May 12, 2011

Et Tu, Butt Munch?

By Thomas Willett


I recently went to see The Ides of March at an undisclosed cineplex. Unlike the majority of my visits, I had enough time to see the previews for all of the recent TV shows. I am a sucker for this stuff, though A&E still hasn’t sold me on a single thing. I feel that as a social critic, I like to see how things present themselves and if the audience even cares. I consider it the ultimate survey of pop culture’s influence on us.

With exception to FINALLY seeing the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 4 MINUTE trailer on the big screen, the other pre-movie advertisement I took out of it was for the resurgence of MTV’s Beavis and Butt-head. I applaud MTV’s desire to move into scripted programming like I Just Want my Pants Back, yet I will never watch it because they don’t understand demographics one bit.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a small place in my life for those two nihilistic failures. I can groan and breathe a certain way and receive some recognition. I also agree with Roger Ebert’s review of their movie: “The less you are like Beavis and Butt-head, the more you might like this movie.”
These characters are a significant part of our culture, yet I don’t feel like their return will be so much praised as it will be met with similar scratches on the head to their debut “Frog Baseball” in 1992. However, I don’t think it will be just from liberal parents. I feel that it will also come from those that have inherited MTV after the Real World phenomena shook the world.

To say that the characters ever went away is a lie. Creator Mike Judge has shown some clear fascination in them, having them pop up in various promo spots for the MTV Video Music Awards ceremonies and featured in intros to movies such as Judge’s Extract and last year’s Jackass 3, an arguable successor to the show’s hellbent desire to watch the world’s moral codes burn through self-destruction.

It was the latter’s opening release that brought my first sign that this may not work. I decided to attend the opening night of Jackass 3 at a different undisclosed cineplex. To me, that movie had to be on opening night to get the full effect. Just like the previous, I expected to have a memorable time watching Johnny Knoxville get ran over by bulls while the audience discovered it with me. I had forgotten the news that there would be an intro by Beavis and Butt-head.

I played out the reactions in my head. I expected the audience, who probably were on the tail end of that show’s phenomenon, to first cheer ecstatically. I expected an uproar of laughter when they gave a deadpan analysis of the 3D technology. Sadly, it didn’t come. Maybe it was because we were seeing a 2D version, but these characters are pretty dear to the 90’s MTV generation. They paved the way for Jackass, who in return makes them look tame.

That’s where the issue developed. This theater no longer cared for those characters. I guess most of these people also never watched Jackass on MTV. They were skewed to the basic crotch show, never once caring what the injured performers had to say. They basically only cared about watching people get hurt in a nonexistent plot.

Cut to The Ides of March showing. Albeit, this was a political drama, that’s where I saw the first promo for the show. I have taken up the gift of avoiding advertisements and prefer them to surprise me. I knew that it was coming back for some time now, but besides my few friends chatting about advertisements on Facebook, I have not heard or seen a single thing about it. As I watched the promo, I personally reacted the way I expected. I laughed at the joke’s premise and was kind of pleased to see them sticking to primitive animation in an HD world.

My one true doubt came halfway through when they began making fun of Jersey Shore. Maybe my desire for the show to insult music videos exclusively has made me groan to any alterations on this schedule. I eventually got to the point that I felt that Judge, as passionate as he was about these characters, was beginning to lose the appeal of Beavis and Butt-head. The show tore apart pretentious culture, thus balancing their stupid actions with smart people acting stupid. If you just have them insulting idiots being stupid, it’s layers upon layers of the bullies beating up the weaker bullies.

I am by no means the big Beavis and Butt-head fan. I caught on late, starting with the movie and eventually reruns on Comedy Central and MTV2. Even then, I got plenty of laughter out of it, but at most I could handle no more than three hours of their stupidity. My friends in high school helped me to cherish it a little bit more by starting grunting contests before diving into their best impressions. I even had a teacher who knew a thing or two about it.

While it hasn’t reached the level of the Simpsons or South Park, its crass nature is the ultimate time capsule of the 90’s Y Generation. A generation that grew up as latchkey kids and lived in a time before computers were accessible and pagers were still hip. A time when you could spout nonsense and be considered special for the wrong reasons. There was plenty of slacking off and no one to watch them. Beavis and Butt-head essentially raised them, and as a result, holds a special place in that brief time when MTV had good scripted programming.

I consider the 90’s to also be the golden age of animated sitcoms. Many of the shows featured the ability to take the child-like concept of cartoons and make them more human and adult. From the younger form (Animaniacs) to the older (South Park), the 90’s revolutionized a generation’s perception on entertainment that may have also stunted their maturity. There was now an ability to live life with a perverted child-like sensibility, and all because Beavis and Butt-head were spinning around in washers and poorly hitting on women.

If anything, Beavis and Butt-head’s contribution to society was teaching that generation to not be so pretentious about everything. Where you’d expect a great punch-line, Butt-head would simply say “This sucks” and create a minimalist joke that worked. These characters were not tied to any love of art or commerce, choosing to go on basic instinct of women and TV. However, it helped to popularize the beliefs of so many latchkey kids the same way Paris is Burning did for gay people. It made it okay to not like school, and while some sadly bought too much into it, the relatability factor made it a reflection of their inner selves. Don’t believe me? Check out the disastrous Woodstock 1999 for further proof.

I won’t lie, it probably did help lead to the downfall of modern society’s intelligence, but for those smart enough to see it as satire, it reflected a society perfectly. It also was so violently bizarre and of its time that if shown to anyone, it just screams 90’s. Any study of that decade wouldn’t be complete without a DVD rental of this show. It showed the disability of no internet and no parental figures guiding them. It’s the tail end of the music video era. Their simple insults reflect the change from the desire to over analyze to just accepting life as it goes.

My issue with the series coming back has nothing to do with its quality. It has plenty to do with the time capsule effect. Does the general population still care about them? If you look at that show now, it seems tame in comparison to the more violent and bizarre Jackass and Family Guy: a show that wouldn’t have been possible without it, yet I fear is desecrating this generation’s good tastes from narratives into cutaway gags and really graphic violence. You tell me how it’s as genius a satire as Beavis and Butt-head.

I fear that the show will not be received well by the audience now, who has gotten used to seeing dogs massacred on Family Guy and real life results of bad stunts on Jackass. Beavis and Butt-head cannot compete with that. Even the Simpsons, the greatest animated show of the 90’s, cannot capture audience’s love as much as that racist, violent, sexist garbage that Seth MacFarlane distributes. I fear that Family Guy has raised the bar for absurdity so high that anything that appears to have a sly, off beat thing to say will just be excused as boring. I fear Beavis and Butt-head will be in that same boat shortly.

I also fear the impact will be lost on everyone because the times are different. We have the internet on computers now. There’s no excuse for Beavis and Butt-head to be that ignorant. We’ve changed our version of ignorance to incoherent text formats on Twitter. If I remember the movie right, Butt-head cannot read. These characters actually seem smarter than most Twitter posts these days, and by trying to attack the buzz-word celebrities, I return to my bullies beating weaker bullies theory. There’s plenty of other videos besides Jersey Shore to attack. I want answers to this. You could say it’s too simple, but hey, they made this one pretty great for being just as wussy.

I’m not saying that the audience from the earlier days will not like it. In an age where shows get brought back all the time, this one seemed inevitable, just like Futurama. I just don’t think it will go over well with the new desensitized generation growing up on incoherency and 24/7 surveillance. They’ll expect music videos to be insulted faster and the violence to come more gruesome. As much as I love Mike Judge, I’d like to think he maintains integrity and not give into the excessive nature of modern culture.

While this show may be a moderate success in the ratings, and I will watch and laugh, I feel that it will have a very 90’s sensibility. It won’t translate very well. It’s bound to happen. I don’t expect kids to get the significance of their ranting just like I don’t get how Benny Hill was ever popular. It’s just another weird cartoon in a sea of weird cartoons. I doubt it will be anything more.


Beavis and Butt-head premieres on MTV on October 27. Check your local listings and show times for more information.
You can read Thom’s blog every Wednesday and check out his movie reviews at cinemabeach.com. Visit nevpodcast.com and send us emails at nevpodcast@gmail.com

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