When Butthead Met Snooki

I was in my late teens when Beavis and Butthead began its first run on MTV.  My friends and I watched it whenever we could; it was one of the few shows on the channel in those days, played in between the music videos that its titular characters alternately mocked, worshipped, or, with confused chuckles and grunts, watched blankly.

My mother and parents in general were aghast (as parents tend to be).  Who were these teenage idiots?  Our elders had seen the de-evolution of buddy pairings from Bing and Bob, and Richie and Potsie to Bill and Ted, and Wayne and Garth.  But they could not comprehend why these two were on our living room TV every day.  How could we possibly find this funny?

 I couldn’t convince my own mom at the time (I’m not sure how other teenagers fared – I imagine they were not successful), but that didn’t change the fact that the show was funny.  Very.  Yes, Beavis and Butthead were idiots; they did stupid and dangerous things; they were crude.  And we loved them.

 Mike Judge, on the other hand, was far from stupid.  In creating them, he knew that B&B’s humor (an example: Butthead: His name’s “Rod.”  Beavis: Yeah, um, heh, heh.  Rod.) would draw kids (both adolescent and post-adolescent) by the thousands.  But he also knew his characters were idiots.  That was pretty much the point of the whole thing.

 The thoughtful Beavis viewer watched and realized that the joke was on B&B more often than it was not.  (The most common exception to this was when it was on their middle-aged neighbor, Mr. Anderson)  All the while, that viewer could also laugh at the funny, raunchy, and (yes!) witty observations on suburban life and, most of all, music videos.  While Beavis and Butthead definitely had their favored genre (evidenced by their perpetual attire branded AC/DC and Metallica), they surprised us sometimes.  Who knew that the Bee Gees’ “Jive Talkin’” rocked? 

 I admit that I left the show before the show itself left the air.  I don’t remember making a conscious decision to stop watching; there just came a point when I realized that they were gone.

 Now they’re back.

 I have to say that I was not overly excited when I first heard about their return to MTV’s fall schedule; I reacted to the news with a nostalgic smile.  When I saw the commercials, however, I began to laugh.  As I heard people talking about it, I realized that I was looking forward to this.

 Last night, I finally got around to watching an episode.  It was like they never left: there they were in a garage playing with power tools and trading the least subtle double-entendres you’ve ever heard.  The episode brought back Mr. Anderson, the hapless Stewart, and the Great Cornholio.  My wife begged me to turn it off, but it was funny.  We watched it through to the end.

 The main difference of this reincarnation is that in addition to watching and commenting on music videos (which, thankfully, they still do and, just as thankfully, they still – when they get the urge – get up and dance to), they watch clips and comment on current MTV shows.  On this episode, they watched Jersey Shore and Teen Mom.

 And here’s the point . . .

 In 1993, Beavis and Butthead were the dumbest characters on TV.  The only other series I remember MTV playing at the time was The Real World.  This was back before bacchanalia and hook-ups ruled the show and people were still (semi-) real.  Shortly thereafter, though, (and this might be important) came the season of Puck, who was possibly the first reality show cast member who realized the draw of utter obnoxiousness and bad behavior.  I couldn’t stand him, but that, I’m sure, was the reason he was there.  And so people watched.

 Nearly eighteen years later, Puck has helped spawn countless shows full of people doing stupid things, displaying a near-unfathomable self-centeredness, craving attention, and showing a willingness to do anything to get it.

 One of the best places to find this is MTV.  Turn on the channel and, chances are, whatever show is on will give you an unhealthy dose of any or all of the above.

 Now that Beavis and Butthead are back, there is some serious irony going on here (thank you, Mike Judge).  In the pairing of their show with current MTV staples such as Jersey Shore, cartoon characters are commenting on the real world (no capitals required).  Everyone on the screen is ridiculous, but only the cartoon characters were created specifically to be so; besides they’re funny.  Time has passed Beavis and Butthead by and they are no longer the pinnacles of crass, immature behavior.  Compared to real people doing real things (and televising them), our beloved teenage idiots are, in a way, both wiser and more innocent.

 I wonder if my mother would agree.

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