I’ve so far experienced two periods of perceiving my time as completely unlimited: the first was as a child, when the days and weeks stretched out infinitely ahead of me, when a school year felt eternal and led to an eternal summer, and on weekends and after school I could lie in bed or play Sega or wander around town with no sense that there was anything else I should be doing, or that a day would ever come when there would be.
The second was during adolescence, when time seemed to belong to the adults around me — teachers, parents, parents of friends, the whole apparatus of applying to college — and so if I could sneak out of what I was supposed to be doing — play hooky, cheat on a test, say I did some chore without doing it, do some rote task stoned without appearing to be stoned — then I felt I was getting away with something, wasting their time, not mine.
The beauty of Beavis and Butthead is that they’re permanently in this state of grace — sitting on their couch, watching TV and making fun of all things that take themselves seriously, rebelling against middle-class American life without ever making an effort or claiming to believe in anything at all, even the value of their own lifestyle.
They’ve given up on all the demands of civic virtue and responsibility (or simply refused to acknowledge these demands in the first place), and steadfastly refused to learn anything or in any way broaden their perspective. In so doing, their existence argues beautifully for the joy of wasting other people’s time (perhaps that of their audience as well — at least that’s how I feel now, watching old episodes as an adult) which, as adults burdened with the success or failure of our own lives, we wish we could afford to waste but fear we no longer can.
As adults, we’re more free than ever to spend all day on the couch with pizza and beer if we want (in the sense that no one can force us to get up), but no longer are we able to feel we’re getting away with something by so doing, because the time no longer belongs to someone else. Time, now, feels like a commodity whose value can never again be ignored, as in childhood, nor repudiated, as in adolescence.
The show is also the hardest I’ve ever laughed — stoned in a friend’s attic in 10th grade near dawn, rolling on the scratchy carpeting, fists full of Oreos, laughing too hard to eat them. In that moment, both kinds of time wasting came together: the joy of being stoned and watching TV instead of engaging in any productive high school task melted into the deeper, purer childhood joy of complete atemporal abandon, a perception of a kind of heaven where there was nothing but echoing hilarity all the way down.