Monday, December 12, 2011

In praise of Beavis & Butthead.

Some people are surprised when I tell them I love Beavis and Butthead.

"Really?"  they say.  They had mistaken me for smart.

Despite my long devotion to the show, which began in the seventh grade and never really left, I stayed quiet this Fall.  Sometime in September, the not-so-underground network of Beavis and Butthead fans started tittering with anticipation that the show was coming back in October, and I ignored it.  Even when the critics started weighing in (positively). Even after I considered all I knew of Mike Judge and his comedic tastes (enduring).  I tried not to get excited.  I was just so worried that it would suck.

"It'll probably be Beavis and Butthead: 2.0," I told myself.  I thought it would be lame, and that I would be sad.  That the thing that MTV has become would infect Beavis and Butthead's original genius, and that instead of the new show being nostalgic and awesome, it would painfully highlight one of the many relics of my generation and our teenagehood, lost in in the annals of 90s history forever: Slap bracelets, Hole, Jordan Catalano.

But on Friday night, Ross and I took a chance.

You don't need to watch the whole thing.  Mostly I post this video to demonstrate how delightfully unchanged the show is  -- the theme song! The wavy show title font! -- and this is just one half of the episode format: the actual storyline.  Which is basically like a little comic strip, with one central joke.  ("Uuhhhh ... can I have your daughter's hand?")

My favorite parts of Beavis and Butthead though were always their music video commentary. Which in today's world, has evolved to include reality show and Ultimate Fighting commentary.

I DIE at, "ok now your body's telling you something's wrong."

In my opinion, Beavis and Butthead have come back at the most perfect juncture, when things like mixed martial arts and especially reality television have been marinating for a good decade, and it's all gotten so ridiculous (16 and Pregnant, anyone?) that we desperately need a meta-lens with which to view it all.  This USA Today story -- which, oopsie! Misspelled the word "beginning" in the fourth paragraph after announcing the return of stupid in their headline -- makes that point about Beavis and Butthead too.  There's this scene in one of the very first episodes of the new season, when the boys are watching "Champagne Showers" by LMFAO, and Beavis makes a remark about the bad economy, and how the guys in the video have so much money they can just spray expensive champagne around.

“It’s too bad we weren’t born as them,” says Butthead.

“Yeah, why is that, how come we were born as us?” says Beavis.

“Uhh, I don’t know," says Butthead.

“It’s not fair!” Beavis mutters.

I'm not the first one to point out the poignancy and philosophical overtones of that scene.  But I'm ready to present it as evidence of Beavis and Butthead's greatness, the next time someone looks at me like I'm fourteen for loving this show.

I'm probably just projecting here since Mike Judge lives in my city, but I always think I see little hints of Austin when the boys are walking around town.  I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be generic suburbia, and technically they live in "Highland, Texas," but their hippie teacher?  C'mon.

Mike Judge moved out to Austin in 1994, and when Ross used to wait tables at Opal's, he waited on him once.  I immediately asked him, "what's he like??" And Ross just kinda shrugged and said: "Quiet."

 Which seems to fit every Mike Judge interview I've ever watched, including this one from last summer's Comic Con, when he had just played clips from the new Beavis and Butthead and had more reason than ever to be swaggery and boastful. In that clip someone asks him, "what's it like knowing you've made a mark on pop culture?  Most people don't get to do those things."  And he responds:

"It feels really good ... but I try not to dwell on that too much.  If I think about that too long it'll weird me out."

Mike Judge is not an ego-driven man, which is probably one of the reasons everything he does (Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill, Office Space) develops a cult following.  He's not a "promoter" of his work, but people eventually find it, cherish it, and pass it on to their friends. I'm happy to live in a world where his humor and very specific cultural critique -- one that makes fun of champagne-spraying music videos and office bureaucrats, but champions the more humble characters inside those worlds -- has a place.

I'm also very happy to live in a world where people make fun of Twilight.

No comments: