A brief run of popularity does not automatically anoint iconic status. There needs to be more. If, for example, a certain item fundamentally changes the landscape and relegates inferior entities to irrelevance while staying timely and groundbreaking despite the passage of time, it qualifies as a cultural flashpoint. This might sound overly hyperbolic when discussing what was initially viewed as a goofy cartoon, but the pending return of Beavis and Butt-Head represents that level of pop culture importance.
Reboots have become popular in recent years. Much of it is due to nostalgia and attempts to blunt the competition mainstream networks are facing from streaming services. They’ve been hit or miss. The Roseanne reboot was doing well before star Roseanne Barr sabotaged it with deranged comments and was fired. It is still doing well without her. Will and Grace had a strong viewership; Murphy Brown did not.
There’s a fine line between laziness in seeking another payday by reverting to a past success. Fading stars have done the latter by taking part in ill-advised and mailed in sequels they said they would never do but did out of desperation. This might be an easy conclusion regarding Beavis and Butt-Head creator Mike Judge agreeing to new episodes on Comedy Central. It is also wrong.
As easy as it is to diminish Beavis and Butt-Head to some goofy MTV cartoon, it was much more than that. The freedom kids are granted to say what they want with zero consequences is a loophole used by Judge with Beavis and Butt-Head, which includes Matt Stone and Trey Parker with South Park, to make biting social and political commentary with nary a need for a filter or shield to avoid widespread backlash.
Political correctness has become a tool which prevents a true, in depth discussion about issues that will naturally make people uncomfortable. If fear of the reaction extends to a reluctance to do what is necessary to treat the infection and halfhearted or ineffectual measures are taken, healing becomes more difficult.
Where The Simpsons may have paved the way for animation to go beyond marketing to kids in the morning and after school. South Park has managed to remain deft and timely with satire sans ideological slant other than making sure to mock everyone equally. Beavis and Butt-Head, however, tore down propriety and societal norms altogether – and not just with their unfettered critiques of music videos, but with commentary and engagement within current events. Being socially unskilled, uneducated, unsupervised teens whose main objective in life was to score with chicks, watch videos, hang out with Todd the renegade biker and eat nachos, their existence was stripped down to the bone. Judge’s cultural slice-and-dice was done with such nuance that many did not realize they were being ridiculed.
Given the state of the world today, references to Judge’s film Idiocracy are happening with greater frequency. The film has been mentioned in the context of the presidential campaign since 2015 and the election; it’s being proven as prescient each and every day. The parallels to the film increasingly infect reality with a man of average intelligence placed in suspended animation only to wake up 500 years later to see that he’s the smartest man on a planet full of idiots.
Sounds eerily familiar.
Were it not for the ongoing societal decline amid growing mistrust and condemnation of intelligent, informed discussion, Beavis and Butt-Head might have disappeared as a “remember when” artifact from the 1990s when cable TV was in its infancy. Yet it again becomes important as social media has overtaken mainstream media as a source of information for a large and worrisome percentage of the electorate and the overall resistance to objective facts is staggering.
The show was first canceled in 1997 when MTV was moving toward a reliance on trashy reality shows centered around hot 18 to 25-year-olds who had perfect teeth, gym-toned bodies, lived a lavish lifestyle, had endless amounts of sex, and whose main concerns were where to brunch, shop and vacation while keeping the drama quotient high with vapid arguments.
The cast members were diametrically opposed to Beavis and Butt-Head, inadvertently validating what it was that made the disenfranchised teen version of Batman and Robin so popular to begin with. They were unattractive; they were destitute; their parents were unknown and nonexistent; TV raised them; they were socially inept; and they served as a vessel to encapsulate true teen alienation, awkwardness, ineptitude and lack of direction without being pretentious about it. Which is more realistic: Beavis and Butt-Head’s goals and existence or the goals and existence of the people in those reality shows that replaced them?
By the time the second incarnation of Beavis and Butt-Head came about for one season on MTV in 2011, the station’s programming had become the target of such derision and the network was again trying to create animated content, it needed the disenfranchised teen duo to save it.
Judge hit the ground running. It was clear he had ideas that were perfect for Beavis and Butt-Head after he had moved on to other projects that became entrenched in the public sensibility with Office Space, King of the Hill and Idiocracy. From making fun of Twilight, Jersey Shore, Teen Mom and videos (although MTV no longer shows videos), he still had his fastball.
Since 2011, he also created Silicon Valley. It’s not as if he disappeared and could only do that one thing well, needing to go back to it when nothing else materialized.
That the behavior, intelligence, attention span and comprehension level of the president of the United States could be categorized closer to Beavis and Butt-Head than Lisa Simpson only emphasizes how necessary their presence is. Like Stone and Parker with South Park, Judge is no raging liberal. He treats both sides of the political aisle with equal disdain, deservedly so.
The polarized national mood is reflected in words and deeds with political correctness, “us” vs. “them,” cancel culture and willful ignorance as a means of proving a point even if it means self-destruction. It took work for the country to reduce its collective IQ until it’s on a level with Beavis and Butt-Head, but it managed it. The release date for the new episodes were not disclosed, but by then it’s entirely possible the cultural, political, and societal environment will have gotten worse. Judge’s ability to keep his seminal characters culturally relevant will be tested, but unlike their results in school, it’s a test they’ll pass. Easily. Probably too easily.