Why TV’s Barney Stinson is the voice of our generation
Published: Monday, September 24, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 24, 2012 23:09
In last night’s returning “How I Met Your Mother,” we arrive on the scene of resident bachelor Barney Stinson’s unlikely nuptials. While this situation contrasts with the regular antics of the character, it brings a close to Barney’s legacy as the voice of our generation. In a decade dedicated to yelling, “YOLO,” I believe a character like the Barnacle is a reflection of who the younger members of society want to be: twenty-somethings in the heart of New York with no conception of love and commitment, who are devoted to this ideal of “legen–wait for it–dary!” nights and foolproof rules that will always lead to our eventual sexual satisfaction later that evening with no unfortunate side effects or “sexual souvenirs.”
However, the writers of “How I Met Your Mother” have developed this bachelor stereotype much farther than the people behind “Friends” could with the very similar Joey a decade earlier: they gave Barney a real emotional center as a character and revealed that the man behind the awesome pick-up skills and exploits was a true human being after all. By doing this, the creators have submitted their opinions on the “live for today” culture of America.
To examine the character so artfully played by Neil Patrick Harris, let’s talk numbers briefly. The current median age for first marriage in the United States for men and women has been hovering around 28 and 26 for the past couple of years. Furthermore, these numbers have been increasing since the 1950s. Most people nowadays are not even looking for marriage, nor do they believe it to be necessary. According to one study, while 34 percent of participants were looking for a long-term relationship that may or not lead to marriage, 28 percent were not looking for any type of relationship at all. Many have noted this rise in remaining single and enjoying it, or only looking for casual partners. Furthermore, a grand majority of people are fine with cohabitation, and marriage just isn’t on the minds of many Americans today.
This is all very well embodied in the Barney Stinson character, who begins the show in his early thirties as single and loving it. It is only in his mid to late thirties he begins to question his commitment to the single life. Perhaps these characteristics (besides the humor and charm inherent in his portrayal) are what lead audiences to identify and accept Barney more than protagonist Ted Mosby, a hopeless romantic in his twenties, whose main focus is quite the opposite of the breakout character discussed here. With most Americans agreeing that marriage is not central to their happiness, is it any wonder that Barney is a more popular character?
If this character’s emergence is so properly timed to our decade, why do later seasons of the show develop Barney into a more romantic sort of figure, leading to his first serious girlfriend after seasons of womanizing and casual sex? To me, it recalls a line from the Adam Sandler comedy, “The Wedding Singer.” When one character mentions what happened to famous bachelors Fonzie and Vinnie Barbarino, he says, “Their shows got canceled. Because no one wants to see a fifty-year-old guy hitting on chicks.” While that’s certainly an accurate statement, I feel that one shouldn’t imply that by a certain age, all of us should know commitment is the better choice. Perhaps some may realize they desire a constant or a level of stability as they get older, especially as other friends begin coupling up and getting married. But I don’t feel that’s necessarily the case here.
Instead, I believe the creators, Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, are making a statement on American youth: suiting up and playbooks must be traded for marriage. As Barney Stinson is a reflection of our generation’s wants and desires, it’s really a commentary on the bulk of our society.
While the show continues the archetype of single and carefree twenty-somethings established by shows such as “Friends,” I believe this view on not only Barney’s continued bachelorhood, but also on the importance of commitment for other single characters like Ted and Robin, brings a realism to the show. Because while “Friends” never really thought it was an issue to leave Joey unpaired at the end of the show’s run, “How I Met Your Mother” instead focuses on this achievement of making a connection with another human being or “finding the soulmate,” which has been Ted’s goal since the pilot.
Perhaps the message we should take away isn’t that Barney is awesome or his exploits legendary, but that family success and marriage should be the goals of dating in our 20s–however archaic and old-fashioned it may seem.