Leave it to Beavis
Beavis & Butt-Head, the hideous looking cartoon buddies who comment on music videos, are emotionally, physically and sexually stunted. Beyond ignorant, they are literal primitives who represent what happens when the electronic baby sitter becomes the full time parent.
They have neither family nor friends. They carry as much weight as photons as they change channels and comment on the flickering images. They are isolated, nowhere.
Best known for their sexual immaturity, they are presented as a limiting case of imbecilic, male sexual dysfunction.
They have been accused of corrupting the morals and manners of our youth. Worse, they have been dismissed out of hand as the latest in pointless animated flatulence.
I find them insightful and subversive.
Stay with me on this.
For Beavis & Butt-Head have two very distinct lives: one watching music videos and one in the real world.
As video critics, they display a keen, unforgiving aesthetic; nothing affected or effete is tolerated. They know about art; and they know what they don't like. Hidden in their thicket of village idiocy lurks a consistent, sophisticated guide to heavy metal rock video.
Their parallel play—a rebellious creation of their own show—represents a stubborn refusal to accept the dominant pabulum. Even their stupid sounding confusion of celebrity names shows tacit disrespect for the industry's pre-packaged rock star hierarchy.
Beavis & Butt-Head sense the media's attempt to control and dominate, and they fight back with their meager verbal tools. They are, at heart, rebellious, alienated. As the media washes over them, they make their own truths. They talk back in class.
But when they venture beyond their moldy couch, they become amoral, cretinous buffoons, pure and simple. What we learn is that people whose only experience is vicarious are jerks—losers, whose inability to distinguish between the world and the televised version of it renders them absurd, even dangerous. The fact that they are talking back to the set is healthy, and what they say is often right on. But they have done little else their entire lives. So their skills and rebellious instincts are limited to a review of the medium; it is a circular expertise that leads nowhere beyond an insatiable need for stimulation that reflects the escalating visual excitement they were raised on. The politically pointed; "Burn, baby, burn!" has become the infantile; "fire!fire!fire!" They are stagnant, crippled. This is their full message and meaning.
And this, in the context of television's strangle hold on our youth, is revolutionary.
In one video, Beavis asks Butt-Head why the lead singer is making so many violent, threatening gestures. Butt-Head replies; "I guess he keeps making a fist because he looks like a chick." A typical throw away line in the thicket of puerile sexual humor; ambiguous, but, I suspect, deeply feminist.
Because they are, ultimately, disconnected from the media that spawned them; because they are struggling, however pathetically, with the process of separation from their source of nurturance, they have something virtually absent on television; something that makes them the subject of curiosity and excitement.
They have potential.