After a 14-year hiatus, Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-head return to American television on Thursday night. The comeback was initiated by MTV president Van Toffler, who noticed that US media now offers a lot more to comment on than music videos – like reality TV and viral Youtube clips. How stupid is the mainstream landscape at the moment? The boys could be the ones to tell us. By KEVIN BLOOM.
Two barely literate male high school students without adult supervision. A media diet of rock videos, hardcore violence, and robotic sex. A keen interest in human genitalia – and any word or innuendo that references such genitalia – and an almost complete lack of empathy for the sufferings and subjective experiences of others. Following from the last part, an almost complete lack of insight into the sufferings and subjective experiences of the self, with situations that involve pain or humiliation being met with an idiotic chuckle. A penchant for destructive behaviour. Self-confidence that borders on the sociopathic.
This, ladies and gentleman, is the ultimate in social commentary on the middle-American youth. And it’s back, when Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butthead returns to MTV on Thursday 27 October, after a 14-year hiatus. If anything, the concentration of media ownership in even fewer hands over the last decade has made North American youth culture more worthy of critique. If anything, the English-speaking world desperately needs to be reminded right now of the socio-cultural effects of consumer-orientated, mass-produced stupidity.
So, if you’re not fortunate – or unfortunate – enough to be stuck in middle America at the moment (as I am), and if you don’t have access to the hype that’s accompanying Judge’s comeback (as I do), what follows is a little something from the past to let you know what you’re missing.
Beavis and Butt-head watching MTV and discussing Ad-Rock, a founding member of the rap group Beastie Boys, born in New Jersey as Adam Horowitz, whose father, Israel Horowitz, is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter (of, amongst others, such movies as Author! Author! starring Al Pacino):
Butt-head: I heard on MTV News that this dude's dad writes movies.
Beavis: What do you mean he writes movies? You can't read a movie.
Butt-head: No, it's like he writes what they say.
Beavis: You mean he just like goes to movies and sits there and writes down everything they say?
Butt-head: No, he writes it down before they say it.
Beavis: Well, how does he know what they're gonna say?
Butt-head: He just like makes it up.
Beavis: Really? Well, anybody can do that!
From the 1996 feature film, Beavis and Butt-head do America:
President Clinton: Beavis and Butt-head, on behalf of your fellow Americans I extend my deepest thanks. You exemplify a fine new crop of young Americans who will grow into the leaders of this great country.
Butt-head: Huh huh huh huh. He said, "extend."
Beavis: Oh, yeah.
From a standard mid-90s episode:
Beavis: I wonder what they did before they had TV.
Butthead: Don't be stupid – they've always had TV, there's just more stuff on it now.
Not your cup of tea? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In the early years, amongst those who suggested that the show was utter filth, posing a grave danger to the American mind, was the conservative commentator Michael Medved, who in the 1990s guest-hosted a radio talk show with none other than Rush Limbaugh. On the other side, though, were people like David Letterman, who praised it as a subversive and poignant representation of the vacuity of youth culture. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone cited it as an influence, and prior to the final episode in 1997, Dan Tobin of the Boston Phoenix wrote: “Beavis and Butt-head is the ultimate guilty pleasure. We can tune in, turn on, and drop out – way out – and feel okay about it because the world is watching with us. But in the end, everyone's part of the joke: while we're laughing at how pathetic these guys are for wasting their lives in front of the TV, we're doing the exact same thing. In the end, they're laughing at us.”
Fourteen years later, with shows like Jersey Shore – a hopelessly inane reality series that follows the lives of eight unremarkable idiots who live together in a house in New Jersey – dominating the ratings, America seems to need Beavis and Butt-head more than ever. In fact, Jersey Shore has been dubbed a “cultural phenomenon,” and has been exported to dozens of countries worldwide, so maybe we all desperately need the return of Mike Judge’s most famous creation.
As MTV president Van Toffler, who recognised this need and single-handedly convinced Judge to come back aboard (the eight figure contract may have helped), told Rolling Stone about the new series: "They'll be self-contained segments with the boys in different situations like they used to be. But this time around, they'll watch Jersey Shore, UFC matches and user-generated videos from YouTube, in addition to music videos."
Post 1997, Judge went on to create the Emmy Award-winning series King of the Hill, as well as the cult movies Office Space and Idiocracy. He himself has said that some of the earlier episodes of Beavis and Butt-head were a creative embarrassment, so a lot is expected of the new season’s opening show on Thursday. American media has been all over it, with reviews and retrospectives appearing all the way from the Washington Post to the tabloids, and on Tuesday the duo made a guest appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Watching Kimmel interview Snooki of Jersey Shore from their couch, Beavis and Butt-head complained that the late night TV host didn’t ask nearly enough questions about her boobs.
The greatest nation on Earth? You decide. DM
- Exclusive: New 'Beavis and Butt-Head' Will Tackle 'Jersey Shore' and More,” in Rolling Stone; and
- Beavis And Butt-Head Take Over 'Jimmy Kimmel Live,' Interview Snooki (VIDEO), on the Huffington Post.
Image: Beavis and Butthead. Reuters.