The Barney Bubble: When to say when

In the most recent episode of HIMYM, Barney and Ted see the realization of one of their oldest dreams: opening their own bar, Puzzles. As it’s a continuity throwback, any longtime fan of the show can appreciate it. I was thrilled when I heard the synopsis over hiatus, and to be honest, I loved the idea.

What I didn’t love? Barney’s persistence that the goal was to get chicks drunk and then take advantage of them. Now, this isn’t exactly something new for Barney, as he arguably picks up most of his women at McLaren’s or other bars. However, his stories are generally good-spirited, and something was quite off about this episode. Every time we see Barney talking about his excitement for Puzzles, he mentions that he wants to get women drunk solely for the purposes of sex. This seems pretty standard Barney if you don’t look at the text, but there was something in the wording here that threw me for a loop. I even sat on it for a few days, just to make sure, and after a rewatch, I’m still sure.

First, at about 7:00:

BARNEY

Ted, do you remember a couple years ago? We had the best idea of all time.

(Cue flashback to Puzzles scene)

TED

A bar where no one’s overcharged, where everyone feels valued and respected!

BARNEY

A bar where we get chicks drunk and bang them!

Then, at about 10:30, we get the Puzzles theme song:

TED

Puzzles is a place where people go to feel like they belong

BARNEY

Gonna take advantage of dumb drunk girls

TED

No we’re not.

BARNEY

Bro!

TED

That would be wrong!

For once, I actually agreed with Ted Mosby about something – I know, right? Though the night eventually goes downhill for Barney (and everyone), I’ve never left an episode of HIMYM feeling unsure of what I just watched. It’s probable that Barney has made jokes like this before, but maybe it was the combination of the joke with the obvious power play Barney was adding on to the joke that really clinched it for me. Not only was he a guy looking to take advantage of intoxicated women, he intended to do so through the power of being the owner of the bar.

One time, sure, I can accept that it was a poorly-written line that apparently no one caught. But more than once? Come on, now, writers. Barney has been one of the most remarkable and successful characters on television for years, for a variety of reasons. However, I’d say the greatest reason is that he’s able to pull off this incredibly sexual personality without ever going so far that he faces legal consequence. I’m willing to give some characters a little leniency when it comes to, well, their personal character. Generally, characters have to be larger than life to be successful, especially when he or she is the breakout, as is Barney. He is, as are all the best characters, a compilation of zany stories and antics, and I know I’ll never meet one single person in real life who encompasses all of this. I know he isn’t completely real, and for that, I’ll give him a little wiggle room when it comes to how far I’m willing to let him go as a character. But this episode just made me uneasy. Actually, I’m willing to be made uneasy as a viewer because I think that’s necessary to keep people interested. More than uneasy, this episode made me uncomfortable as a viewer and as a woman.

For me, Barney Stinson is not a rapist. Even typing that sentence upsets me. He’s a womanizer, a scoundrel, a scalawag to the infinite degree – but he isn’t a rapist. But this episode made me question my love for Barney, and I hate that. For years, Barney has toed the line between womanizing and going too far, and this episode may have toppled that balance. There have been moments in the past that have made me question Barney’s already-questionable moral ground, but I’ve never thought, “Wow, that sounds kind of like something a rapist would say.”

I know that crying rape culture doesn’t get you very many friends, and truly I don’t mean to pick on the show, as it is by far not the worst offender, but I think it’s important to distinguish when a line has been crossed. There have been a few times in the past few seasons where I’ve thought, “Wow, that was a horrible thing to say,” but I’ve let it go because, as awful as it is, it seemed to be in character. This, though – this wasn’t typical Barney. And I’m a huge HIMYM fan, but this last episode left a bitter taste in my mouth. It’s too bad, really, because otherwise I thought it was a pretty standard hilarious episode, but I just feel a little gross inside when I think about it. Rape isn’t funny, period. Not even when a funny guy like Barney Stinson jokes about it. Hopefully someone behind the scenes realized it, and we’ll be spared more “jokes” that cross the line. This comedy has gone for years without making Barney seem like a legitimately scary dude, and I hope it can continue that way.

Related:

Watch new episodes of How I Met Your Mother on Mondays on CBS at 8/7C. Next week’s episode on Jan. 12 is a rerun of the seventh season premier entitled “The Best Man.”

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About Bailey

I'm a writer and a feminist. I read a lot of books and I watch a lot of television.

6 Responses to “The Barney Bubble: When to say when”

  1. If you look up the legal definition of rape Barney has done it more than once. The real give away is when he tricked a lesbian into having sex with him by saying his penis was just a really life like dildo which in the eyes of the law would be rape so would a lot of other times he admitted to tricking women into doing sexual acts be classed as sexual assault or rape. Also getting girls drunk and having sex with them can be rape as well if they are at such an intoxicated level that they can not legally give consent due to be so drunk, which a lot of women who Barney sleeps with are. Sorry to say people but in the eyes of the law Barney would be a rapist quite possibly a serial rapist.

  2. Remember that episode where one of the girls he tricked into having sex with him was going around telling all his marks “don’t believe anything he says!” and the whole episode is him trying to figure out which girl – of all the girls he tricked into having sex with him – would actually go out of her way to make his life miserable. Why would they want to? The sex they just had was ah- wait for it -mazing!

    So spare me “but I want to like Barney so it’s no rape, it’s womanizing!” Barney is on the other side of that line CONSTANTLY, the only reason why people think otherwise is because of the canned laughs and the permissive environment created by his more reasonable friends.

    Yes, Barney is a TV character, written to be likeable, and I know that people want to not have qualms when they laugh, but going around saying “it’s not rape because he’s struggling with a past” or “it’s not rape because he REALLY has feelings for Robin” is like saying “it’s not rape because they were drunk.” Instead of saying “this behavior is wrong,” we’re told “sympathize with him, he doesn’t REALLY want to do that anyway, it’s funny.” Have you seen how pretty and stupid the women are he tends to trick? They totally deserve it anyway.

    But it’s a sitcom, don’t think too hard about rape apologists, it’ll compromise your enjoyment of the show. Also, some people don’t think that “rape by fraud” or “rape by deception” is really rape. Legally, it still needs to be violent or with a married woman/man for it to get any traction anyway, because men getting laid is a success story, and the ends justify the means – for TV, Barney’s pseudo-journey justifies all the women he went through.

    Also, it’s TV, so it’s not real. If the show says “this is funny,” then it must be funny. Since the show has never said “Barney is a rapist,” then even though real-world-wise it’s rape, it’s not in the show. It’s fine. It’s fiction. The others never deal with it as though it’s rape, so we’re not expected to. Generally the characters are amazed and inspired through their revulsion, it’s not the right “place” to have that conversation

  3. I found there was another episode where he really went too far before this. Barney mentions that he had a scam where he would give free breast reduction consultations. He then talked about how he had another scam in which he pretended to be a lawyer who would help the women who had been tricked by the original scam. It made me feel a little sick. It’s kindof a disgusting idea that he tricks women into having sex with him, and when they realize this and look for help, he takes advantage of them again. It really felt out of character for me.

  4. Katy, I agree – the frequency was too much. If it had just been one mention, I think they could have skirted the line, but this just left a bad taste in my mouth.

    Michelle – I hadn’t thought about it that way (which seems silly now, since I love that theory). Barney has come SO far in the past six seasons, and I’m loving seeing him try to regain his playboy habits when he doesn’t realize that’s actually the opposite of what he wants.

  5. Michelle (chockfullofhoot) Reply January 10, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    That episode left me…I don’t know, wanting in so many ways. And this is another one that I hadn’t even considered.

    And though this will sound very much like I’m making “excuses”, I’m wondering if his overt and over-the-top methodology in this episode will come out as a direct response to what Robin did (to him) at the end of the previous episode. It almost rings of the desperate attempts of someone trying to PROVE PROVE PROVE he’s the same person, yet everyone knows he’s been emotionally crippled by the events with Robin (and Kevin). It’s the Barney Stinson version of constantly repeating “I’m Fine!”.

  6. I couldn’t help but feel like he was going too far here, too. I think it was because of the frequency, not even the rhetoric. No “joke” is that funny after that many references in such a short time span.

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