The Eternal Adolescence of Beavis and Butt-Head

June 7th, 2012

From Karen Olsson wrote a great profile of Mike Judge for the New York Times last October:

Even though I was sitting a few feet away, I found it hard to grasp. In the sound booth with his back turned to the room was a grown person, a medium-size man with close-shorn hair, wearing a gray T-shirt and headphones. And through the speakers came the familiar deadbeat-teen voices. I could see the man’s shoulders bounce; I could see him shift his weight. During pauses in the recording, he muttered in his adult-male voice and soothed his dray horse of a larynx with sips from a can of Diet Coke. Evidently, the man was producing the voices.

Beavis and Butthead is one of my favorite shows, due in no small part to its adolescent humor. (I’m a fan. What can I say?) But also because the show was quite good at satirizing popular media and, most powerfully, what happens when parents do not fulfill their job. This satire is especially amusing because Beavis and Butthead was held up as an example of crude, idiotic humor, and relentlessly criticized for encouraging destructive behavior for children and teenagers. I once argued with a professor during class that had called Mike Judge a “no-good punk” for making Beavis and Butthead. That was a fun day.

The show started again last October, and the season was excellent. Actually, I think it is better now than it was in the mid-1990′s. Oddly, too, the characters seem smarter than they did in its first incarnation, but not because they became smarter, but rather because as they watch monumentally moronic and pointless reality TV shows which do nothing but celebrate and make a spectacle of people doing nothing, Beavis and Butthead—once the epitome of idiotic, crude humor—both seem smarter in comparison to these reality TV show characters, and the show itself does, too.

Beavis and Butthead once reveled in being the lowest of the low for television, using it for laughs, but also using it for satire. Now it no longer is. Perhaps that should give us pause about the kind of culture our generation is watching and, therefore, supporting.