Beavis and Butt-Head Do America

At the risk of losing my more refined readers, I must report the truth about Beavis & Butt-Head Do America: it’s rude, it’s twisted, and it’s hilarious. What does the movie’s runaway success say about the future of America? Who cares? The movie works. Unless you’re uptight, over 40, or Michael Medved, the movie is funny almost nonstop. Nothing else matters.

For the uninitiated, B&B are teenage sex-crazed morons addicted to TV. Their MTV show is instantly recognizable as a satire of MTV’s audience: teenage sex-crazed morons addicted to TV. Humorless parents who take B&B at face value miss not only the satire but its context, and B&B fell into disfavor after a five-year-old torched his trailer allegedly in emulation of Beavis’ “Fire! Fire!” Suddenly, the boys became symbols in the tedious debate over TV violence, and I lost interest.

I didn’t think B&B’s creator, Mike Judge, could sustain their dim-witted appeal throughout a feature film. But as Beavis & Butt-Head Do America proves, Judge has a feasible movie-comedy duo here — Cheech & Chong for the millennium. (Parents hated that pair, too, before Cheech got Disneyized.) What’s funny about B&B is their absolute single-mindedness in any situation. To them, TV and “scoring” (or the distant possibility of it) are as holy as getting wasted was to Cheech & Chong.

The movie is structured as a road comedy. After B&B’s TV is stolen, they stumble into a motel room, where a shady guy (voice, rumor has it, by Bruce Willis) mistakes them for hit men and offers them $10,000 to “do” his wife (voice by Demi Moore, according to the same rumor). B&B, of course, misinterpret “do” and go off eager to please; their odyssey takes them from Vegas to the White House, the national greed capitols.

On the basis of this film and the MTV episodes I’ve seen, Mike Judge is a ruthless nihilist. For all the leering about “hooters” and jabs at principals or cops, you can’t call Judge anti-woman or anti-authority — he’s anti-everything. I’d find that mildly troubling if his satire weren’t so uncannily on-target. Judge pokes vicious fun at a hippie teacher who spouts New Age-isms and sings the tender PC ballad “Lesbian Seagull,” and there’s a great opening-credits bit lampooning ’70s TV.

Judge knows his audience. B&B trash everything in their destructive quest for cheap thrills, which may be Judge’s coded critique of those other profligate B&B’s — baby boomers. Judge is saying that the last 30 years have left us nothing except snide commentary on dead culture. While their baby-boomer parents disapprove, the jaded Gen-Xers in the audience plug right into the crappy nihilism, laughing at the fact that they’re laughing.

Beavis & Butt-Head Do America, like any comedy that doesn’t suck, tells us more about where we are now than most earnest Oscar-hungry dramas do. The movie, which really pushes the PG-13 envelope, will offend those who don’t like their humor crude and nasty. As will Jonathan Swift. Beavis and Butt-Head — the Gulliver of the degraded ’90s? Every era gets the satirical figure it deserves. Mike Judge is saying we deserve these two.

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Explore posts in the same categories: animation, based on tv show, comedy

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