Certain things about Barney have to be kept secret, it seems. Not the fact that nearly four million two-to-five- year-olds worship him every day on PBS. Not the fact that Barney is a six-foot-tall magenta dinosaur with an apple-green potbelly and sloppily fat hips and thighs who when he rocks back and forth giggling compulsively in a tone of unequalled feeblemindedness -- "ohh-ohh-oh, ohh-ohh-oh" -- jiggles his lumpish body like an overripe eggplant. It isn't the fact that lead has been found in Barney accesories (Barney bags, made by Jaclyn, Inc., of West New York, New Jersey, which had excessive lead in their zipper pulls and their inks, have been recalled), since that's been well publicized. But something must be a secret, because, to the disappointment of children, the Barney people have made Barney cut back on his personal apperances, and tehy won't let Barney give interviews. A spokeswoman for "Barney & Friends" in Allen, Texas, where the show is taped, said that the dinosaur made sixty-two appearances at shopping malls between October and December last year. "Twenty to forty thousand kids at a whack," she said. "It was dangerous for Barney and the kids."
Adults who claim to admire Barney say he's multicultural and nonviolent. Still, even some of them will admit to finding his facial expression unsettlingly idiotic. His empty, glaring dolls' eyes are the same dark color as the inside of his mouth. Basically, parents who would consider themselves consummate failures if their offspring didn't wind up at Harvard are willing to put up with Barney - not a Harvard type - because he keeps the children still. A psychiatrist on the Upper West Side who is the father of a four-year-old - his office is in his apartment - said he is able to conduct a half-hour session with a patient over the telephone as long as his son is immobolized watching "Barney & Friends". The Barney people know this well. According to the Texas spokesperson, a Connecticut Public Television executive, a grandfather, said of the show, "The kids shut up for thirty minutes, and it works out good."
As for attempts at an interview, the spokesperson said emphatically that it was impossible: "We don't want children to be able to dissect Barney." When David E. Joyner, who plays the body of Barney, was asked about an interview, he demanded a notarized letter saying that he would be given the right to approve any story about Barney before its publication. He eventually agreed to be interviewed but only if he would not be asked to talk as or about Barney. between the ages of fourteen and seventeen, Mr. Joyner said, he was a Sunday-school teacher, the Sunday-school assistant superintendent, and the choir director of his church in Decatur, Illinois. He said that his parents, when he left his job and decided to be a full-time actor, told him, "You're a grown man, and if this is the decision you want to make we're behind you." He went on to say (and it's as far as he would go), "It's a true blessing to be in a position of this great magnitude."
Perhaps the Barney people are right to be overprotective. At around 4 PM, on a Wednesday afternoon in April, a serenely good-natured mother of a four-year-old girl made a confession in mid-town Manhattan: "I bought the Barney book. I admit it. I read it to my daughter in the Barney voice. My husband looked at me with mistrust and dismay, but I did it." Her otherwise untroubled face became embarrassed, slightly guilt-ridden. She repeated slowly, "I read it to her in the Barney voice."
Did she hate herself?
"Yes," she said, and then, louder, and with a flicker of viciousness, "I wish I could shoot Barney."
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