Magazine article Artforum International

MTV Rules (for a Bunch of Wussies)

Magazine article Artforum International

MTV Rules (for a Bunch of Wussies)

Article excerpt


BEAVIS: How come, like, some stuff sucks, but then, like, some stuff is pretty cool?

BUTT-HEAD: Uhhh, well, if nothing sucked, and everything was cool all the time, then, like, how would you know it was cool?

BEAVIS: I would know. You just said, everything would be cool.

BUTT-HEAD: NO, buttmunch. I mean like, let's say someone came up and just hit you upside the head? Well, that would be cool.

BEAVIS: No it wouldn't. That would suck.

BUTT-HEAD: Yeah.... |hits Beavis repeatedly~

BEAVIS: Owww! cut it out butthole!

BUTT-HEAD: That was cool!

BEAVIS: No it wasn't. That sucked!

BUTT-HEAD: Yeah, but like, you know, after it's over, doesn't it, like, feel pretty cool?

BEAVIS: Oh yeah.

BUTT-HEAD: See, you need, like, stuff that sucks to have stuff that's cool.

Beavis and Butt-head are the VJs we've been waiting for since MTV started.

Judy McGrath, creative director, MTV

Uh huh huh huh heh heh . . . cool.

If the above litany crosses the lips of someone you care about, do not be alarmed, as a friend of mine recently was, wondering if her new boyfriend was a regular at their inhalant bar under the sink. They have merely been infected by MTV's Beavis and Butt-head--two animated degenerates currently charged with the dumbing of the American mind.

Beavis and Butt-head is the most visible example of a recent metamedia trend in television, employing the oh-so-po-mo framing of "watching watching." Sitting on a dilapidated couch, the cartoon couple "watch TV," specifically MTV's vulnerable music videos, which they dorkily deconstruct. (Not entirely original, the format borrows from another cable-TV show, Comedy Central's Mystery Science Theater 3000, in which a man and his robots watch subliterate sic-fi and gladiator flicks and take potshots at straw men from beyond the galaxy.) In his 1983 film Videodrome, David Cronenberg accurately presaged this development with his Marshall McLuhan-based character Professor Brian O'Blivion, who only agrees to appear "on TV on TV." Today, it is not unusual to see a "how-to" ad one week and the same spot a week later "on TV on TV," in the virtual living room of a follow-up spot, with the "family" nodding and demonstrating the making of an order. (As if you've forgotten how to use your telephone, or to respond to marketing signals.)

Created by amateur cartoonist Mike Judge, a 30-year-old exslacker from Albuquerque, Beavis and Butt-head are scrawled in the style of math-class marginalia. The pair debuted in September 1992 on Liquid Television, MTV's animation showcase, with the deliciously raw "Frog Baseball." The title tells you everything you need to know. After focus-group screenings, MTV wanted to make them guest vjs, but Judge suggested giving them their own show in which their comments on music videos would be intercut with their animated misadventures. By November that year, a production staff had been assembled, and Beavis and Butt-head were unleashed on mainstream America.

To call the show politically incorrect would be a disservice to Howard Stern. Beavis and Butt-head's extracurricular activities include: farting, masturbating, torturing animals, harassing neighbors, vandalizing public property, stealing pornography, inhaling solvents, blowing up toilets, and giggling helplessly at all of the above. It is in their remarks on videos, however, that their real characters shines through. Their analyses of the sexual politics of the music industry are particularly illuminating: "Sometimes cool bands have to do, like, wimpy songs to get chicks" (the Red Hot Chili Peppers). "This video has, like, explosions, like, half-naked chicks, fire, TVs getting smashed, screaming. . . . It's got something for everyone" (the Plasmatics). "The only thing cooler than bands who get lots of chicks are bands that scare chicks" (Pantera). …

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