Okay, I admit it, I love Beavis and Butt-head and I am glad to see them back on MTV as of two Thursdays ago after a hiatus of nearly fifteen years. A lot of the people who know me do not understand how this can be, seeing that I am a Mozart loving, Philip Roth reading librarian who, as you read this, is only a few days shy of becoming a sexagenarian (a word that sounds a heck of a lot nicer than what it actually means.) And I became a fan of the show way before I found out that the mother of Mike Judge, (both the creator AND the voices of both B&B) was a librarian. According to Wikipedia, Beavis & Butt-head ran for 203 episodes on MTV between 1993 and 1997, not including the two pilot episodes which aired in 1992.
Since my profile - even back in 1993 - was not that of the typical MTV viewer how, you may ask, did I even know that such a show existed? I have my son, a middle school-er at the time, to thank for that; he was probably made aware of the show's existence by a friend or classmate with an older sibling. And here's where it starts to get complicated - in a previous post I expressed my distaste for reality shows that exist for the sole purpose of exploiting the bad behaviors of stupid and/or venal people. And yet here I am sitting back and watching truly outrageous behavior: I obviously don't have a problem with this as long as the perpetrators are not real people. Yet, even through the cartoonish and highly exagerated scenarios taking place on the screen, there are definite glimmers of actual young male behavior that I recognize, not only from the kids who I grew up with, but also from watching my own son and his friends in action.
But there's more going on than just that. The boys are rude, crude, and ignorant; they appear to be totally oblivious to the fact that they are losers who are regarded with complete disdain by just about everyone they come into contact with. If you will excuse the expression, they are uber-underdogs, and that is what allows them to be viewed with some level of sympathy, at least by anyone who will admit to having had some socially unhappy moments of their own during their high school years. But if you watch even just a few episodes, it does not take long to pick up on one of the most important points that the show is trying to make. Beavis & Butt-head are the products of extreme parental neglect - not only are their parents never around, but the boys apparently subsist mainly on nachos and the house where they spend their time watching television is rundown, roach and vermin infested, and otherwise pretty disgusting. As you keep watching, you also see that the boys live in a world where virtually every adult they do come into contact with is either incompetent, dishonest or morally corrupt. With neglectful parents, these boys desperately need some another adult to come to their rescue, but the other adults around them are either too self absorbed or too clueless to know what to do, allowing the boys to just continue on indefinitely in their extraordinarily dumb ass ways.
Although they look and sound just as they did back in the 90's, the new episodes of Beavis & Butt-head give a nod to comtemporary culture by having the boys watch episodes of various reality shows in addition to their beloved music videos - we have hapless cartoon characters watching the antics of hapless real live people . We can laugh at Beavis and Butt-head because we know that they are not real but we can only cringe when we watch the people on Jersey Shore and similar reality shows because we understand that they are all too real. And while Beavis and Butt-head are failed by the adults around them, the older but still immature and irresponsible real live cast members of the various reality shows are being exploited by the cynical adults who profit from them by putting them on the air.
So when this soon to be 60 year old (there - I said it) sat down two Thursdays ago to watch the first new episode of Beavis & Butt-head to appear in a very long time, I also had to acknowledge that a part of the pleasure was that, for a few brief moments, I could feel that I was being transported back to a time when both my kids not only still lived at home, but also still wanted me to watch television with them. From the opening strains of that instantly recognizable theme music through a progression of the catch phrases which continue to consitute a large portion of the boys' limited vocabulary, I could pretend, at least for a little while, that I was back in 1993, a time when I may no longer have been young but was still a fairly safe distance from being old.
On the day of the first episode, my son texted me to make sure I knew that the first new episode was going to air that evening. He's all grown up now, a college graduate who works in Manhattan, a responsible and mature adult whose behavior bears absolutely no resemblance to either Beavis, Butt-head or any cast member of Jersey Shore. Beavis and Butt-head, however, have still not gotten beyond ninth or tenth grade.
And to those people who don't understand how or why I can watch Beavis & Butt-head, all I can say to them is that Mozart probably would have loved it. I'm also willing to speculate that Philip Roth - he was, after all, the creator of Alexander Portnoy - would also be in on the joke.