Wednesday, July 15, 2009
As I sit here watching a can't-take-my-eyes-off-this-trainwreck marathon of MTV's 16 and Pregnant, I have to wonder what exactly is going on at MTV. First Date my Mom, and now this? What happened to the far-superior, significantly less lazy programming of my day? Back when I was a kid, MTV had a little intelligence, didn't it? And before you say something, yes, I'm old enough now to get all crotchety about this. Before you know it I'll be hiking my pants up to my eyelids and complaining about that damned newfangled rock music.
While I reminisce about my MTV glory days, I accidentally contradict my inital proclamation of the golden age of intellectually stimulating programming by entertaining the notion of the show Beavis and Butthead. I know, I know, I should be mentally conjuring something more promising for my things-were-better-in-my-day argument, but I can't help it. After all, I already wrote about Daria, who more than cornered the market on intelligent, sharp-witted MTV original programming. And since Daria spun off from Beavis and Butthead, I can only hope this reflects on the quality of Beavis and Butthead themselves. After all, that little delusion is certainly easier than admitting a teensy bit of hypocrisy.
Anyhow, the series featured its eponymous cartoon stars, deadbeat high schoolers with a shared penchant for extreme obnoxiousness.
Despite their young age, for some reason we never really encounter any sort of parental figures. Beavis and Butthead were pretty single-minded, er triple-minded. Their lives revolve around the pursuit of chicks, nachos, and hardcore heavy metal. After all, what good would heavy metal be without a side of chicks and nachos?
That was pretty much it. Oh wait, did I mention that Beavis had a ridiculous alter-ago named The Great Cornholio? Because that part is sort of important. Whenever Beavis got all hopped up on caffeine and sugar, he morphed into El Cornholio and began seizing up and speaking in tongues. That's normal, right? He raises his arms Evita-style, puts his shirt over his head, and in a vaguely Spanish accent declares boldly, "I am Cornolio!" Sometimes just for kicks he'd also discuss the need for TP for his bung-hole. Oh, and he comes from Lake Titicaca. Heh.
Observe, a montage:
If you sat through that full two minutes and 17 seconds, bravo. You have an extremely high threshold for pain and under-the-skin irritants. Kudos.
Butthead (first name Butt, last name Head) was more of a charmer with his signature, "Hey baby". Who could resist that alluring cad? Between the braces and that adorable "heh heh, heh heh" laugh, I can't settle on a best feature.
And...that's about it. They have a neighbor and a teacher or two who sporadically show up as supporting characters, but generally it's just the two of them wreaking widespread havoc. They occasionally are employed at fast food joint Burger World, though their general incompetence in a long-running theme. Behold, their general slackerish incompetence:
As you can probably gather, the appeal of these characters was baffling. For some reason, the show ran an astounding seven seasons. SEVEN. Meanwhile, gems like Freaks and Geeks run for one. Riddle me that one, nineties kids. Riddle me that. I'm sorry to say I'm a bit ashamed of our collective inability to appreciate witty shows in favor of cackling over a couple of oversize-headed kids in Metallica and ACDC t-shirts. For shame, children of the 90s. For shame.
Beavis and Butthead wasn't all stupid, of course. Beneath the veneer of rudeness and outright obnoxiousness lay a thinly concealed layer of social commentary and witty observations. Of course, B&B themselves were too oblivious to make these observations themselves. Rather, the social criticism was tied to the fabric of the show, emphasizing the stupidity, laziness, and anti-intelligence of youth culture. It was a pretty multi-faceted approach at social commentary, though it probably didn't do much for viewers in terms of elevating youth culture. If nothing else, it probably taught many of them to light stuff on fire and delight in general idiotic mayhem. Maybe I'm just a cynic, but I think that qualifies as missing the point.
It wasn't all fun and games for MTV, though. A young child burned down his family's mobile home, purportedly influenced by Beavis's maniacal obsession with lighting things on fire. It was certainly tragic, though you have to wonder where the boy's parents were during this whole thing. As with other controversial shows, movies, and games, parents often expressed outrage that these characters were being portrayed as an idealized example.
They weren't, of course. It was a pretty thin argument. MTV began running a caveat before the show, saying:
Beavis and Butt-head are not role models. They're not even human. They're cartoons. Some of the things they do could cause a person to get hurt, expelled, arrested, possibly deported. To put it another way: Don't try this at home.
At the end of the day, that was the moral of the story. They weren't humans. They were cartoons. They weren't people to aspire to emulate, they were fictional characters and moronic ones at that.
Beavis and Butthead got the full-length feature treatment in Beavis and Butthead Do America, where they continued to terrorize the nation with their unapologetic stupidity:
The movie boasts a surprising 72% positive rating at rottentomatoes.com, suggesting that perhaps their juvenile sense of humor was enjoyed by more people than would care to admit it. Like any guilty pleasure, B&B provided us with laughter for things that we knew deep down we probably should not find funny. But we did. Because it was funny. Beavis and Butthead may have been a pair of music video-ragging idiot savants, but they were a lot more perceptive than people gave them credit for. Inadvertently, that is. The show was ripe with contradictions, but then again, so is real life. Heh heh. Heh heh.