10 November 2011

Because it was on TV: The Magical World of Beavis and Butthead

I don't know why it happened. I don't know how it happened. Somehow for some reason Beavis and Butt-Head has returned to television. In 1993 when MTV first put the program on the air it seemed to fit in well with its counter-culture offerings that appealed to a Generation X that was seeking identity. In the fourteen years since MTV aired the last episode of its original run though, the station seems to have changed dramatically. It's filled with sappy True Life episodes, strange scripted shows that do not remotely come close to emulating the current youth experience and of course, Jersey Shore. Beavis and Butt-Head no longer feels synchronous with this kind of programming. Or does it?

In 1993 MTV's biggest shows included Yo! MTV Raps, The State, The Jon Stewart Show and The Real World. I suppose things have changed quite a bit, haven't they. MTV somehow in the past decade turned itself around from an alternative rock and grunge fueled edgy counter-cultural station to a postmodern, overly ironic, Twilight-catering counter-cultural station. They've always had these vestiges of their former punkness though, like Human Giant and the Jackass or Celebrity Deathmatch specials that pop up here and there. It's difficult to see where this audience went though. MTV no longer caters to Fuck-You Culture.

At any rate, amidst the inexplicable permutations of the television world, Beavis and Butt-Head took over the Thursday Night, 10 pm spot immediately after Jersey Shore concluded and wouldn't you know it, it's a fantastic hit as well. It makes me feel like I actually don't understand any demographics at all. I usually just look at myself, I'm a young, low brow male interested in counter-culture and anti-social programming with a lot of humour - at 10 pm on Thursdays Cable sees Beavis and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia compete head-to-head but there isn't really a winner and loser. They go 1-2. I can only surmise that everyone in my demographic must do the same as I do - DVR one of the shows and watch it immediately after the other finishes.

But this sidesteps the greater point - why is the same MTV audience who turns into Jersey Shore refusing to turn off Beavis? Or is MTV winning back the viewers it has been turning over for the past decade? I would guess that it speaks to the Jersey Shore audience more than the Beavis audience. We need to understand what is really happening here. The simple fact is that people turn into Jersey Shore to make fun of it and then turn into Beavis and Butt-Head to watch them make fun of it (See also). It transitions from sympathetic viewing to empathetic viewing.

Also not updated is this clear predecessor to Hank Hill
What's great about this show is how blatantly its creator, Mike Judge has striven to make it stand out even more in its new time period. The show is absolute nostalgia. The animation is not updated, nor are the central characters' AC/DC and Metallica shirts. I wonder if half of the regular MTV youth audience now even knows what Metallica is (besides a whiny old rockband who doesn't like people stealing their music). Beavis and Butt-Head watch new music videos and shows on their rabbit ear TV and still continually search for porn, seemingly unaware that hell, they could get it on their phones now if they wanted to. It has hit the ground running since its departure; it almost dares its viewers not to watch, to instead change the channel to something brighter, faster or cleaner to look at (perhaps the atrocious Good Vibes program that follows it).

Beavis and Butt-Head follows this slice-of-life reality. The viewer gets the impression that in between the given escapades in an episode the characters just go back to their house and watch television. It's a daring concept that works because of the brutal hilarity that follows. The characters are so suffocatingly dumb that they are immune to pain or humiliation on the path towards their ignoble goals - typically some form of scoring with chicks. What's more surprising than the program's return to the airwaves is that it could return so authentically to its original premise.

So get ready for some anti-MTV action that in a grand ironic sense is...MTV action tonight at 10 pm EST - it's Beavis and Butt-Head.

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