Magazine article The American Conservative

America's Judge: The Creator of "Beavis and Butthead" Turns His Wit on Multicultural Liberalism

Magazine article The American Conservative

America's Judge: The Creator of "Beavis and Butthead" Turns His Wit on Multicultural Liberalism

Article excerpt

WHATEVER THE TYPICAL background might be for an animator and film director, odds are Mike Judge's isn't it. The Ecuadorian-born auteur's searingly satirical insights about contemporary America are all the more remarkable for his life's journey, a winding road that took him from a physics degree at University of California, San Diego to a stint as an engineer then bar-band musician before he taught himself animation using library books. His rise from such improbable origins is even more notable given the intense resistance to his work, from grandstanding U.S. senators and his corporate patrons at Fox.

Despite critical acclaim and commercial success, Judge has opted to live outside of paparazzi circles. The down-to-earth 45-year-old maintains a residence in Austin, Texas, where he conducts himself as a regular guy. A 2006 Esquire interview revealed a stoic, deliberately unassuming type who watches hunting instructional videos, walks around his neighborhood twice a day, frequents his local Starbucks, and "like[s] the suburbs." Like David Lynch, the famously Reaganophilic director of dark comedies such as "Blue Velvet" and "Twin Peaks," Mike Judge has a fundamentally localist, conservative bent imparted on the slant, increasingly in spite of the agendas of the corporate monoliths that release his work.

When MTV introduced "Beavis and Butthead" to its lineup in 1993, it immediately stood out from any other cartoon marketed on a mass level. Its crude figures and equally crude plots typified a nihilist desolation particular to the strip mall and subdivision universe. The protagonists --slow-witted adolescent scions of worn-out single mothers with no clue how to teach these halfwits how to be men--were the natural products of their unnatural habitat.

This was the first show of any sort to address directly such suburbanite childhoods without sentimentality or a misplaced desire to impart moral lessons. A central premise involved the hapless duo's attempts to "score" with "sluts," who were clearly younger versions of their own mothers. Deprived of masculine role models, except for a mouth-breather named Todd, a twenty-something neighborhood thug, Beavis and Butthead were hopeless figures: futureless metalhead high schoolers, divested of any sense of their own histories, ignorant to the core. To compensate for their environmental and genetic handicaps, they did what a generation of throwaway teens did: watched toxic amounts of television. Especially music videos.

Here was incredible humor laden with tragic subtext. Rendering commentary on Black Box and Ugly Kid Joe videos was the closest either got to critical thinking, which suggested that in spite of the obvious, MTV-friendly humor of the show, there was pathos at the heart of "Beavis and Butthead." They were failed by parents, teachers, the community at large. They never had a chance. So they became passive recipients of pop culture--a trope that has recurred in Judge's work throughout the years.

"King of the Hill," Judge's subsequent project, finds an antecedent in Judge's own experience. "I had a paper route that was sort of in a blue-collar neighborhood with lots of Texas transplants, so early on I had these kinds of characters around me," he recalled in a 2006 interview. "[A]fter Beavis and Butthead, I had done a panel cartoon; I just had this image of just four guys with beers standing out in front of the fence, kind of like I used to see when I'd look out my kitchen window, and I just drew them all saying, 'Yep, yep, yep.'"

The early episodes of "King of the Hill" bore considerable resemblance to Judge's first show, down to lead character Hank's voice recycling the previous show's Mr. Anderson. Simple animation and defiantly two-dimensional characterizations made the first few years seem more redneck than recent seasons: Hank's lament about his son--"That boy's not right!"--hasn't surfaced nearly as much in later episodes. …

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