What links Beavis and Butt-Head to Kristen Stewart, via David Cronenberg?

Ease yourself into the rabbit hole, with Douglas Coupland and the slacker generation

Chuckle vision

Beavis and Butt-Head
Beavis and Butt-Head, the arch 90s cartoon is back … Photograph: Everett Collection/Alamy

Watch some videos on television (remember that?). Start laughing, continue until it becomes annoying, then confusing, then funny. Repeat. The arch cartoon of the 1990s MTV-alternative-slacker-generation-X era is back: this summer has seen a Beavis and Butt-Head film and now a new series on Paramount+ of a show that helped define a generation. Huh-huh-huh-huh …

Target markets

Douglas Coupland
… the book of the era was Generation X by Douglas Coupland … Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Slacker, Prozac Nation, Reality Bites, irony, the Lemonheads, Lisa Bonet, Jordan Catalano, apathy, Cop Killer, Janeane Garofalo, Before Sunrise, grunge, Fight Club, pesto … Many things identify the era’s sensibility. But let’s go to one of the ur-texts: Douglas Coupland’s 1991 novel Generation X. His Tales for an Accelerated Culture featured three friends in a world of listless talking, living and semi-working in the California desert.

Marshall the facts

Marshall McLuhan
… who published a biography of fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan, who could have inspired professor Brian O’Blivion in Videodrome, directed by David Cronenberg … Photograph: AP

In 2009 Coupland published a biography of fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan. Many recall the media theorist’s mansplaining-busting cameo in Annie Hall, but staying Canadian, we can jump to David Cronenberg’s 1983 sci-fi Videodrome, which featured a McLuhan-like professor Brian O’Blivion.

Alternative views

Kristen Stewart
… whose latest film stars Kristen Stewart … Photograph: Alamy

Cronenberg’s daughter Caitlin is the photographer behind the much-memed artwork of Drake’s 2016 album Views. Alas, there’s no easy leap from Toronto’s finest to Beavis and Butt-Head, so let’s stay with Cronenberg père: his new film, Crimes of the Future, returns to his body-horror past, with Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux and Kristen Stewart cutting it up.

A breathless finish

Stephen Root in Office Space
… who is also in Seberg with Stephen Root, who starred in Office Space, by Beavis and Butt-Head creator Mike Judge … Photograph: 20 Century Fox/Allstar

Among Stewart’s pretty impressive post-Twilight oeuvre is the unheralded Seberg, a “flawed” biopic of Jean Seberg, the Breathless star hounded by the FBI. Also in the cast is the great character actor Stephen Root (lately in Barry and Succession), who played Milton in the cult 1999 comedy Office Space, written and directed by Mike Judge, the creator of Beavis and Butt-Head (Root also has a voice role in the recent film). All of which triumphantly brings this edition of DTRH together, but being gen X-themed, let’s not show we care all that much. Oh well, whatever, never mind. Huh-huh-huh-huh.

A hamburger

Pairing notes

Read In The Nineties, journalist Chuck Klosterman turns his obsessive eye on the decade of American pop-cultural hegemony.

Eat With McJobs at Burger World, Beavis and Butt-Head satirised the fast-food nation, though burgers are a little fancier now: in April, Bristol’s Danny’s Burgers was pronounced Britain’s best.


Larry Ryan

The GuardianTramp

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