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Stupidity's poster boys

'Beavis and Butt-head,' finally out on DVD, may have helped show 'where the bottom was,' its creator says. Heh-heh. He said 'bottom.'

December 16, 2005|Stephen Kiehl | Baltimore Sun

UHHH, Beavis?

What, Butt-head?

Like, we're on a DVD.

That's cool.

For the first time, an extensive collection of "Beavis and Butt-head" animated shorts has been released on DVD, showing TV's stupidest teenagers to be even stupider than we remember. They get tattooed by an escaped serial killer. They set cats on fire. They cut down trees they're supposed to prune.

Beavis and Butt-head were the poster boys for the degradation of American culture in the 1990s, but the genius of the show, one of the highest rated to run on MTV, was that it made fun of the very people who made it a hit. The show mocked the disaffected teenagers who did nothing more with their lives than watch television.

"There seemed to be all these 13- and 14-year-olds with too much time on their hands," Mike Judge, the show's creator, said. "It was just a recipe for disaster. And I wanted to do something about kind of dumb, out-of-control teenagers."

The son of an archeology professor and a high school teacher, Judge grew up in Albuquerque, N.M., where he was an honors student and got pushed around a bit. He majored in physics at UC San Diego and briefly worked as an engineer on F-18 fighter jets. But the work bored him and he turned to animation. His third short film caught MTV's attention, and "Beavis and Butt-head" was born.

The show certified Judge as an astute observer of American society. He went on to write and direct the 1999 film "Office Space," a spot-on satire of modern-day office life. A special-edition DVD was released last month (Fox Home Entertainment, $19.98).

Judge said parts of the film grew out of his experience working as a software engineer in a nondescript suburban office building in the late '80s. A major event in his office's life came when a TGI Friday's opened across the street.

"I couldn't believe the name of it," said Judge, 43. "A couple of us said, 'Let's go over there.' And I couldn't believe it: There was a [waiter] there in a referee shirt. To me, it seemed like there was comedy everywhere that nobody ever acknowledged."


There goes the Judge

JUDGE also was the creator and executive producer of the animated Fox sitcom "King of the Hill," now in its 10th and final season. His new live-action film, "Idiocracy," about how dumb we'll be in 500 years, is expected to be released in February or March.

He said the idea for the film, which stars Luke Wilson, came when he thought about how science fiction always portrays the future as being more intelligent and more civilized than the present. "2001: A Space Odyssey," for instance, never envisioned "The Jerry Springer Show" and giant Wal-Marts.

"So I thought it would be interesting to do a movie that shows everyone's gotten dumber and the world's gotten uglier," Judge said. "I was also thinking about evolution and how it really favors people who reproduce the most and the idea is that guys who are irresponsible and don't wear [condoms] and knock up a bunch of girls -- the world is populated by them."

Perhaps our only glimmer of hope, then, is that Beavis and Butt-head never managed to reproduce.

The series aired on MTV from 1993 to '97, and critics including lawmakers as well as Fred Rogers said it glorified violence and encouraged children to set fires and hurt each other.

Nonetheless, the show was enormously popular and influential in '90s youth culture. Beavis and Butt-head starred in two holiday TV specials, a full-length feature film and video games, and they also appeared on "Late Show With David Letterman" and at the 1997 Academy Awards.

In response to his critics, Judge acknowledges only that the show was the height of stupidity and says that showing straight-A students would have been boring.

"I think it had been a while since there had been something that was unapologetically stupid like that," he said. "In the '80s, 'The Cosby Show' was a big hit, and they were all intelligent. Then 'Married ... With Children' came along. Maybe 'Beavis and Butt-head' was finally finding where the bottom was."

The new DVD set, "Beavis and Butt-head: The Mike Judge Collection, Vol. 1" (Paramount, $30), assembles 40 of Judge's favorite episodes along with 11 music videos that feature running commentary from the pair. For example, during a viewing of a Beastie Boys video, Butt-head remarks: "I heard on MTV News that this dude's dad writes movies."

Beavis responds, "What do you mean, he writes movies? You can't read movies."

And so it goes. Even stoner teenagers were smarter than that, and maybe that's part of why they liked it, Judge said.

"I noticed people were very proud of themselves for saying, 'Hey, I think this is stupid. Finally, something I can say with authority: This is stupid.' "

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