They were the ’90s answer to Tom and Huck…if Sawyer and Finn had huffed the paint fumes while their friends coated the picket fence. (Heh-heh, he said ”pick it.”) The thickheaded duo of blond Beavis and brunet Butt-head was created by Mike Judge, a Dallas bass player studying to be a math professor. His pioneering short ”Frog Baseball” (the ”Steamboat Willie” of dumb-ass animation) appeared in September ’92 on MTV’s ‘toon anthology Liquid Television. Convinced these toad-whackers could make MTV even edgier, the network hired Judge to come to New York and create the half-hour Beavis and Butt-head series, which premiered on March 8, 1993.
The inseparable and insufferable pals, crude in both behavior and animation, spent each episode mindlessly destroying things, developing new rump-centric epithets like ”buttmunch,” and debating sucks versus cool in music videos. This aggressive ignorance quickly made them MTV’s most popular stars. Within the year, they were on posters and Christmas ornaments. Pocket Books paid a reported $825,000 for Beavis and Butt-head: This Book Sucks. And, of course, Beavis and Butt-head had millions of kids imitating their laughs and irritating parents. ”The secret of their appeal was that they had no inhibitions,” says B&B’s then head writer (and current Undeclared scribe) Kristofor Brown. ”Despite their stupidity, they had an absolute clarity about how they saw the world.”
Unfortunately, part of Beavis’ worldview involved the love of fires — both setting them and cheering them when they flared up in videos. In October 1993, when a 5-year-old Ohio boy started a blaze that killed his 2-year-old sister, his mother claimed that he’d been inspired by B&B. Within a month, two other fires set by kids were blamed on the show. The resulting outcry coincided with and further inflamed a public campaign against TV violence, and B&B became the scapegoat for everything wrong with today’s children. MTV denied responsibility for the torchings but moved the show past bedtime and excised all references to fire.
The controversy faded, but not the show’s popularity. The show spread to more than 80 countries and spawned the spin-off Daria and the feature film Beavis and Butt-head Do America. In 1997, the year his new Fox animated series King of the Hill debuted, an overextended Judge ended B&B after a run of more than 200 episodes. MTV continued to air reruns until 1999, even quietly returning them to prime time in 1997. But America’s youth did not self-destruct. And yes, heh-heh, we did just say ”butt.”