I am 32 years old at the time of this writing. To my amazement and chagrin, that ‘generation gap’ I always heard about has split open. I thought wasn’t supposed to happen until I got to my 40s, but suddenly I have found myself among grown, aging adults with stories about how it was, and of course, how it should be.
I have no doubt there are American youngsters with precocious knowledge of us older folks’ cultural backgrounds, but for every one of them there will be many who aren’t aware. Thus, the following explanation is not meant to patronize but act as an enlightening discussion for those who are young and interested in history.
Gather around, children. Now look around you. Among the things you will see are artifacts from the decade where I ‘grew up,’ or hit puberty in anyway: the ’90s. A lot of those artifacts haven’t been taken down and sold for scrap, and in those cases they’re likely to be burnt out husks of what they used to be.
A good example is MTV, or as you probably know it, “that channel with the pregnant teenagers.” Today MTV is just another reality freakshow dump, but when I was a sprout the M in MTV stood for ‘Music.’ The network not only pioneered and played ‘music videos’ that you find on Vimeo now but also explored the culture surrounding and growing with the music. MTV set trends while perpetuating existing ones. It was important.
At the peak of MTV’s significance, Mike Judge introduced us to Beavis and Butt-Head. Judge created the characters as a mirror for my generation to look back at itself, laugh, cringe and maybe straighten up. Like The Simpsons in its heyday, Beavis and Butt-Head had a reason behind averting all that was considered appropriate and polite. And yes, The Simpsons was important, too!
Beavis and Butt-Head (voiced by Mike Judge) were ids on legs. To put it another way, they represented a stereotypical teenage boy shaved down to his rawest core. Their instincts defined their personalities: eating junk food, using the toilet, watching TV, masturbating, laughing at misfortune, and trying to score, emphasis on try. Not all of us acted exactly as they did—in all likelihood we’d be dead by now if we had—but all the same, we all knew at least one kid like these two: no guidance, no moral stability, futures too blocked by boners to care. They liked their music and followed their based pleasures. Those people would be in their 30s and 40s by now, perhaps remembering their former selves with shame. Beavis and Butt-Head were created to make fun of those kids, not celebrate them. They are a reflection, not a symptom, of a brain dead society.
Beavis and Butt-Head ended its original run in 1997, with a brief one-season revival in 2011. Right around the time the show was closing the duo landed in theaters with Beavis and Butt-Head Do America. That title might be a misnomer. Beavis and Butt-Head have been cursed by the gods to never ‘do’ anyone. I theorize that their purity is tied to the stability of the multiverse.
One morning Beavis and Butt-Head wake up to discover their television set has been stolen. The television is their nucleus; without it, they are forced to move. And move they do, outside their house, on a single-minded quest to alleviate their withdrawal symptoms.
This leads to a seedy motel room, where Muddy (Bruce Willis) mistakes the duo for the hitmen he’s hiring to kill his wife, Dallas (Demi Moore). Only his doesn’t use the word “kill” or “murder” when debriefing B&B, you see, but “do.” Do his wife. For $10,000. In B&B’s mindset, sex with a pretty lady equals five figures equals a new television. They couldn’t imagine a sweeter deal if a thousand clones of them were given a thousand type-writers.
The reality is a bit more complicated. Muddy and Dallas are smugglers trying to one-up each other over a stolen synthetic virus. When B&B meet Dallas, she uses her feminine wiles to send them on a cross-country journey with the bio-weapon unknowingly sewn into Beavis’s pants. The duo’s unwitting involvement brings in the ATF and Special Agent Fleming (Robert Stack), a hard-nosed detective with a penchant for ordering cavity searches.
Meanwhile, Beavis and Butt-Head are so stupid, thickheaded and horny, so focused on the one-track task ahead of them, that they are able to slip from the destruction created in their wakes. Fleming mistakes their stupidity for cleverness and confidence, labeling them criminal masterminds.
Spoiler alert: they never figure it out. There is no moment in Do America’s 80 minute running time where Beavis and Butt-Head have any moment of clarity. The comedy derives from the chaos around them being background noise. The rest is them interacting with the real world in simple-minded terms, whether it’s visiting a petrified forest museum and making obvious implications or finding automatic toilets more fascinating than boring Old Faithful. Do America consists of one joke told for nearly an hour and a half, but it’s a funny joke.
The pretentious part of my critical eye is supposed to reject one-dimensional caricatures like this, but I don’t reject them because I understand the point. Alas, when I was growing up the point was lost on many adults, who blamed the show for causing bad behavior. They didn’t get the joke. But even if Beavis and Butt-Head actually inspired kids to commit heinous crimes, the joke was lost on them as well.
That’s fine, though. The best parody/satire appeals to people who are in on the idea, while the rest are left to be appalled or wonder what the big deal is. Beavis and Butt-Head got it right, and their movie sounds the message across a much wider landscape.
I must say, their absence is troubling; today, as our popular culture continues diminishing, we need them more than ever.
FINAL GRADE: B