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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Beavis and Butthead Charm the Intelligentsia




"They are the children of nature of whom [Jean-Jacques] Rousseau dreamed, people free from the conventions of culture. They do what we think but cannot allow ourselves to express."


- Yury Saprykin, a columnist at Kompaniya magazine.


Beavis and Butthead are doing Russia. And from the literary salons to the quality news media to academic writings, the nation's loftier intellectual circles are enthralled.


The two inarticulate cartoon friends - famous for their raging teenage hormones, their stupidity, their opaque slang and their love of hard rock - have for years been the trademark program on MTV.


Now the American cult phenomenon is taking hold in Russia, where a local MTV product has been on the air for the past five months. MTV Russia can be seen today in Moscow, St. Petersburg and 10 other cities, and is also included in the basic package of NTV Plus satellite pay television.


As in America, Beavis and Butthead are first and foremost a teenage phenomenon.


"Ever since the appearance of a local Russian MTV, the presence of Beavis and Butthead has been impossible to ignore," Izvestia reported last month. "Whenever more than three teenagers get together, one of them invariably starts giggling like Beavis and mooing like Butthead."


What's new in Russia is that Beavis and Butthead have captivated the intelligentsia as well.


"There is something attractive about them. I couldn't go to bed without watching Beavis and Butthead," said Vadim Kurilov, a teacher of English. "They have a certain semantic system that can be grasped very quickly, and it sticks with you. It's so easy to say 'Beavis, it's cool - heh, heh!'"


Kurilov confesses to having watched the cartoon every night for two months straight before his interest finally began to wane. He continues to watch occasionally.


And he is not alone. Vyacheslav Kuritsyn, a respected culture critic, has written sophisticated literary and cultural deconstruction papers using Beavis and Butthead slang. Cultural commentator Saprykin - he who sees the two arch-cretins as Rousseau's noble savages - makes a point of watching the show each morning for a daily "charge of cheer and healthy cynicism."


And at a recent literary salon evening, poet and translator Sergei Moreino used the cartoon as the benchmark for greatness in cinematography. In comparing the art of the two famous Russian film directors, Andrei Tarkovsky and Nikita Mikhalkov, Moreino concluded that Tarkovsky's work is better than "Beavis and Butthead," and so "great," while Mikhalkov's work is worse than "Beavis and Butthead," and so "not great."


Among those who have sought the weighty significance in it all is Izvestia, which came to the conclusion that thanks to Beavis and Butthead, in polite conversation it has now become "easy to fill a strained pause with the phrase, 'It's, like, cool and all!' You appear not an idiot but a natural joker. An important mission has fallen to Beavis and Butthead: they assume other people's mediocrity, narrow-mindedness and cretinism."


Using rude or humorous slang has obvious attraction to young people around the world - but there is also historical precedent for it holding attraction to Russia's ***intelligentsia***. There is something of a tradition among intellectuals - who are angst-filled over their inability to find a common tongue with the good simple Russian people - to use foul language to bridge the gap.


Beavis and Butthead don't exactly use profanity. But the language they speak - particularly as "translated" by Russian MTV - suits the purpose well.


The voices of both characters are supplied by Lenkom Theater actor Sergei Chionishvili. But the charm is in the translation, and that has been ingeniously supplied by Maria Gavrilova - who gathered her vocabulary by calling her friends to ask them to try to remember the jargon of their youth, andinterrogating teenagers.


"I knew [Beavis and Butthead] could speak Russian, and they have begun to do so," Gavrilova said. "Now they have, to an extent, taken on a life of their own."


To translate the crucial slang word "cool," Gavrilova not only used the everyday ***kruto,*** but also revived the nearly forgotten and far sillier ***klyovo.*** The chief concern of the two friends - their "wieners" - in Russian becomes either ***perets,*** a pepper, or **porshen,** a piston. Girls are ***tyolki,*** young female cows.


Beyond that, anything remotely close to literal translation of many commonly used "Beavis and Butthead" words is impossible. "Sucks" became ***otstoi,*** which usually means sediment. Instead of the more esoteric "buttmunch" or "dillweed," Gavrilova's Beavis and Butthead offer interjections like ***baklan,*** which means a cormorant, or ***pelmen,*** as in pelmeni dumplings.


"It is so stupid that it becomes simply funny," said Gavrilova of the "Beavis and Butthead." She added that she has developed a maternal feeling toward the two cartoon losers. "I feel sorry for them," she said.


The Communist Party has yet to take a position on Beavis and Butthead. But in Russia, as in America - where Beavis and Butthead have even been cited on the floor of the U.S. Senate as evidence of the decline of modern society - there are those who worry about what their popularity represents.


Dmitry Shafro, for example, a university student, worries when he hears a Beavis and Butthead catch phrase slip into his own vocabulary.


"Americans created [the show] as a parody of their society, and they laugh at it," Shafro said. "Our people have pervertedly perceived it as a new culture."