No ifs, no Butt-heads, just deconstruct

31st October 1997 at 00:00
What do Beavis and Butt-head mean to you?

Something to collapse in front of after several Friday night gin and tonics ? An excuse to play air guitar to dodgy rock videos? Or an incitement to set fire to your neighbour's dustbin?

Wrong. For teachers, the MTV cartoon featuring two delinquent juveniles is an opportunity to "engage in a reflexive learning relationship with the cultural media artefacts of society and perhaps to go beyond this to act as a kind of teacher deconstructor".

That, at least, is the view Roy Fisher of Huddersfield University puts forth in the latest Education Studies. Against a backdrop of The Ridings, the murder of Philip Lawrence and the "moral panic" he sees pervading any discussion of school discipline, Fisher deconstructs the way the show portrays teachers and students - while admitting this may appear "perverse, if not naive".

His conclusion in the article Teachers' Hegemony Sucks is that the show offers "some potential in the task of interrogating contemporary understandings of teachers, students and their relationships".

In other words, the teachers and students seen on TV are stereotypes illustrating the way society views them. (Even Beavis and Butt-head could have figured that out.) The scary twist is that the show is not just an ironic critique of these stereotypes but a celebration of them too, because most viewers - "teenagers who experience disaffection, alienation and powerlessness" - are too dumb to get the irony.

The show also features two teachers. One is the sadistic and conservative "hygiene teacher" Mr Buzzcut who believes flogging is too good for 'em. The other is sharing, caring Mr Van Driessen who worries that Beavis "doesn't respect his own self-hood" when he puts entrails inside his Pete Seeger-autographed guitar.

You might recognise them as Mr Trad and Mr Trendy and both suffer equal derision. Fisher blames the recession for creating a generation which believes "all teachers suck because the point of education is no longer evident".

But what meaning will the audience draw from this, Fisher asks?

"The complicated satirical framework of the programme is likely to be lost on its mostly teenage audience," he suggests, warning that the all-pervasiveness of TV brings ever closer the likelihood of life imitating art.

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