Netflix's Stranger Things, which was released onto the hallowed streaming service July 15th, has become a cultural phenomenon in just a few weeks.
The eight episode series--created by the Duffer Brothers (Matt and Ross Duffer)--takes place in a small Indiana town in 1983, where a young boy, Will Byers, goes missing under seemingly supernatural circumstances.
The show follows his single mother, Joyce (played by the peerless Winona Ryder), his brother, the local sheriff, and Will's three best friends, as they desperately search for Will and answers to his mysterious vanishing. All the while, being tracked by a shadowy government cell.
The series has captivated the internet--a throwback to 80s sci-fi and horror classics, in the vein of Stephen King and Steven Speilberg; the show, at its core, is a lovely depiction of children and their friendships.
In the tradition of The Goonies, and Stand By Me, the "all or nothing" urgency of kids, and how they view the outside world, is on full display here.
While the show centers mostly on a group of 12-year-olds, the show's supporting characters are teenagers.
One teen character, in particular, has become the unofficial star of the series--Shannon Purser, 19, who plays the wary, and wise BARB!
Purser's scenes are limited to only a couple of episodes, but the internet has latched onto her character in an almost religious way.
And then there are, of course, Barb's outfits. One thing that vexes other 80s-set shows and movies are cartoonish representations of the era, like neon pink, leg warmers and giant perms. Stranger Things' costume design is much more authentic and understated--particularly with their teenage characters. Barb wears unflattering painter's pants, brown sweaters, and bulky coats; not to mention her transcendent glasses: she's not trying to be anyone but herself.
Unsurprisingly, Barb has become an aspirational meme--a symbol of loyalty, shyness, and the effortless courage to be yourself; her high school narrative is one that many can relate to (even if they didn't live it). She's the third wheel; the grumbling wing-woman who knows better than you do, but is a good enough friend to let you eat shit and then help you back up.
Purser's Barb has been immortalized in memes, fanart, fanfiction, and as a gay icon, among other online deification.
via Red Bubble
Mural photoshopped from original Lushsux "RIP Taylor Swift" mural
Despite its nostalgia, BuzzFeedian gold (Winona Ryder, kids, those 80s E.T. bikes), Barb has emerged as the symbol of the show--a greater aspect of non-calculated uniqueness.
We spoke to Shannon on the phone about living in post-Barb America, from the source herself.
How has life been in the past few weeks?
It's been incredible and unbelievable. I was definitely not expecting this kind of overwhelming response to the character; I mean definitely to the show, the show is incredible. Here we are, and the curiosity and acceptance from the fans has been wonderful.
Why do you think Barb has struck such a cultural chord?
Yeah, I think it's amazing how people have taken a hold of her and see themselves in her. And I love that there's a hashtag going around #WeAreAllBarb. I think people are attached to her and care about her so much because they do relate to her and she's an easy person to relate to. We all at some point in our lives have felt that we weren't at the top of our social circle, or that maybe we needed our friends more than they needed us, and feeling overlooked. I think a lot more people feel a little bit insecure and a little bit hungry for love and acceptance. It's definitely something I relate to personally and I'm really glad that the fans feel the same way about her.
How old are you?
I'm nineteen. I shot the scenes while I was in my senior year, so I just graduated and now I'm looking forward to entering college.
And they filmed it in Georgia, right? What was the whole casting process?
Yeah, it was shot in the Atlanta area. Well I was in a lot of plays and shows when I was young, then I ended up in an acting group and performed in front of some agents. So I auditioned to the agency afterwards, got signed to them. Then for the next couple of years did what any other hopeful actor is doing, which is auditioning, meeting with casting directors, etc. It really is a long process. So, I did that for several years, and then I got an email for this new show called Stranger Things and this kind of nerdy girl called Barb, who I identified with from the beginning. I did the usual thing: I sent in tape after tape because they kept wanting more. Then they asked me to come in! It went incredibly well; I loved them (The Duffer Brothers) from the beginning, and less than a day after that, they told me that I booked the role.
Wow and was that your first TV acting role?
It was my first role ever!
Obviously you have a great career ahead of you, but for the first thing you've done, to have this cultural impact, is so crazy.
Absolutely, I'm so thankful.
Yeah, and I was so blown away by you and the rest of your cast mates. Especially the nuance of the kids on the show. How was the atmosphere on set?
I got really attached to the Duffer brothers, as did everyone else. You'd see the kids around on set, and they'd be talking about things they just shot. And you know, talking about new movies coming out and things that kids talk about. They're just as wonderful and talented and precocious as they seem on camera. They're absolutely incredible. It's been such a great experience, and everyone has been so great to work with; so professional and so kind. We nailed it with the cast. Everybody was perfect for their role.
How close were you with Natalia Dyer (Nancy) off camera? Your friendship onscreen was so authentic.
Natalia was definitely the one I spent the most time with. She's incredible and super intelligent, kind and easy to work with. And it was really cool to hang out with the other *air quotes* teens. There's definitely a strong bond there for sure.
The costume design for the show was pretty unbelievable. And Barb's outfits were iconic throughout, and should be preserved in a museum. Did they have that all planned out for her or did they mold her style based on your personality?
Yeah, the wardrobe and costume team for the show were just so incredible and talented. And I know that they spend so much time looking for vintage, authentic pieces. And really wanting to go the extra mile to find the perfect piece. I remember being in the fitting room and trying on possible outfits; definitely for all the ones you saw there was a 'Oh this is it' kind of moment. It was amazing, I love her outfits. And it's cool to see how all the fans love the clothes.
Did you watch a lot of movies from the 80s, like E.T. and The Goonies to prep?
Yeah, absolutely, I love that whole decade. John Hughes, I think, is wonderful, I love The Breakfast Club, and E.T. made me cry! Steven Spielberg is a genius. I could not be happier with how lucky and privileged I am to be in this show, which is something I would want to watch even without being in it.
The monster was so horrifying and I think why people were so struck with Barb/mourning for her is because she has really good instincts and intentions, and she has the most horrific end. What was it like filming that scene? How did you get into that terrified state of mind?
Oh, that was amazing. That was the last scene I shot. Episodes 3 and 4 (my final one) were directed by Shawn Levy, so I felt super lucky to be working with him. He was incredible to work with; he was so specific about what he wanted, he's such a dynamic person, and clearly very passionate about what he does. He's really determined to get it right.
The atmosphere was incredible and the set was absolutely stunning and scary and perfect. Everyone was really great with making me feel comfortable, and making sure that I could take a break if I needed to, because I was just screaming all day. The stunt team were the real stars that day. They were supervising, and making sure I was doing all right; everything flowed so smoothly.
So now that you've already seen all the fan art and the tributes and the mural thing; it's wild. How has it been to kind of see yourself become a meme?
It's been totally surreal. I love it! The fan art is definitely one of my favorite things that have come up from the show. I'm an artist, I draw a bit, and I just love creativity and all forms of art. I love that people were inspired by the show and the characters and just inspired to create. I think that's what good art does. It breeds more creativity. I can't even explain how crazy it feels to have your own face being drawn over and over. It's absolutely incredible.
Illustration by @kevko76
And have you been getting recognized?
Not in person yet, no. I've been getting some Facebook messages from people I knew when I was younger saying, 'Woah, I was watching Stranger Things and I saw this girl who really looked like you.'
I think the gay community has really responded to Barb. Myself, and other gay men have been wild about her on social media. I think that she represents an alienation familiar to all queer people.
Oh, definitely. As a person, I've always been really passionate about being really inclusive and letting people know that they are loved. And I think there really is an inherent feeling of isolation in the LGBT community, because often times, they can't really fit in the way they'd like. I'm so thankful that LGBT people have related to the character. If I can help anybody with my character, or feel loved or less alone, that is the best feeling.
And just two silly questions, have you ever shotgunned a beer in real life?
Haha, no! I am a total dork in real life.
In your own life, can you think about the most "Barb" situation that you've ever been in?
I know that I've totally been the third wheel many times, where you're stuck going to the movies, and they're in the back row making out. I've definitely felt that way a lot where you don't really want to be there...but that's what good friends do. They make sure their friends don't do anything they're going to regret. I think in that sense, we've all been a Barb.
I know they haven't confirmed a second season yet, but do you think Barb is really dead? I feel like if they continue the series, they have to bring her back.
I know there's definitely a lot of hope that she'll return. I haven't heard anything about a second season yet. I know we're all kind of just really taking in all of the excitement and love for the first season. But yeah, if they have a second season and they want Barb back, I'd love to be Barb again!
If she didn't get taken by the monster, where do you think she'd be today?
One of my favorite things is that I hear tons of fan theories from people who are imagining a future for poor Barb. A lot of them speculate that she'd be super dynamic in her career, that she'd do something just as unique as she is. One that I heard specifically is that she'd move to New York, because she's independent. She was ready to make her mark on the world. A lot of people say she'd fit into New York or go to some Ivy League school. She could totally do whatever she wanted.
Barb and Nancy would have grown up to be boss ladies.
Are you auditioning for other roles or just focusing on school?
Yeah, I've been auditioning, but I'm focused on attending college in the fall, too. I've been trying to figure out how to manage the two. I'll probably be taking some online classes. Acting is totally what I want to do for as long as humanly possible.
VIVA LA BARB!