I doubt that I am the first person in history to fail to love dinosaurs at the proper time and in the proper place (between 4 and 7 years of age, in pre- and elementary school). And even if the vast majority of children do the right thing and fall in love with dinosaurs on schedule, they have a tendency to fall out of love with them on schedule as well.
The Barney jingle, ”I love you, you love me..." sung by kindergartners all over America, is subjected to a hate-filled transformation within a year or two: “I hate you, you hate me, Barney gave me HIV."
Indeed, the smiling purple dinosaur is on the receiving end of more hostility than just about any other popular cultural icon I can think of. Parents admit to a cordial dislike of this saccharine idiocy, and no self-respecting second-grader will admit to liking Barney ("He’s too childish” was the response of first-graders I talked to at the University of Chicago’s Laboratory Schools).

When Barney made a personal appearance at a suburban shopping mall a couple of years ago, the news that he had been roughed up and harassed by a teenage gang was greeted with undisguised pleasure in the news media. The audience on Saturday Night Live cheered wildly when Barney (standing in for Godzilla) was knocked around by professional basketball muscle-man Charles Barkley. The Barney bulletin board on the Internet consists mainly of unprintable obscenities about the dopey dino.
I will admit that Barney evokes an extreme range of emotions, from the unqualified love of the 4-year-old to the (often ironic) expressions of dislike or indifference by older children. I think we should take Barney as a kind of weathervane of the ambivalence about dinosaurs that seems so deeply embedded in their reception throughout their 150 years of public life. It seems ”built in” to the culturally constructed “nature” of dinosaurs to be both monumental and trivial, awesome and contemptible, horrible and cute. In absorbing all the "cuteness" of dinosaurs, Barney seems to become a lightning rod for all the darker, more violent passions they evoke. It’s a little more difficult to feel superior to the T-rex or Velociraptor.
Fixation on dinosaurs, whether it turns to an amateur form of dinomania or to a professional career in paleontology, is the rare exception. Most adults go to natural history museums with their kids, or maybe we should say that the adults are taken by the kids. How many times have you heard a first-grader lecturing a parent or grandparent on the latest dino-discovery? On rainy Saturdays in New Haven, the curators of Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History know the place will be packed with kids.
We should recognize this for what it is, a rite of passage that is specific to contemporary childhood in modern societies. It was not part of anyone’s childhood before 1854, it was not part of most American children’s experience before World War II, and it is still not part of many children’s experience in the so-called "underdeveloped" areas of the world. As an initiation ritual, it is a very special and recent invention, and we need to be asking what sort of initiation is taking place in the childish consumption of the dinosaur image. What cognitive skills and moral attitudes are being inculcated by the passage through dinomania? Any assumption that this process is simply "natural" or "universal" just leads us away from really understanding what is going on.-W. J. T. M.

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