This week in Advancement, Jason Hartley celebrates the return of “Beavis and Butt-Head.”
Now that Beavis and Butt-Head is coming back, I think it’s time to revisit what I wrote about the show’s creator, Mike Judge, in “The Advanced Genius Theory”:
Mike Judge is a definite possibility [for Advanced status]. It takes a pretty strong sense of self to produce something like “Beavis and Butt-Head” without feeling the need to remind everyone that he is not as dumb as his characters. I have to add that while they were “dumb,” they were incredibly perceptive and especially sensitive to Overtness [obvious and unimaginative attempts to be artsy, strange, cool, etc.]. For instance, upon seeing a Pavement video, they remarked, “They’re not trying very hard. They need to practice.” Adding, in a subtly mocking tone, “They went to college.” If that is not the most precise take down of Pavement, I’ve never heard it.
Another great comment was noting wryly “That guy’s old” in a Metallica video where a wizened old man was used to make the video seem weird. Judge is obviously not against selling out, as there was tons of Beavis and Butt-Head paraphernalia for sale. I still have their En-suck-lopedia in my bathroom, as a matter of fact. Finally, his movies never get the credit they deserve. “Office Space” did very little business in the theaters, and “Idiocracy” (“1984″ with jet skis) was completely misunderstood by audiences in test screenings, which encouraged studio executives to give the movie the “Citizen Kane” treatment, releasing it in just a few cities and letting it disappear. Luckily, like Eddie and the Cruisers, both movies got second lives on cable and are now recognized as the classics they are.
And now it turns out that also like Eddie and the Cruisers, Judge’s masterpiece will have a sequel. This cements Judge’s Advanced status for me because he has so little to gain from the move. If the show is good, people will simply enjoy it like they did before, although likely with less fervor. If the show is bad, however, then you have a scenario where the return of the show diminishes the original run. Kind of like “What’s Happening Now!” did to the reputation of the original “What’s Happening!” My guess is that the new version of B and B-H will be more like “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (which would be a dream come true for the boys), where fans will fight over which is better.
Whatever the case, Judge’s willingness to “ruin” his masterpiece is a trait common to the Advanced. Whether it’s Bob Dylan rendering beloved classics unrecognizable in concert or George Lucas adding CGI touches to Star Wars, Advanced Geniuses do not consider their “greatest work” sacred. This lack of respect is mystifying to fans, but if an artist thinks of much of something they’ve already finished, there is a danger of repeating themselves or being unable to produce anything new because of the pressure of living up to their masterpiece. The same spirit that caused them to rebel against works by earlier artists move them to rebel against their earlier selves. This is one reason why we think we don’t like later works: they are a rebuke against the earlier work that we love so much, and, by extension, against us.
Technically Judge is repeating himself, of course, whether the new “Beavis and Butt-Head” is completely unchanged or completely retooled. But unlike stylistic repetition, this type of repetition is fairly audacious. It’s one thing to paint a series of paintings using the cubist vernacular, but it’s something else to paint Les Demoiselles d’Avignon twice–like Andy Warhol did with his Marilyns, for example–or paint those same characters in the same place twenty years later like the cover of the Beatles’ 1967-1970 (“The Blue Album”), which showed the bearded band in the same place in the same place as a photo shoot from Please Please Me.
I don’t know if “Beavis and Butt-Head” will still be high-school kids on the same couch watching the same television or guys in their twenties on the same couch watching Netflix on their Wii. In fact, I don’t’ even know if Judge will voice the characters as he did in the original. For all I know, he’ll let MTV do the show and send him checks. I have no problem with any of these outcomes, as they are all potentially Advanced. However, if Judge is truly Advanced he’ll have something planned that none of us can imagine.
For more on Advancement, check out Jason’s book The Advanced Genius Theory.