Last night I was watching an episode of CBS’s How I Met Your Mother. I really enjoy that show, in large part due to the Neil Patrick Harris’s character Barney Stinson. For those of you who don’t watch the show, Barney is a womanizing, straight male with questionable ethics. We recently learned that he has slept with 236 women in his lifetime.
Barney’s character is deliberately over the top and disgusting. At time his friends call him out on his behavior, but other times he is praised for his womanizing — as in the episode I watched last night “Unfinished” where Ted fist bumps Barney after learning he has slept with 236 women.
It is my belief that his character is meant as a satire of that kind of creepy guy — at least that is my hope as a self-respecting feminist. I have read other commentary on his character that says that similar characters in other shows are just disgusting. Russell on Rules of Engagement comes to mind, or Tommy on the short lived Unhitched. Both of these characters are attempts at the same characterization as Barney Stinson, but both fall short of witty commentary and end up in disgusting sexist pigs.
My question from all of this is what is it about Barney that makes him so likable despite his clear sexism? As I’ve watched the show, I’ve started to form the theory that is more to do with Neil Patrick Harris than with Barney, and I have to wonder, does the fact that NPH is openly gay affect how we accept the character of Barney Stinson? Does NPH’s sexuality somehow make his performance of Barney slide from the creepy, offensive side to the lovable side? Does it somehow disarm Barney’s actions and make us believe that Barney is a satire of real life womanizers? I do not think you can separate a well known actor or actress from their characters — the information we know about them inevitably influences how we accept the characters they play.
I realize that this theory does not take into consideration the brilliance of NPH’s acting ability or the impact of good writing, both of which factor into how much I like Barney Stinson. He is also more dimensional than other similar characters — we have some insight into his life that would lead us to believe we understand why he objectifies women (lack of confidence, insecurities. neither of which condones or excuses his behavior but at least it gives some indication that he’s not just a jerk).