From the archives: A Freudian Analysis of Beavis and Butt-Head


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Contributed by Gaelin B.

beavisbutthead.jpg Most people never realize just how psychological the MTV classic Beavis & Butt-Head is. To see this, first we have to examine their relationship. Butt-Head, as anyone who’s seen any episodes can tell you, is the “smart” one. (This is of course, relative to Beavis, as no one in their right mind could call either one “smart”. But relativity is just one of the unnoticed themes running through this show.) Butt-Head is invariably the one who comes up with the various schemes. Beavis, on the other hand, is incapable of thinking things out for himself. He is usually the one to implement the schemes Butt-Head comes up with, often fouling them up in the process. Seen in this light, with Butt-Head the Thinker and Beavis the Doer, the show takes on a Freudian direction. Butt-Head represents the Ego (civilization, and what is taught) and Beavis the Id (the inner, base instinct, reverting to our animal natures). This can even be seen to relate to the Nature vs. Nurture concept.

But the evidence is there. Example: The episode where they find a tire. It is Butt-Head who concludes that they can ride in it. He has Beavis push him, in the tire, up a hill, promising that he’ll push Beavis on the way down. Butt-Head lets him go on the way down, all right… at about 60 miles an hour, crushing all that’s in his path. This is an example of the Ego using the Id to its own advantage, causing damage. Another example is the Christmas episode, where, in a great It’s A Wonderful Life parody, Butt-Head is shown what life would be like without him. To his horror, he finds that Beavis is best friends with irritating neighbor Stuart. (Stuart represents an alternate Ego to Butt-Heads. Since the Id is common to all humans, it is the Ego that directs it in one direction or another). Stuart is the metaphor (in the regular episodes) of an Ego without any Id: a wuss, completely incapable of doing anything. Example: The one where Stuart disappears. His parents and Beavis and Butt-Head search the entire neighborhood for him, but it turns out he was just in Butt-Head’s closet, waiting for seven hours for the boys to find him in a fraudulent hide-and-seek game. (Homosexual image? Possibly). “Go home”, Butt-Head tells him. “You’re in trouble”, Beavis adds.

My personal favorite example for this, however, is the episode about the vending machine. Beavis and Butt-Head desire food (one of mankind’s drives), in this case Sour Cream and Salsa Pork Rinds. However, their meal is snagged on the machine, trapped inside (fear of entrapment?). Butt-Head leaves Beavis at the machine to guard it, while he tries to get more change to get the bag (and another) out, “two for the price of one”. He manages to get a dollar from an elderly lady, but the machine won’t take it. Meanwhile, Beavis has been adequately fending off any customers from the machine (following Butt-Head’s instructions rather than rationalizing his own. It doesn’t occur to him that if anyone gets another bag of Pork Rinds, theirs will come out too. Beavis’ mind doesn’t work that way). Butt-Head finally goes into the local convenience store to try and get change for the dollar. There he sees day-old nachos, about to be thrown out. There are even roaches crawling over them. Butt-Head buys all of them with the dollar, and goes home and watches TV, forgetting all about Beavis and returning to his null, inactive state. Beavis, simply cries out “Buuuuttttt-Heeeeeaaaaddd!!!” and finally resorts to eating an old M&M he finds at the bottom of the machine (his one act of independent thought in the entire episode). He then returns to his null state of inactivity, calling out for Butt-Head as the sun goes down…

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21 Responses to From the archives: A Freudian Analysis of Beavis and Butt-Head

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  2. drHoward says:

    Strong, Jon M.
    Freud on Seuss
    The Cat in the Hat is a hard-hitting novel of poetry in which the author re-examines the rhyming schemes and bold imagery of some of his earlier works, most notably Green Eggs and Ham, If I Ran the Zoo, and Why Can’t I Shower With Mommy? In this novel, Theodore Geisel, writing under the assumed name of Dr. Seuss, pays homage to the great Dr. Sigmund Freud in a night-marish fantasy of a frisky feline helping two young children understand their own frustrated sexuality. This is the proof I have discovered that Children’s books aren’t quite what they seem.
    The story opens with two youngsters, a brother and a sister, abandoned by their mother, staring mournfully through the window of their single-family house. In the foreground, a large tree (phallic symbol) dances wildly in the wind, taunting the children and encouraging them to succumb to the sexual yearnings they undoubtedly feel for each other. Even to the most unlearned reader the blatant references to the incestuous relationship the two share, sets the tone for Seuss’ probing examination of the satisfaction of primitive needs. The Cat proceeds to charm the wary youths into engaging in what he so innocently refers to as “tricks.” At this point, the fish (an obvious Christ figure who represents the prevailing Christian morality) attempts to warn the children, and thus, in effect, warns all of humanity of the dangers associated with the unleashing of the primal urges. In response to this, the cat proceeds to balance the aquatic nay-sayer on the end of his umbrella, essentially saying, “Down with morality; down with God!”
    After poo-poohing the righteous rantings of the waterlogged Christ figure, the Cat begins to juggle several icons of Western culture, most notably two books, representing the Old and New Testaments, and a saucer of lacteal fluid, an ironic reference to maternal loss the two children experienced when their mother abandoned them “for the afternoon.” Our heroic Id adds to this bold gesture a rake and a toy man, and thus completes the Oedipal triangle.
    Later in the novel, Seuss introduces the proverbial Pandora’s box, a large red crate out of which the Id releases Thing One, or Freud’s concept of Ego, the division of the psyche that serves as the mediator between the person and reality, and Thing Two, the Superego which functions to reward and punish through a system of moral attitudes, conscience, and guilt. Referring to this box, the Cat says, “Now look at this trick. Take a look!” In this, Dr. Seuss uses the children as a brilliant metaphor for the reader, and asks the reader to re-examine his own inner self.
    The children, unable to control the Id, Ego, and Superego allow these creatures to run free and mess up the house, or more symbolically, control their lives. This rampage continues until the fish, or Christ symbol, warns that the mother is returning to reinstate the Oedipal triangle that existed before her abandonment of the children. At this point, Seuss introduces a many-armed cleaning device which represents the psychoanalytic couch, which proceeds to put the two youngsters’ lives back in order.
    With powerful simplicity, clarity, and drama, Seuss reduces Freud’s concepts on the dynamics of the human psyche to an easily understood gesture. Mr. Seuss’ poetry and choice of words is equally impressive and serves as a splendid counter part to his bold symbolism. In all, his writing style is quick and fluid, making The Cat in the Hat impossible to put down. It is not until after multiple readings that the genius of this modern day master becomes apparent. In fact Mr. Suess’ seemingly simple style allows for him to easily and quickly instill his views in our youth. This proves exactly my point of the fact that Children’s books are not necessarily what they seem. Also, it shows just how easy it is for world domination through symbolism and subliminal messages in children’s books.
    Works cited:
    The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss: NEW YORK, Beginner Books, $3.95, 61 Pages.

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