of the upside down monster in the upside down. I don’t have time to explain to you what the upside down is, watch the show, but it’s bad. No one is signing up for vacation rentals there.

Anyway, even when they finally get young Will back in the season finale, no one even thinks to say… “Well gee willikers, I wonder if Barb is ok down there in the upside down? We might should try to find her too…” Nope. Barb is out of luck. They just assume that even though Will managed to make it out of there, yeah, Barb probably wouldn’t. Didn’t have it in her. Unfortunate side kicks are usually dead at this point in the story, so let’s just call it a day, and LEAVE HER THERE.

Ok. Now. Barb was in only three episodes out of the eight and is arguably a very minor character. But the appalling lack of Barb mourning unleashed such an outpouring of “BARB!!!!!” from the entire population of this country, that Barb immediately became an iconic metaphor for the parts of all us that have felt invisible and forgotten.

What this meant for Shannon Purser, the actress from Atlanta who played the role, is a metaphor for how the entire entertainment industry works, which will either leave you wildly hopeful or extremely depressed.

Barb began trending on twitter. Barb memes popped up on social media in the thousands. Shannon was asked to appear on Chelsea Handler’s talk show to discuss the Barb phenomenon. She immediately was snapped up to recur on, what I am certain will be the CW’s next hit show, Riverdale. She just landed the lead in a new feature film that is a modern day retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac, and the cherry on top…… she was heavily featured in Jimmy Fallon’s Golden Globes opening musical number, much to the delight of the entire Stranger Things watching populace. All of the people wanted Barb. And then all of Hollywood wanted Shannon Purser. Yep. From booking zero jobs, to fame in sixty seconds flat.

Unbelievable, innit?

A disclaimer before I go into a full on stage mom at her least attractive rant: Shannon is a lovely person. We share the same agent and my husband has met her and spoken with her several times on the phone while helping her with appearances at fan conventions. We are thrilled for Shannon and laughing out loud in disbelieving hysterics right along with her. I am not in any way jealous for my own children, or staring at this Barb situation with a slack jaw. Not me. The world has been begging for the next Molly Ringwald, and clearly now they have her. I swear to you that I am not AT ALL, in my head right now, standing on the top of an ocean side bluff in Ireland, buffeted by sheets of rain shrieking “WHYYYYYYYYYYY????” to the heavens. Nope. I am so supportive of this thing.

However, this does bring to my mind several inviolable truths about this business as a whole that I, and all who participate, must face. I am so thrilled to share them with you:

Inviolable Truth #1:

Seniority does not always equal notoriety. Sometimes it DOES. But the number of years, collectively, that myself and my children have been working away in this business is about 52. While there are pockets of people who do know who we are (The Walking Dead fandom is like nothing you’ve ever seen), we have not remotely achieved what I would call water cooler fame. Shannon Purser, in three episodes of Stranger Things, has done so handily. We have never appeared on anything greater than a local news station, let alone hung out with Chelsea Handler. We have never attended an awards show. The number of Lintz’s who have been number one on a call sheet is exactly zero. How can that happen!?

Inviolable Truth #2:

This business is 10% talent. And 90% being in the right place, at the right time, with the right role, on the right project, at the pitch perfect moment in American zeitgeist. Now, granted, if you do not possess the 10% (talent), it will not matter what happens in the 90% (zeitgeist). But if you do, as clearly Shannon did, and you nail something right on its head, there is no telling what can happen to you seemingly over night. And you cannot predict this. Which brings me to……

Inviolable Truth #3:

The level of zeitgeist nailage that occurs is directly proportional to the amount that the zeitgeist nailage is NOT predicted. In other words, if you hope for, fantasize about, or even THINK whatever project you’re involved with may catapult you to instant fame, I guarantee it will do the exact opposite of that. In a parallel universe somewhere is another Shannon Purser, who very unfortunately said out loud, “I think this is the one guys!”, and was never seen or heard from again. Fortunately, Shannon was sincerely grateful just to have booked her first job. (Note: The key word is “sincerely”. You can’t pretend to be humble while conjuring grandiosity. The universe knows if you’re rehearsing an Oscar speech.)

I have to wonder if there had been even one or two more lines where someone said, “It is imperative that we spend an entire episode hunting for Barb,” if I would be writing this blog post. Again, no disrespect to Shannon. She played the role pitch perfectly! I am not methodically punching holes in my studio walls or crushing my audition taping video camera underneath my combat booted feet in any way! But think about it. Because the writers did not show concern for Barb, it was left to US to do so. We rose to the occasion, and flooded the internet with a veritable Barb milk carton. And if you’re trending, Hollywood will snap you up faster than middle schoolers snap up pizza.

In all honesty, we have been the recipients of such good fortune on a smaller scale. Madison’s audition for The Walking Dead was one 30 second take in our basement, because she wasn’t feeling it that day. She got the job, no one had any idea that The Walking Dead would be what it was (Rule #3!!!), and boom, she has a career. Mackenzie didn’t even want to DO her audition for Norrie on Under the Dome because she wanted to focus on school that spring and didn’t think she had a shot in hades of booking the job anyway. She grudgingly taped it in her pajamas with a messy bun, and that is the absolute truth. Three seasons later college is paid for, thank you Under the Dome!

All I am saying is the best you can do in this crazy business of ours, is do the work because you love the work. You can not plan for, or predict the resulting accolades. You can not execute a fame plan. And I would argue that perhaps you don’t want to. Some of the most miserable people I know are famous. Some of the happiest are what I call working class actors. But that’s another blog post. For now, we will watch Shannon with huge SMH grins on our faces, while we are absolutely NOT burning an enormous pile of audition sides in our cul-de-sac, and continue to labor, very gratefully, in our relative obscurity.

Actually, there IS a guy out there somewhere who has a tattoo of Madison on his arm……that’s pretty cool………

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