It probably won’t surprise anyone to know “Beavis and Butthead” played a formative role in the development of my sense of humor. The consciously rough-hewn style, the delicate balance of social commentary and gleeful dick joke-making, the occasional tendency to slip into an alternative state of mind, pull shirt over head and prowl the streets of Keene in search of “TP for my bunghole” at 3 a.m. – it all fits like a glove. What may come as a slight shock is that my initial indoctrination took place around age seven, when Papa-san took me to see the movie. (I think he figured it’d be suitable since it was animated; wish I had a clear memory of his reaction.)
Needless to say, my fragile, impressionable little mind would never be quite the same. For those who care to locate the point from whence my half-demented, tangent-happy weekly diatribes spring, I am handing over the psychoanalytic jackpot.
Indeed, my parents were remarkably permissive when it came to media consumption in general. As I recall, access to “South Park” only took a little persistent prodding, this being when I was nine. Violent vidya-games usually required some preemptive screening, but more often than not I’d be given the go-ahead.
I haven’t turned out to be a criminally psychotic, crystal meth-dependent, bestiality-dabbling fanatic (not on weekdays, anyway), so I’d say their policy was sound. This puts something of a chink in the armor of all those media-watchdog groups that cropped up in the ‘90s and remain a pain in the ass to this day. While probably well-intentioned, such organizations ultimately serve to draw attention away from real social issues by emphasizing explicit TV shows, games, etc. as root causes of society’s ills.
I really think the truth is a lot more complex than that. To take such a reductive stance seems like a cop-out, a way to avoid having to face those causal factors which can’t so easily be made the subject of a self-righteous crusade. Perhaps the most prominent example of this mentality would be the tragic case of a four-year-old boy who set fire to his family’s trailer, resulting in the death of his infant sister. While I have nothing but sympathy for everyone involved, I can’t condone the mother’s attack on “Beavis and Butthead” as the source of her son’s behavior. (It was later revealed they didn’t even have cable, for one thing.)
Once again, attempting to attach a simple explanation to fundamentally inexplicable events can only be counterproductive (though I guess in her case I can imagine the psychological impetus). While I won’t deny that the cultural products we consume inform various aspects of our consciousness, the effect tends to be peripheral rather than central – it’s not a simple matter of tracing the line from point A to B.
Somebody who goes out and commits violent acts is almost certainly going to do so whether they’re familiar with GTA or not; a whole host of factors feed into a person’s psychological/emotional makeup, these ranging in nature from the socioeconomic to the just plain ol’ genetic.
If a child is inspired to err by her favorite program, and if we are choosing to play the blame game, responsibility might be said to lie with the parents who neglected either to better monitor her viewing sessions or to teach her the difference between fiction and reality (or both).
I’m not endorsing this kind of condemnatory ideology but merely exposing the flip-side to the sorts of finger-pointing campaigns that used to be all the rage and still maintain a presence. Those genuinely looking to make a difference would do better to localize their concerns. It might seem easier to try and force the world to conform to your particular hang-ups, but there is this pesky little thing called the First Amendment.
And anyway, we’ve been over how media doesn’t create “deviant” preoccupations – at best, it accentuates something that’s already festering. Lobbying against some ostensibly corruptive work is like tearing down a straw man. And that sucks. Huh-huh.
Justin Levesque can be contacted at