If you follow me on Twitter (which you should), you’ll notice that I spend a lot of my early evenings watching the kids’ TV show, Yo Gabba Gabba! With a wild cast of strange-looking creatures, a guy running around in orange spandex, and loopy songs like “There’s A Party In My Tummy”, it’s no surprise that people often ask me just what the heck the show is all about.
Recently I was watching the episode “Move” with my daughter. During the episode, Brobee and Toodee are trying to watch some birds in the trees, but can’t see them. So DJ Lance Rock intervenes by dropping bird seed on the ground, giving his two Gabba friends a chance to see the birds. It was this odd Deus Ex Machina that made the true nature of this show become crystal clear to me: it’s all a metaphor for religion.
“Assuredly, I say to you,whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” – Mark 10:15
We’ll start at the top – literally – with the giant, omnipotent presence whose moral teachings are passed down to those beings He brought to life in a world of His creation. That’s right; I’m talking about DJ Lance Rock. Every episode begins with DJ Lance opening his iconic boombox full of action figure followers. The idea of a statue brought to life by its creator has its roots in the Islamic and early Jewish creation myths, but the Jewish legend of the Golem is perhaps the closer metaphor here. The Golem was a large statue of a man that was animated by a magic spell to do his master’s bidding. Similarly, the Gabba Gang are brought to life by their master, DJ Lance, via a sparkly wave of His hands and the magic words, “Yoooooo Gabba Gabbaaaaaaa!”
Unlike the Golem – and more like the Muslim story of Adam, the first man, created from sand, clay, water, and dirt – once they’ve been animated by their Master, the Gabba Gang enjoys a certain level of free will to play in Gabba Land. Lance is still a presence as He watches from above, but for the most part He lets them do their own thing. However, that’s not to say that Lance never intervenes, as He did with the bird seed in the episode referenced above. In fact, He will often influence the events below by dictating when the Gabba Gang should eat, sleep, what to play with (bouncy balls, balloons, Super Martian Robot Girl comic books, etc.), how to treat one another, and even reprimands them if they misbehave. Similarly, the Bible chapter Leviticus deals with the laws that were passed down to the Jews regarding what they should eat, how they should raise their children, proper sexual practices, and other guidelines so they could remain in God’s favor. Of course the punishment for going against Lance’s wishes takes the form of a wagging finger and a disappointed demeanor, rather than fire, brimstone, or a plague of frogs.
Much like the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, or any other religious text, the conveyance of moral beliefs is the entire point of the TV show. DJ Lance usually presents the primary lesson at the beginning of the show (“Sharing with your friends means more fun for everyone!”) and then the Gabba Gang plays out parables to help teach this lesson to the young viewer. These moral lessons can usually be summed up as the infamous Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” In order to help convey this message, Lance will sometimes interacts directly with His monstrous disciples as God did in the Old Testament, though Lance has replaced a burning bush with the occasional high-five. But these interactions are rare. Most of the time His will is carried out in Gabba Land by Plex, the yellow “magic robot”.
“He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” – Isiah 40:11
Plex is different than the rest of the Gabba Gang in that he seems to be the closest thing to an adult among the characters. Whenever DJ Lance wants to distribute “snacky snacks”, play music, or hand out gifts, Plex is usually asked to handle these requests. Plex is, in essence, DJ Lance’s vessel in Gabba Land. But Plex is also childlike, in that he will play the same games and dance along with the other members of the Gabba Gang. Even when he joins them, though, he is usually the one facilitating the activity or setting up guidelines for the others to follow during play. Should he ever need to correct an action by one of the other characters (“It’s not ok to bite your friends!”), DJ Lance usually reinforces Plex’s actions with a small aside to the viewer, showing us that Plex is, in fact, speaking for the Gabba Gang’s God.
Furthermore, it’s no coincidence that Plex’s one-on-one interaction with the audience is in the role of teacher. During his “It’s Fun to Learn with Plex!”segments, the robot teaches young viewers how to wash their hands, put on their pajamas, pick up their toys, and brush their teeth. Again, reinforcing the concept of Lance’s form of Leviticus by dictating the “proper” way to do everyday activities. Meanwhile the other Gabbas play pretend (Muno), color (Brobee), play matching games (Foofa) and listen to sounds (Toodee) – all very childlike and insignificant activities. Plex is the only one who truly teaches a lesson, so clearly he is to be seen as an authority in the world of Gabba.
You might also notice that Plex is never treated the same as his other Gabba friends. He’s a robot, so he doesn’t need food, but he is rarely even given gifts, such as toys or balloons, like the other Gabbas. He seems above these small tangible pleasures, almost as though he knows his reward is to simply serve the Master. He also doesn’t play every game the others do, probably because he already knows the lesson that will be learned through the activity, if not actively reinforcing the lesson while the others play.
Long story short, Plex seems to have a special relationship with DJ Lance. It’s almost as though Plex is an extension of DJ Lance. Perhaps Plex is DJ Lance in Gabba form, sent down as one of them, to impart Lance’s message of love, kindness, sharing, and Dancey Dance. Essentially, Plex is the Gabba Gang’s Messiah, sent to save them.
“And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation…” – Hebrews 5:9
The fact that Plex is a robot is an important aspect of the prophet role he plays. He doesn’t require food. He doesn’t require his own land like the others; he only needs a closet to stand in for recharging (meditating?). He lives a very modest, monkish life, guiding the others in the Word of Lance, while needing very little to survive on his own. Yet he still revels in play, singing songs, dancing with special guests, and blends in well enough to be accepted as one of them. This ability to blend in with the people you’re trying to convert is absolutely a requirement to be a proper savior, according to religious tradition.
Jesus, Muhammad, Abraham, Moses, Buddha, virtually all human vessels sent from God, contain a divine spirit, making them different from the rest of the flock. But they appear in human form to make their message more easily digested. While Plex’s difference is physical, it’s not really a problem in Gabba Land. In a world where you have a giant, red Cyclops, a blue cat-dragon, a pink puffball with a flower on her head, and a short, shaggy, green guy with red horns, a yellow robot doesn’t really stand out all that much. In fact, if anything, Plex is made more in Lance’s image than any of the others as he is, arguably, the most human in appearance and design despite his metal frame.
More importantly, Plex’s robotic persona implies that he might not have the same level of free will as the other Gabbas. Plex never does anything wrong. In fact, Plex is the one who always has the answers. His divine knowledge and unwavering moral actions prove that he is, to borrow a phrase from Blade Runner, “More human than human.” He is seemingly the perfect being in DJ Lance’s eyes – morally infallible, spiritually enlightened, and has a total lack of need from the physical world other than those bare necessities to keep him going in order to do Lance’s bidding. Plex is the perfect believer, which also makes him the perfect prophet, because he was programmed that way (literally and figuratively).
The Plex as Prophet/Christ analogy is furthered by his ability to perform “magic”, which could easily be construed as miracles, such as Jesus walking on water or Moses turning the rod into a serpent. After all, why would a walking, talking robot need to be called “magic” unless there were something more to him? He’s a robot; he can be programmed. But his ability to transport DJ Lance and Dancey Dance guests from the ether, without any visible form of technology other than his antenna, would lead us to believe that this is his main “magical” power. These guests from another realm, brought to help teach the Gabba Gang new Dancey Dances lessons, could these be visions? Angels, perhaps? And what about his ability to, literally, bring Lance to Gabba Land on rare occasions? If someone were able to transport God from heaven down to Earth, I can guarantee that’s someone whom others would follow.
Plex’s magic miracles also come into play to solve problems in Gabba Land. When Jack Black’s mini-bike ran out of gas in the episode “New Friends”, Plex was able to fuel up the bike thanks to a never-before-seen gas nozzle hidden in his empty body. In the episode “Scary”, he controls the lights in Gabba Land and is able to turn them back on by a flip of the giant switch in his hidden closet. His divine gifts make the lives of those in Gabba Land better, inspiring the other Gabbas to see him as a valuable member of their community. And because he always seems to have the answers to the various problems encountered, his words and actions carry more meaning than, say, the childlike Brobee. Furthermore, if there’s a problem that Plex can’t fix, that is when DJ Lance finally intervenes, but not before. To the faithful, the beauty of a God is his ability to know when you need help and when you just need a helping hand. It’s the equivalent of praying to God to make it rain to help the crops grow, rather than asking your local preacher to do the same. In this case, Lance is always there to grant those prayers, be it literally or through the work and guidance of his servant, Plex.
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6
This leads us to the question of what roles the Gabba Gang plays in this scenario. If DJ Lance is God and Plex is Jesus/Muhammad/Moses, who are Brobee, Toodee, Foofa, and Muno? One could argue they are the four major sects of religion that worship God – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity broken into Protestant and Catholic. Muno, for example, would definitely be considered Catholic thanks to the guilt he carries in being the one who knocked down the blocks, bit his friends, and took things from others. His numerous reiterations of the song, “I’m So Sorry”, including the line, “I can fix it / I can make it better” show his obvious desire to atone for his sins against DJ Lance’s moral teachings. However, trying to equate the other Gabbas with the “personalities” (AKA stereotypes) of the other religions becomes more difficult. Perhaps the best answer, then, is that they are, as the characters’ personalities imply, children.
It’s well known that Jesus often preached to children in an effort to influence the future’s moral landscape. So it’s not much of a stretch to imagine the Gabba Gang as children who need to be taught to follow the moral path. Of course the Gabba Gang are a proxy for the children watching at home, who often make the same mistakes (being selfish, touching our friends when it’s not welcome, refusing to try new things, etc.) the Gabbas do on a daily basis. However, due to the moral lessons imparted, this proxy relationship also makes the Gabba Gang something else with Biblical ties – a scapegoat.
The “scapegoat” has its origins in Leviticus, where Aaron was commanded to bring an otherwise innocent goat to the temple, symbolically lay his family’s sins on the animal, and then send it out into the wilderness to die. This cleansing process was meant to drive the sins of man away to make room for the spirit of God. Since then, the term has come to mean anyone who “takes one on the chin” to pay for another person’s sins.
In the case of Yo Gabba Gabba, the friendly creatures that kids see on TV are chastised and scolded for improper behavior. Older kids are able to make the connection between the Gabba Gang’s poor behavior and their own, and will hopefully learn that, if they behave badly, they, too, might get in trouble. It’s a softer, gentler way to teach the lesson – by letting someone else get in trouble for the same sins you commit today with the hopes that you’ll change your ways so won’t be the one getting in trouble tomorrow.
This “scapegoat” approach to teaching is practiced throughout the Bible, as well as other religious texts. For example, one of the most famous scapegoat messages deals with Adam and Eve. “Don’t disobey God or else He’ll kick you out of His exclusive club”, is easy enough to understand. And, for those who believe, is an adequate motivator to live more in tune with the teachings of God. In the end it’s all about faith through attrition, though – believing simply because you don’t want to face God’s wrath (being denied entrance to Paradise), rather than a real desire to live by His moral code or to find spiritual enlightenment. The same could be said for the Gabba Gang, who would probably get away with much more than the occasional stealing of toys were it not for the omnipresent eyes of DJ Lance hovering above, or His vigilant servant in Gabba Land, Plex, ready to put a disobedient follower back in the boombox at the drop of an F-bomb. In their case, DJ Lance really is always watching them. And, by extension, we are to learn that our God is always watching as well.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;” – Psalm 23
In the end, that’s the message we need to take from Yo Gabba Gabba!: We are not alone in this crazy, mixed-up world. As we stumble through life, God is with us, just as Lance is always with the Gabba Gang. Sometimes we need Him to give us a miracle. Sometimes we just need a little help passing a test in Mrs. Musson’s Biology class. Sometimes, like Brobee and Toodee, we just need him to drop seeds from heaven to lure birds out of the trees so we can get a better view.
Of course just who God is has been argued over since man first came up with the idea. To some he’s a giant white guy in robes, has a flowing beard, and sits around on clouds. To others, He’s little more than that feeling we have inside that “Everything is gonna be ok”. To the Gabba Gang, He takes the form of a black man in orange spandex, wearing a fuzzy Kongol-looking cap who likes to carry around a giant boombox and over-annunciates words.
I think if I had to choose which was right, I’d be converting to Lance-ism. At least he has snacky snacks.