They're moronic. They're destructive. And they star in one of the hottest shows on television.
They're Beavis and Butt-head, the cartoon characters featured in the highest-rated series on the MTV music video cable channel. Recently they popped up on the cover of Newsweek. And talk-show host David Letterman, that paragon of hipness, has taken to quoting the boys' trademark utterance: Huh-huh-huh, huh-huh-huh. Cool.
The characters' popularity may mystify some folks. After all, B&B; pass time by setting fires, sniffing gas fumes and making lewd comments while watching videos. Pretty sophomoric. But so were Mad magazine, Three Stooges films and other forms of lowbrow fun beloved by past generations.
That hasn't stopped critics from blasting Beavis and Butt-head as lousy role models. The criticism grew more intense this month after a 5-year-old Ohio boy, reportedly inspired by the show, caused a blaze that killed his younger sister.
An Ohio fire official has called on MTV to ban the show, which airs weeknights at 7 and 11. Though understandable, his reaction is extreme. MTV should nonetheless consider canceling the earlier broadcast, when younger, more impressionable kids might be watching. Even the show's creator says he opposes the 7 p.m. airtime.
Yet a children's TV advocate said this argument is moot because "with 50, 100 and soon 500 channels, there's gonna be so much stuff that'll be [even] more unsuitable. . ." Indeed, the show is one more drop in the cesspool that is much of TV. Parents must be the ultimate guards against trashy programs. To expect discretion from the purveyors of these shows is naive. MTV says it won't re-run the more offensive episodes and has voiced concern. But one suspects the network relishes the bad publicity because it boosts ratings, which boosts profits for MTV's parent company, Viacom.
That's the crowning irony. So many people, especially youngsters, who view MTV as the outlet of contemporary counter-culture don't realize they're being sold a calculatedly "cool" product by one of the biggest corporations on the planet. The kids might think they're having a laugh on the adult world, but the joke is really on them.