Tonight’s season finale of Beavis and Butthead, the conclusion to the show’s first full season in 14 years, is a great indicator of what Mike Judge did to replicate the success of his hilariously simple-minded cartoon. The secret to the show’s longevity is that it hasn’t changed at all. Beavis and Butthead are still puzzling over the superficiality of the pop culture detritus that they’ve surrounded themselves with. And they’re not any wiser for it. Judge understandably thinks there’s still a lot of insubstantial crap at the bottom of MTV’s pop culture barrel. So why should Judge’s iconoclastic morons change if MTV and its lowest common denominator programming hasn’t? “Whorehouse/Going Down” isn’t the best episode of season 8 (I’m rather partial to “The Rat/Spill”). But it’s a great model for why Judge’s comedy is still a lot of puerile fun.
Often, the simple but clever punchline to any given Beavis & Butthead segment is revealed somewhere in the middle of the skit’s proceedings. Then the story moves on as if nothing had happened. Because the joke of the show is that nothing fazes these guys. Because nothing really changes around them. Judge’s style of comedy is fundamentally bitter but he coaches his vitriol in jovially sophomoric jokes. He meets the world that he objects to on its own level. Because you shouldn’t have to talk down to people to know that they’re stupid.
Case in point: in “Whorehouse,” Beavis and Butthead happen upon a local abortion clinic and confuse it with a brothel because there’s a fundamentalist protestor yelling, “Whores! Fornicators!” entrenched outside the clinic’s doors. Being idiots, the two reason that this preacher boycotting the facility is actually its owner and praise him for his good work. The punchline to this segment is that the preacher is just as delusional as Beavis and Butthead are. Given the way that they praise him, it’s easy to see why he thinks they’re also interested in picketing the clinic. But that’s because he, just like the security guard that attacks the place, is so single-minded that he doesn’t see anything outside of his own little bubble.
And that’s the big joke of “Whorehouse” and even of Beavis & Butthead in general: nobody gets it. Everyone in this skit is totally blind to each others’ motives because everyone clings to their respective programming: the preacher is determined to scream, “Whores! Fornicators!” And the bouncer-like guard protecting the clinic is primed to pounce on Beavis and Butthead, going through the motions of warning them several times in the most deadpan monotone imaginable. And of course Beavis and Butthead are only interested in getting laid. So the boys get tazered but only after the preacher does.
Predictably, even though everyone in “Whorehouse” is totally myopic, the one that gets mocked the most is the preacher. His improvised spiel to Beavis and Butthead about how he cares about “putting fallen women onto the righteous path” is shown to be totally hypocritical. Because right after he applauds them for joining his crusade, he goes right back to yelling, “Whores! Fornicators!” Unlike Beavis, Butthead and the security guard, the preacher is actively trying to affect the lives of people and in a patronizing way. So whether you agree with Judge’s politics or not, you can understand where he’s coming from in “Whorehouse” on a simple, apolitical way. The preacher is an asshole because he’s trying to make his self-interested agenda look like it’s something more than just a self-interested agenda. So of course he gets tazered by the security guard before Beavis and Butthead do. They get tazered because they persist in trying to get into the clinic and don’t know any better. But according to the show’s internal logic, the preacher gets tazed because he deserves it.
Anyone that makes a big show of their sincerity is an object of scorn for Judge, an accomplished juvenile satirist. One of the many reasons why Beavis and Butthead make fun of the music video for Travis McCoy and Bruno Mars’s “Billionaire” is because McCoy sings that he’s, “speaking from the heart.” “He speaks from his butt,” Beavis retorts. Or how about when the boys go after the equally superficial music video for Earl Greyhound’s “Shotgun,” in which great emphasis is inexplicably put on preparing a bowl of vegetable soup. I love how Beavis at one point seriously ponders what the image of soup has to do with the song and what it all really means. He even goes ahead and suggests that like soup, “Maybe it’s one of those songs that sounds better the second time around.” Then Beavis dismisses that notion by saying that he watched the video yesterday and only thinks it’s worse today. After a certain point, the two just have to admit: there’s nothing to really get about the video. It’s an impenetrable commercial for a mediocre band that apparently really likes soup.
The most prominent form of human interaction that Beavis and Butthead engage in in “Going Down” similarly boils down to the fact that Beavis and Butthead happen to have a more powerful form of tunnel vision than anyone else around them. They get stuck in an elevator with an attractive woman. And to get out of the elevator, she tricks them into helping her to escape the ceiling panel in the elevator with promises of sex. She tells them that if they pile onto each other and let her climb on top of them and help her to reach the ceiling panel, she’ll let them, like, do her. So they agree. And she leaves them behind without informing anyone that there are two people stuck in the elevator. Everyone in tonight’s season finale is fundamentally self-interested. Nothing has changed about the world of Beavis & Butthead save for the show’s targets. Long live may this show live.