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HOWARD ROSENBERG

Beavis and Butt-head: Cool? Or Yet Another Blow to Civilization?

July 09, 1993|HOWARD ROSENBERG

"Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh." --Beavis

"Huh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh." --Butt-head

Two dudes (a "dude" is somebody good, right?) have entered my life.

I'd heard of them, heard the praise and adulation, the tall tales of lewd, destructive and uproariously moronic antics, but was slow to tune in myself. When I did, though, it was awe at first sight, a whiff of a bracing aroma--as if someone had opened a window and let in a breath of fresh gas. Instantly, as if my crusty, middle-aged animal responses had been liberated from dormancy, I was reborn--seduced by, hooked on, addicted to MTV's sub-death, those twin cabbages of stupidity.

Beavis and Butt-head.

Butt-head: "I wish I had a face on my butt. You could blow your nose in your underwear. Huh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh."

Beavis: "You wouldn't need a hankie. Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh."

Parents, do you know what your kids are watching in the early evening? It could be "Beavis and Butt-head," a largely animated half hour that MTV airs weeknights at 7 (and also at 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday).

The creation of 30-year-old Texan Mike Judge (who supplies both of their voices), Beavis and Butt-head make those wusses Wayne and Garth sound like a couple of high-brow Voltaire dudes. It's no quirk that since premiering for two weeks in March and returning full time in May, "Beavis and Butt-head" has become the most popular show on MTV. Although the characters' coarseness is matched only by the somehow appropriate crudeness of Judge's rudimentary animation, Beavis and Butt-head are simply too exquisitely absurd and vacuous to be resisted.

Beavis, the one in the Metallica T-shirt, has a blond pompadour, vacant reptilian eyes and grinding, predatory teeth. Butt-head, the one in the AC/DC T-shirt, has beady eyes about an inch apart, enormous nostrils and a battering ram of a head beneath a tall glob of dark hair.

When not frustrating their high-school handlers with their idiocy, causing havoc in their various part-time jobs, referring to their genitalia, reveling in their flatulence or regurgitating TV commercial jingles, these perfectly matched logs mostly sit around watching and commenting on old MTV videos, laughing at their own incredibly urbane and cerebral humor. Some samples of the voice-over wit, wisdom and music criticism of Beavis and Butt-head:

"I hate words."

"What the hell is this crap?"

"This guy sucks."

"These guys got no future."

"These guys are cool."

"Animation is cool."

"You think these guys sleep in separate beds?"

"This is college music."

"College music sucks."

"Art sucks."

"I don't like things that suck."

Some Beavis/Butt-headisms have to be experienced to be fully comprehended. For example, there is Beavis' response to a cross-dressing rocker: "That's one of those transformers." Or his instinctive mooning of gyrating female rockers. Or the irony of Beavis and Butt-head spewing invectives at a video starring Amy Grant, a wholesome Christian music star attempting to go mainstream. Beavis: "What a bunch of crap! Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh." Butt-head: "Is this a Clearasil commercial? Huh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh." Beavis: "This is stupid. Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh." Butt-head: "Yeah, and it sucks, too. Huh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh."

Because they neither think nor read, Beavis and Butt-head are refreshingly unburdened by knowledge unrelated to heavy metal. How utterly cretinous are they?

* Here they are watching a costumed rapper wearing an 18th-Century style white wig. Butt-head: "He's dressed up like that dude on the dollar."

* Here they are demonstrating their knowledge of Roman numerals. Beavis: "Have you seen that movie 'Rocky Vee'? " Butt-head: "Yeah, it's not as cool as 'Rocky Five,' though."

* Here they are in class being quizzed by their Spanish teacher:

Teacher (pointing to a large language card that says "Juan es alto" beside a picture of a man): "Senor Butt-head, como es Juan?"

The clueless Butt-head: "Uh . . . uh. Burritos? Huh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh."

Teacher: "No! No! No! Como es Juan?"

Butt-head: "Guacamole. Huh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh."

Teacher: "No! No! No! Senor Beavis, como es Juan?"

Beavis: "Uh . . . uh . . . uh. Spaghetti?"

* Here they are with Principal McVicar:

McVicar: "You both are suspended for a week."

Butt-head (after a brain-straining pause): "Uh . . . what does that mean?"

Beyond some spectacular yuks at the expense of these two unlit candles, what does any of this mean, and what is "Beavis and Butt-head" conveying to its young viewers? There's no telling.

In one segment, a farmer hires Beavis and Butt-head to paint the trim on his house. As soon as he leaves, they fight over the paint thinner, and after sniffing themselves into a stupor, give the house a paint job that can only be described as surreal.

That is accompanied on the screen by a printed warning: "Breathing paint thinner will damage your brain. Look what it's done to Beavis and Butt-head."

It's not easy defining the appeal of this slab of uniquely outrageous television. Its logic is its laughs.

Just as antisocial teens Beavis and Butt-head immerse themselves in television, however, you envision real-life Beavises and Butt-heads mindlessly planted in front of the set watching them . It's not a comforting picture. Nor is the likelihood that the "Beavis and Butt-head"--even with all of its extravagantly funny hyperbole--may represent a larger segment of reality than most of us would like to admit.

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