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Things Only Adults Notice In Beavis And Butt-Head

The 1990s were all about dark, edgy animation, and each successive show that hit television pushed the envelope further than the last. The dysfunctional family of The Simpsons gave way to the manic and gloriously repulsive Ren & Stimpy, which gave way to Beavis and Butt-Head, Mike Judge's portrait of two preposterously dumb and destructive teenagers in the Southwest. 

Beavis and Butt-Head were a couple of constantly snickering, id-driven, heavy metal-and-nachos-obsessed dumb-dumbs who took nothing in life seriously, and they spent much of their time watching music videos (and making fun of most of them). The series became a cultural phenomenon, running on MTV from 1993 to 1997, leading to the big-screen movie Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, and not to mention millions of bad impressions of the less-than-dynamic duo.

Kids and teens probably shouldn't have been watching the adult-oriented antics of Beavis and Butt-Head, but they did anyway, because they were hilarious. If they did, they should re-watch the series as adults so they can catch all the things they missed the first time around.

The bands on their shirts make a lot of sense

You can tell that Beavis and Butt-Head are metalheads because when a metal video comes on during a music video segment, they say things like "YES! YES!" or "this rules!" Then the show might cut to the characters headbanging or playing air guitar. Furthermore, the guys wear rock tees bearing the names of what the viewer can assume are their favorite bands: Beavis sports a Metallica T-shirt, while Butt-Head rocks one for AC/DC. 

As you're probably aware, those are both famous, popular bands with which even a casual young music fan would be familiar. To an older viewer, however, it's clear that Mike Judge didn't pick two bands at random. Early on in the show, Beavis is the more serious and demented of the two, generally wanting to cause destruction. It makes sense that he wears a Metallica shirt, because Metallica takes itself very seriously and is dedicated to a nonstop aural assault. Butt-Head, however, just wants to have a good time — much like the band behind party hits like "You Shook Me All Night Long" and "T.N.T."

And then there's Stewart, that nerd who emulates Beavis and Butt-Head and desperately wants to hang out with them. He just can't get it right. He wears a shirt in support of Winger, a cheesy hair metal band nowhere near as legit as Metallica and AC/DC. In other words, Winger is lame...and so is Stewart.

It's got a surprisingly conservative streak

For a show about teenage degenerates who love metal and mayhem made for teenage degenerates who love metal and mayhem, Beavis and Butt-Head is quite a conservative show upon closer inspection. As is the case on creator Mike Judge's later show, King of the Hill, ultra-liberal, touchy-feely characters on Beavis and Butt-Head are depicted as spineless and ineffective. 

Take the teacher Mr. Van Driessen. He's a long-haired hippie in glasses and a peace-sign T-shirt, and he's a laughingstock. His attempts to break through to Beavis and Butt-Head with kindness and understanding always fail. Meanwhile, the direct, fear-based approach of Marine-turned-teacher Mr. Buzzcut proves far more effective.

Along those lines, the show suggests that art can be a superficial scam. In one of his many adventures as the "The Great Cornholio," Beavis drinks too much espresso, goes into alter-ego mode, and hits the stage of a coffeehouse and delivers a bunch of caffeine-addled nonsense that the audience of flaky beatniks think is amazing experimental poetry.

"Bunghole" isn't a dirty word

Beavis and Butt-Head was an extremely popular show, and for a sizeable chunk of the mid-1990s, teenagers across the land imitated their ridiculous laughs as well as their catchphrases and favorite slang. Probably not a single lunch period went by without some kid at a junior high school cafeteria pulling his shirt over his head, proclaiming himself "The Great Cornholio," and yelling, "I need T.P. for my bunghole."

Looking back on the show with the wisdom and education afforded by adulthood, it's clear now that Beavis and Butt-Heads vernacular had no basis in reality. Nineties kids delighted in calling each other "dillweed" and "bunghole," as if they were dirty words, but they're not. They're regular words that these cartoon idiots used to sound dirty. Viewers used them, too, for the same reason. Beavis and Butt-Head (and Cornholio) made "bunghole" synonymous with that other kind of hole...but it's actually just the name for an opening in a barrel.

We said "Harry Sachz" (huh-huh)

Much like Beavis and Butt-Head themselves, there are lots of clever, subtle jokes on Beavis and Butt-Head that younger viewers just wouldn't grasp. Ironically, they're about the subjects — sex, intoxicants, the human body — that would make Beavis and Butt-Head laugh the most. (Although that's not saying much, because they laugh at everything.) 

For example, there are two recurring young female characters named Lolita and Tanqueray who show up every now and then to exploit Beavis and Butt-Head because the guys think that if they're nice, they'll "score." These women are a little sleazy, and they even have names that sound sleazy. However, "Lolita" is a literary reference — to Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, the classic novel about an old man's affair with an underage lover. And then there's Tanqueray, which sounds classy but is actually just the name of a brand of gin.

There's also the boys' hippie teacher Mr. Van Driessen, whose initials are "VD," which is short for "venereal disease," a now-outdated term for STDs. A common victim of Beavis and Butt-Head's pranks is a biker dude named Harry Sachz...whose name speaks for itself.

Tom Anderson is Hank Hill, I tell ya what

Beavis and Butt-Head pretty constantly torment, either on purpose or accidentally, their neighbor, Tom Anderson. Among the indignities they've foisted upon the guy: They smashed his house with a falling tree, stole his golf balls and sold them back to him, ruined his pool, and sold everything he owned at a yard sale (including his Purple Heart).

Tom is a patriotic, conservative, beer-drinking guy. He likes to work with tools and mow his lawn, he gets easily upset, and he speaks in short sentences in a high-pitched Texas drawl. Does that sound familiar? That's because Tom Anderson shares virtually the same appearance and speech patterns of a later, more famous cartoon character: Hank Hill from King of the Hill. 

That show, like Beavis and Butt-Head, was created by Mike Judge. He also voiced both Tom Anderson and Hank Hill, who, like Tom, is a patriotic, conservative, beer-drinking, lawn-and-tool obsessed guy. Even Tom's wife, Marcy, looks like Peggy Hill, Hank's wife. The only difference: the Hills are middle-aged, while the Andersons are well into their golden years.

Butt-Head actually does score

When he's not watching videos or hanging out with Beavis, all Butt-Head wants to do is get with the ladies...which never happens because he's never not watching videos or hanging out with Beavis. It's a major running joke of the series that the pubescent, hormone-crazed teenager never, ever gets to "score with a hot chick. Except that upon closer examination of the greater BABEU (that's the Beavis and Butt-Head Extended Universe), Butt-Head does actually get deflowered, and by a celebrity no less.

Beavis and Butt-Head mania was so intense in 1993 that Geffen Records released The Beavis and Butt-Head Experience, a compilation of songs by acts that Beavis and Butt-Head had said were cool while watching their videos, like White Zombie and "Nirvarna." Closing out the record is a remake of Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe," a duet between Cher and Butt-Head. (Beavis adds in totally metal guitar sounds throughout.) 

Near the end, the teenaged Butt-Head remarks to Cher that he hears she's "into young dudes," referring to the singer's relationships with many men her junior, like Val Kilmer, and Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi. "You feeling lucky, Butt-Head?" Cher flirts. "All you gotta do is lose you know who." Butt-Head barks, "Hey Beavis, get outta here." And then, presumably, Butt-Head scores...with Cher.

Where are their parents?

Beavis and Butt-Head isn't the first show about kids where adults are minimally or majorly absent. For example, on those old Peanuts specials, adults rarely showed up, and if they did, they weren't seen and were represented by trombone sounds. On Beavis and Butt-Head, the characters interact with teachers and service personnel, but not once do viewers see their parents. They have to have some kind of parent or guardian — someone is paying for their heavily used cable TV and Butt-Head's braces, after all. 

A kid watching this might not think too much of this, or just make a casual assumption that Beavis and Butt-Head takes place entirely within the hours that the main characters' parents are at work. An adult viewing Beavis and Butt-Head can't help but wonder about what's really going on with these characters' domestic situations. They're clearly very troubled boys with little to no adult guidance — and it engenders empathy. Older viewers may wind up feeling sorry for Beavis and Butt-Head, who are a couple of kids who desperately need some help and love.

Then again...maybe not. Meanwhile, the movie offered a hint in terms of at least half of their parentage.

They're so dumb that they're actually smart

Beavis and Butt-Head's whole thing is that they're stupid. They enjoy stupid things, they do stupid things, they're barely functional at school and in society, and they never ever stop laughing their stupid laughs. But almost everybody can find their niche in this great big world, even those as superficially as stupid and useless as Beavis and Butt-Head. For them, their skill is music criticism, honed by countless hours watching videos. 

Even if they can't get the names of the musicians right (Bono is "Boner," naturally), they know what they like, and they know what they don't, so much so that they confuse opinion with fact. They could be Pitchfork critics!

Their attitude toward music could be an attitude toward life. Butt-Head once stated that, "I like stuff that's cool" and "I don't like stuff that sucks." That's maybe a logic loop, or maybe it's a challenging philosophical conundrum. Do we like something because it's cool, or is it cool because we like it? Is inherent quality non-existent, or at least irrelevant, because it's impossible to view things objectively independent of our own perceptions and tastes? Beavis and Butt-Head really makes you think.

Then again...maybe not.

It's a TV show about watching TV

Most TV shows are about "something," in that they have a premise or a point. The Office mines plot and humor out of the workplace, a near-universal experience where most adults spend most of their waking hours, while Modern Family focuses on the home life of a sprawling family. Only Beavis and Butt-Head was audacious and transgressive enough to be a show about another aspect of the day that eats up a lot of time: watching TV. 

Beavis and Butt-Head was a TV show about two guys that sat around on a couch, channel-surfing and looking for stuff that was "cool." It's like some kind of post-modern commentary on the degradation of culture and human interaction, that a TV show about watching TV could exist and even thrive. At the same time, all those segments of Beavis and Butt-Head watching TV are a very subtle form of advertising. In the original series, all they viewed were music videos — that's like a constant directive to viewers to stay tuned to MTV. (Of course, by the mid-'90s, MTV had cut back on the music videos in favor of original programming... like Beavis and Butt-Head.)

Beavis and Butt-Head must smell awful

We should all be so lucky that television is "television" and not "smellevision." We can see and hear TV characters, but we can't smell them, which is probably a very good thing for Beavis and Butt-Head. Kids back in the day would have paid no mind to this, but adults, trained and/or doomed to analyze everything around them, might be struck with the notion that if Beavis and Butt-Head were real people (or if TVs had odor synthesizers), their smells would be overpoweringly bad. 

There are a lot of factors at play here to create two foul-smelling kids. First, they live in Highland, a city in the brutally hot American southwest, so they sweat a lot. They're also teenage boys, so they already sweat a lot, and puberty generally ramps up the body odor. Neither Beavis nor Butt-Head seem particularly hygienic, nor are they into self-care, so they probably aren't showering much. That's all a recipe for some stinky guys, not to mention the fact that they wear the same clothes every day. Well, they do take them off to put on their Burger World uniforms... which wind up smelling like fast food frying oil. So no matter what, these are some guys whose odors are as gross (but not as hilarious) as their actions and words.

Are fates dictated by names?

Watching Beavis and Butt-Head more than 25 years after it originally aired, and from the vantage point of someone with a little more life and educational experience gained in the interim, the show reveals some devastating philosophical points to grown-up viewers. Yes, the show about two really dumb, pathologically laughing teenagers has something to say about mankind, and why they were put on this Earth. Beavis and Butt-Head ascribes to the notion of predestination, a theological concept that argues people's actions — and ultimate fates — have been predetermined by a deity. 

That's demonstrated in the names of two characters on this MTV animated series. A teacher and coach at Highland School is an ex-Marine drill instructor and veteran of the Vietnam War... and his name is Bradley Buzzcut. His last name is literally the name of the haircut given to male military personnel — he was fated to become a soldier, in other words. And then there's Butt-Head, a guy doomed to a life of failure because his name is Butt-Head. As even his teachers call him that in the formal setting of school, it must be his real name. The poor guy is never going to succeed when his reputation precedes him in the form of his first name.