by J.D. Tuccille
January 19, 1997

Reel Life

Once or twice a year, critics start touting one movie or another for its special relevance to today’s world. The film in question may encapsulate some pressing issue, skewer an especially disfavored politician, or publicize somebody or other’s sadly overlooked plight (these films tend to be as much fun as a root canal); to the critics it’s all the same: the film is a “must-see.” This year, though, the combined armies of goggle-eyed, faux-butter-encrusted newspaper critics missed the outstanding choice: Beavis and Butt-Head Do America.

Now, it’s not that the critics didn’t try. To the contrary, they discovered Citizen Ruth, and rightfully so — it’s refreshing to see a movie lampoon both sides in a passionate political debate, and the abortion issue is about as passionate as it gets. But Citizen Ruth is exhausting — a damned fine movie that doesn’t tie itself up with a note of false hope.

Likewise, The People vs. Larry Flynt has drawn praise for its sympathetic portrayal of a born businessman who found his calling in the seamy side of life and who stumbled into a victory for free speech. But The People vs. Larry Flynt is ultimately limited in its scope.

But Beavis and Butt-head Do America is an optimistic celebration of life and freedom. Here you have the two protagonists, cretins of the lowest order, monomaniacally driven by their hormones like ... well ... like me really, and not too many years ago. Cretins they may be, hopeless, stupid spawn of down-on-their-luck heavy metal roadies (Whoops! Sorry to give that away, but the scene is worth seeing), but opportunity and freedom await them. The opportunity that they want, of course, is a shot at some trim — any trim — but a bigger world beckons.

The bad guys are a scurvy combination of calculating underworld types, ready to unleash biological warfare on the world (b-a-a-ad underworld types), and BATF agents with an ... unpleasant fixation (uggh — worse). A nasty crew they are, without doubt.

And that wide open world? Why, it’s America itself. From the glitz of Vegas, to the hubris of the Hoover Dam. The stark, deadly beauty of the desert (especially as enhanced by randomly munched cactus), to the magnificent history and institutional inertia of Washington D.C. It’s a big, diverse country with — well, hell — wide horizons. Even these two clowns can’t help but stumble onto something good from time to time — even if it means saving the world.

It’s mostly evil-doers who suffer in this movie — in particular, those who would commit blind slaughter. Well ... and innocent by-standers, too. But they always get screwed. And the ATF agents do get away (almost literally) with murder — but when has that surprised any of us?

But Beavis and Butt-head take their lives in hand (well, something in hand, anyway), make an attempt to better their lives, and they make a difference in the end. And having done their duty, and seized the experience, they get a glimpse of the real opportunity that awaits.

Yes, standing across from the desk of the President of the United States, a man who is very recognizably William Jefferson Clinton, they see their own future.

Where else, I ask? Where else, but America?

Just go see the damned movie.

From the Notebook

Try this on for size:

Americans hold nothing more holy than freedom. But the libertarian vision of freedom is too narrow. The freedom to be left alone is vital, but it is ultimately more suited to bears than to human beings. Civilization requires something higher — an embodied freedom, a freedom that enables us to live in peace, but also in justice. That ideal should always stand before us. Imperfect as it is, government — of the people, by the people, and for the people — must help hold the banner.

That’s a quote from the “Brainwave Project” — a group effort of four e-zines that launches with an examination — well, more like a gang-bang — of libertarianism (Drop by The Site’s discussion group to join me for some fun).

If you’re like me, you’re probably scratching at your head about now. “The freedom to be left alone” is “too narrow?” Well then, what the hell is freedom? Freedom is an absence of restraint — in the political context, it means that (to put it crudely) government goons aren’t drumming on your kidneys in order to modify a few of your personal quirks. “The freedom to be left alone” is the only kind of freedom that there is — freedom doesn’t come in flavors. We can argue about the extent of freedom, or even (well, some folks can) whether it’s a good thing or not. But an “embodied freedom ... that enables us to live in peace, but also in justice” sounds suspiciously like an attempt to make somebody’s favorite programs inviolable by labeling them as the one, true real freedom.

And if you oppose the higher “embodied freedom?”

Hmmmm. Time for that kidney massage.

Ah well, and so much for the power of argument. So back you go to Full Automatic or to my home page.

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Copyright (c) 1997 Jerome D. (Il Tooch) Tuccille. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Il Tooch is prohibited. Mess with me and I’ll use your polished skull as a beer mug.