by Sucheto Nath
What’s so special about a dog?
One day in January, we found this on Facebook:
“It is with condolences that I must tell you Gabe passed away yesterday morning. He had been struggling with his heart for quite some time, and it very suddenly became worse. He went peacefully, being loved with his family with a smile on his face.”
Gabe was a little white dog loved by the world. It all started several years ago when his owner uploaded a video of him on YouTube. Gabe’s cute barks, yelps, and sneezes were edited into musical tracks, coupled with videos of him cobbled together from ‘source videos’. Many of these weren’t by the owner: as time went on, more and more people put Gabe in weird and wonderful places.
The best place to start watching Gabe (if you can call browsing these things ‘watching’) is probably the masterpiece rendition of Offenbach’s Can Can.
It starts off in a rather cinematic way, with the unseen owner (we assume the one recording is the owner) asking, ‘What’s wrong?’ This makes the entire song a kind of fiesta of hilarity: Gabe might be barking at the idea that anything is wrong; something might actually be wrong, and Gabe’s polite barks (or ‘borks’, as they’re called in Gabe canon) are being reworked into the Can Can; or possibly, Gabe himself may be taken to sing the song in response to the question. Another wonderful aspect of the piece is the final second, when Gabe yelps in a very close close-up shot. Much of the pleasure comes from the self-aware, self-referential quality of the video.
Classic Gabe videos feature the dog in some kind of role. Two typical examples come to mind: Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones. Jurassic Bork starts with David Attenborough welcoming you to ‘Jurassic Bork’; John Williams’ score ascends, and then, in place of dinosaurs, we have a big Gabe borking, with little Gabes around it.
Gabe’s face speaks volumes, as his edited form drives a jeep away from a badly animated T. rex. What we see is a concoction of various layers of meaning: there’s the source video playing so far as Gabe is concerned, but there’s also the given video, which parodies scenes from Jurassic Park. There’s also the ‘metatext’: we have other Gabe videos in mind when we see each one, so you could argue that there’s a whole array of vague memories of Gabe borking that we have in mind when we see him every time, which affects each particular view.
Indiana Borks also puts Gabe(s) in places you wouldn’t think: Gabe in the fedora; Gabe on the temple wall; Gabe as the idol; Gabe in the plane; Gabe borking the Nazis while Indiana tells Marion, ‘Don’t look at the doggos’.
To properly understand ‘Gabe’, one does well to remember the ‘poorly drawn’ memes from some years ago. The videos are, simply put, intentionally ‘so-bad-it’s-good’. This is probably best seen in the delightful Doggos of the Borkribbean:
The video begins with a ship sailing towards the viewer, and Gabe, sitting on it, singing the Pirates of the Caribbean theme. Everything is intentionally twice removed from reality: the pleasure or hilarity proceeds from the deliberate poor quality of the animation. One of the two best moments is when a bottle of rum flies and spins spontaneously ‘onto’ Gabe (he carries it, somehow), and then he fights another pirate dog. The other moment - I’ll leave the reader to see the video - involves a bomb.
The final video that merits discussion is Spooky Scary Borks, a dazzling, brilliant parody (‘delightful’ would be an understatement) of Spooky Scary Skeletons. On what level does the video function? How many layers of irony is it on? We might never know, but it’s in a league of its own. Gabe becomes a skeleton in the middle, borking at us; but on both sides, there are little Gabe ghosts here to spook you. Gabe, as he dances his bony dance, bends his head and raises his arms for a second - this tiny gesture is so shockingly ironic that it almost defies explanation. Why? Why does Gabe raise his bony little fingers? Does he know he’s in a video, and he’s doing it for the fun? Is it like when a perfectly sane person dances a jig in an empty classroom to pass the time till his classmates arrive? Just how many layers of self-awareness are we on right now? After this, there’s a guy in a cartoon graveyard, with a pumpkin head, and he’s dancing; only the pumpkin is also Gabe’s head, and he’s borking. Then comes Gabe being chased by a skeleton, with ‘spook’ loading in a bar in the corner, like those old Flash games we’re embarrassed to admit having played. The video really has to be seen to be appreciated:
Gabe is for the highest of tastes. To enjoy the ridiculous when it is so cerebral and self-referential requires a deep, if instinctive, understanding of the medium of YouTube memes. Gabe gave us this sweet pleasure for years, and now he’s gone. He leaves in his wake his family, his fans, his body of work, and several videos made to remember him. His owner made a meme of a Gabe-shaped field of stars with the words, ‘See You Space Pupper…’ (it's the one right at the top of this article).
The least we could do is to keep enjoying his borks for years to come.