Two things in the early 90s changed the face of pop culture as far as I knew it: rap and Beavis & Butt-head. Interestingly enough, both lead my parents to ban me from watching MTV as it was the source for both. I still did though. Not all the time and not for either of these two cultural revolutions, but mostly to watch Real World and rock videos. I wasn’t really interested in either movement. At the time, I didn’t understand gangsta rap, where it was coming from, what the MCs were trying to say or what it all meant. Plus, those dudes were pretty scary to 10 year old kid from the suburbs. On the other hand, Beavis and Butt-head just seemed stupid. The animation was weird, they sounded like idiots and I didn’t want to watch cartoons comment on music videos.
Whatever my personal views on Mike Judge’s animated series were at the time, though, you can not deny its influence. I went to a fairly small Catholic grade school (K-8 for you people who went to middle school and junior high) with about 60 kids per grade split between two classes and even we had a pocket of kids who almost instantly started talking like Beavis and Butt-head. That “huh-huh, huh-huh” and impressions of their voices spread even further amongst my fellow students. I’m sure I joined in too because fitting in was important, but I wasn’t a fan.
If memory serves, those B&B mimics kept with the voice and attitude of their animated heroes all the way through eight grade. I hung out with them for most of that year, though I was definitely a sideline member of the group both because I was newer and because I wasn’t really a bad kid at heart. I was just disillusioned. My point here is that the show was incredibly influential for at least a few years (it ran from 1993-1997), but I wonder if it will have the same kind of impact with today’s kids. Seems to me that you can see pretty much anything the animated Beavis and Butt-head did on YouTube but with real people.
I have caught an episode since they returned to MTV and you know what? It was really damn funny. When I was younger, I didn’t get that maybe, just maybe the people behind the show were offering the two leads up as clowns for us all to laugh at. They were never meant to be role models, even if that’s what they became to some. I had a similar realization while listening to Alice Coopers’s 2000 record Brutal Planet and it’s 2001 follow up Dragontown. Some of the tracks on those unfortunately overlooked albums are from the perspective of bad people doing bad things, but I realized that, as the singer, Alice Cooper was being sarcastic or presenting one side of an opinion or issue in such a way to get you to think about it from a new angle. I don’t know if I’d put that much emphasis on something like Beavis and Butt-head, but when the show was originally on, I wasn’t developed enough as a viewer to understand that the things being said by the characters might not be the opinions of the authors. It’s a lot like watching It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Those characters do awful, atrocious things and the humor isn’t always in the act, but in how blasse they are about their own lack of morality. Maybe kids today will actually get that aspect of Beavis and Butt-head better than my classmates did.