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Why Beavis and Butthead Are Culturally Important in 2021

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Anybody who experienced their teenage years between 1993 and 1997 will recognize the names of Beavis and Butthead, and a new movie featuring the slacker duo will be welcome news.

Originally found sniggering through short half-hour shows on MTV, they were the first animated shock cartoon of a generation, and their influence can be traced to many of today’s popular shows. Their run on television was short, sharp and shocking, but they are often forgotten, mired in controversy and parts of the program have not aged particularly well.

By today’s standards, Mike Judge’s two characters are entirely unacceptable, sitting on a sofa in a typical American town full of dissatisfaction, with little better to do than judge music videos and spout misogynistic and offensive bile. Whilst some of their subject matter might not sit well with modern-day audiences, that shouldn’t take anything away from their influence and standing as granddaddies of many a modern cultural phenomenon.

Without Beavis and Butthead, there wouldn’t be King of the Hill or Daria, both from the pen of Judge. There wouldn’t be a South Park, another shock cartoon that stole airtime and eventually the fame from Beavis and Butthead. There might not even be a Family Guy, and without that, would we even have movies such as Ted? Who knows. Beavis and Butthead were the first in a line of shows that shocked and mocked, albeit a little too subtly for some.

As well as a TV series, Beavis and Butthead spawned VHS video specials which sold in huge numbers. In 1996, they hit the big screen with the blockbuster film Beavis and Butthead Do America, which broke box office records. There was a video game for the Super Nintendo, one in which the plot foreshadowed much of today’s culture. As revealed by IMDB, the story found them taking pictures of themselves ‘doing something cool’ to get into a gig for free, which sounds a lot like today’s influencer generation. They feature in an online slot on Gala Spins, proving an enduring and lasting impression on their early fans. You can even download a Beavis and Butthead soundboard on Google Play, should you so desire. If their imagery and soundbites are still drawing people today, the writers must have got something right.

A recent announcement suggested they could be coming back with a new movie on Paramount+, although details are sketchy at present.

How they will come across in 2021 is yet to be seen, although watching a short clip of them on a Zoom call doubtless brought back memories for many of their fans, especially of the 30-minute show they ‘hosted’ on MTV. It was America’s Top 10 for Generation X, where Bon Jovi were regularly derided, and Andrew WK cheered for his liberal use of semi-violent imagery in his videos. Yes, it was offensive, but it offered younger people an outlet for their anger and disaffection. Dare we say, many identified with the characters; they felt the same angst and irritation at sugar-coated pop culture. Beavis and Butthead mattered. They were the first to speak out at manufactured music and soulless characters, something many still do today.

In 2011 there was a brief revival, seeing the characters deriding reality television instead of music videos. That reflected the feelings of those who had grown up watching them chuckle on their torn couch, expressing the same derision at the mindless manufactured rubbish flashed onto our television screens. For many, Beavis and Butthead still reside in there somewhere, sniggering at the latest rubbish TV show, contrived pop act or inane celebrity celebration.

Let’s not forget, they had a great taste in music, too. For those reasons alone, Beavis and Butthead should be respected as icons of the Generation X culture, important inspirational figures for a whole comedy genre that would not exist were it not for them and their creator Mike Judge. Whether that will come across in their new movie, when more details are released, is yet to be seen.

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