Presented on stage by Guillaume Morissette at Ryeberg Live Calgary 2014.
JubJubTheDog, “Jub Jub At The Beach” (2013)
On Sincerity, Chaos, Loneliness, Renunciation & Jub Jub the St. Bernard
This is Jub Jub, a celebrity St. Bernard who lives in the state of New Jersey, in the United States. His existence is documented online, on community-oriented websites like Instagram, YouTube and Reddit, among others. Jub Jub has been a guest on Good Morning America and he’s met minor celebrities like former NFL player Tim Tebow. He has also been approached by the Guinness World Records and the television show “America’s Got Talent,” which were hoping to showcase Jub Jub’s uncanny ability to balance objects of different shapes and sizes on his head. This is a video of Jub Jub demonstrating this impressive skill.
JubJubTheDog, “Jub Jub Nose How to Balance” (2011)
Jub Jub’s owner, Stew McFadden, said that even as a puppy, Jub Jub seemed special, in that he “showed intelligence” and acted “almost human sometimes.” I first learned of Jub Jub back in March, in a period during which I had medium-high anxiety and difficulty sleeping. At one point, I just couldn’t seem to concentrate on anything, so I Googled “St. Bernards doing cool stuff” and eventually stumbled on a Huffington Post article titled “Say Hello To Jub Jub The Dog,” which featured photos of Jub Jub swimming in a fountain, sleeping in a bathtub or balancing a beer bottle on his head.
I was mentally tired and in need of comfort, so this article seemed, to me, at that moment, like the best piece of journalism I had read in years.
At first, Jub Jub’s social media presence seemed to reveal only a very simple truth, which is that animals are cool, possibly cooler than any movie star or rap artist. I honestly feel, I think, that I would be more interested in a magazine like Rolling Stone if there was a different Golden Retriever on the cover every month. It was only after a week of following Jub Jub on Instagram and elsewhere on social media that I began to appreciate something deeper and more subtle about Jub-Jub, which is that he was living his life sincerely and without shame. Jub Jub could wear a Hulk Hogan costume, eat comically large hamburgers or climb onto a kitchen counter and then decide to sleep there without feeling like his behavior was “abnormal” or “outrageous.” He didn’t have words like “comical-looking” to describe his own condition, and therefore was unaffected by them. He could sleep in a bathtub because, to him, a bathtub wasn’t an object with a specific function pre-determined by human language, it was just a setting that possessed different tactile characteristics. In other words, Jub Jub existed primarily outside of human language, in a permanent state of blissful unawareness.
At the time of watching these videos, I was writing content full-time for a small marketing agency. At the office where I was working, it sometimes felt, to me, like everyone was “faking it,” as if my coworkers and I were all actors who had been hired to fake enthusiasm and pretend being interested in our boring, mundane work tasks. We were willing to pretend only because someone was paying us money to pretend. During this period, I was, on paper, writing for a living, but I also felt like I was being dishonest in my actions. To secure this position, I had had to lie about my overall career objectives and interest level in the marketing agency. The best way to get a job, it seemed, was to create an illusion of myself by lying outrageously.
“That’s our system for finding work?” I thought. “And everyone’s okay with that?”
Using Jub Jub as an unlikely source of inspiration, I began to think about ways to live my life more sincerely, even if that meant being poorer or struggling more. I was a mediumly successful author, meaning that to survive I would likely have to balance my writing with some other source of income. One major problem with that was that I had an inflated sense of self from doing the writing thing, so anything that wasn’t working on a novel usually felt like a hopeless waste of time. “Why can’t the universe see that I am a genius,” I thought, “or that at least occasionally I am?”
AnimalPlanet, “Breed All About It: St. Bernard” (2008)
Part of my interest in Jub Jub, or St. Bernards in general, comes from my childhood. Growing up, my family owned two St. Bernards, a male and a female. My dad would tell my sisters and me stories about the St. Bernard breed, how these dogs had originally been bred and trained for the purpose of rescuing alpine travellers trapped in snow. As a small child, our St. Bernards seemed, to me, imposing and skilled. I didn’t understand, I think, that our dogs had never saved anyone from an avalanche. I thought, instead, that we had purchased these animals from a monastery located in the mountains near Switzerland or something, and that protecting our family was some sort international peacekeeping mission for them. Though the St.Bernards seemed happy, I began to think that maybe they were bored, weren’t given enough alpine travellers to rescue.
On my fifth birthday, I blew out the candles on my birthday cake and wished for an avalanche to hit my hometown, because I thought this would make our dogs feel useful. Nothing happened. Later that year, near the end of the summer, a small earthquake struck and I thought, “Finally.” I expected our dogs to take charge, do heroic things, but then they just stood there, terrified and panicking a little. It was only at that moment that I understood our St. Bernards weren’t highly trained secret service agents after all, just dogs with decent instincts and good intentions.
Though we had a male and a female St. Bernard, they never reproduced. The female was fixed, something no one had explained to the male. He would check up on her every once in a while, wondering why she still hadn’t gone into heat. There was something beautiful about how he never lost hope, how he seemed resigned to wait as long as he had to for her cycle to begin again, like he was waiting for the return of some sort of long-lost comet, one that can only be observed every 70 years or so.
It’s around that time that the movie “Beethoven” and its sequel, “Beethoven’s 2nd” were released. My parents quickly became obsessed with these films, which featured a St. Bernard living with an adopted family. Beethoven became “their movie,” some sort of alternate reality that starred them. They even purchased and laminated a supersized print of the movie’s poster, which they hung up in our living room. Because of this, when I think about my childhood, today, I sometimes automatically picture the face of the family dad in the movie “Beethoven,” looking distressed and horrorstruck because a giant St. Bernard is destroying his life again.
Brian Levant, “Beethoven: TV Trailer” (1992)
I recently re-watched “Beethoven” and “Beethoven’s 2nd” while unnecessarily hungover on a Sunday afternoon. I hadn’t seen these films in a long time, and though I remembered every scene, my relation to these movies was now completely different. Watching Beethoven as an adult, I now identified with the dad instead of the children. I felt, I think, much more empathy for him, as his life suddenly seemed, to me, like a pure hell. In the movie “Beethoven,” the dad is completely overwhelmed at work, completely overwhelmed in his personal life, stressed about his financial future and repeatedly punished for trying to preserve and maintain his current lifestyle. If “Beethoven” was a comedy when I was a kid, it now seemed much more like some sort of morally ambiguous tragedy.
It’s interesting, I feel, how the chaos caused by the St. Bernard in “Beethoven” is almost always directed at the dad, and almost never directed at the rest of the family, which gets a much more gentle, considerate dog. In one scene, the St. Bernard is drooling in the dad’s shoes, then in the next, he’s calmly listening to the teenage daughter’s romantic problems. The reason for this, I think, is simple: the dad expects permanence and stability from a universe whose default mode of expression is chaos. The main purpose of the St. Bernard, as a character, is to teach the dad a pseudo-Buddhist life lesson about accepting chaos and change as an inevitable part of life. In other words, there’s no point in attaching yourself to the present conditions of your existence, good or bad, because they’re bound to change, whether your possessions are destroyed by a dog or destroyed by time. Japanese Zen master Shunryu Suzuki said that, “Renunciation is not giving up the things of this world, but accepting that they go away.” This is, I think, exactly what the St. Bernard in “Beethoven” is trying to teach the dad.
For most of the movie, the family dad is resistant to change and chaos, as if he’s trying to swim counter-current to the natural forces of the universe. Near the end of the film, the dad has an emotional breakthrough and finally accepts the St. Bernard as “his dog,” and it’s at this point in the movie that the chaos starts being redistributed. Instead of being aimed at the dad, the chaos is now primarily directed at the movie’s antagonist, an evil veterinarian, and the dad seems to feel a kind of cathartic joy from finally being an agent of chaos, as opposed to being the target of it. One of “Beethoven’s” central messages, of course, is that the difficult path is sometimes the most rewarding one. Had the family inherited a small dog that doesn’t require much maintenance, the dad’s lesson wouldn’t have been nearly as complete.
The second “Beethoven” movie, I would argue, is an interesting reversal of the first. Instead of the dog indirectly teaching the dad an important life lesson, it’s now the dad who indirectly teaches the dog an important, and probably Buddhist, life lesson. As a whole, the second “Beethoven” film is, I think, about the pressure and pitfalls of relationships, about how securing a sexual partner is rarely the end of our problems, just the beginning of new ones. Relationships are everywhere in this film, from a romantic scene featuring two dogs to the teenage daughter having to choose “the right boy” to the dad making a conscious effort to re-seduce his wife by dancing around the kitchen to get her to laugh.
fckyeah90s, “F**K Yeah 1990s Reviews Beethoven’s 2nd” (2011)
The movie starts with the family in a kind of peaceful equilibrium, with the dad and the St.Bernard no longer locked in an adversarial relationship. During a stroll around town, the St. Bernard is shown as “being lonely” and envious of romantic couples. He soon finds a suitable mate, a female St. Bernard named Missy, but his relationship with her never quite fills the void he was hoping it would. Instead, Beethoven and Missy become star-crossed lovers who must overcome hardships and challenges to experience brief, fleeting moments of happiness. While at the beginning of the movie, the St. Bernard idealizes love and its promise of happiness, fulfillment and perfect, idyllic companionship, his romantic experiences throughout the film are much more traumatic.
The Buddhist monk Ajahn Sumedho said that, “When it comes to the actual experience of life, we’re very much alone; and to expect anyone else to take away our loneliness is asking too much.” This, to me, is pretty much the life lesson the St. Bernard learns throughout “Beethoven’s 2nd,” that despite having reproduced and formed a family, he still feels empty, which is okay, because fullness was always an illusion. From this perspective, the dog, I feel, could look at the dad as a positive male role model. The dad, to me, is someone who frequently feels lonely within his relationship, though has learned, over time, to accept and even embrace this aspect of his marriage, which, I would argue, makes it stronger.
Speaking of the dad, he becomes, I think, a kind of antihero in the second film. Though, like in the first film, he endures punishment throughout the movie, he’s clearly much more skilled at letting go this time around. Near the end of “Beethoven’s 2nd,” the kids decide to sign up the dad to a local fair’s hamburger eating competition without his consent. Instead of growing angry or resentful, the dad chooses to go with it, and as a result becomes weirdly God-like during the competition itself, eating hamburgers faster than the human eye can see.
Overall, the dad still has the same concerns as in the first film, such as how to ensure the financial success of his company, but he now views his life, I feel, from a much more detached perspective, which allows him to enjoy it. The progress the dad has made in his personal life is emphasized by the second movie’s antagonist, a vain woman who’s only interested in the St. Bernards as a potential opportunity for profit. In her book “Everyday Zen,” Charlotte Joko Beck said that, “The extra structure covering our life has no reality… It’s not a question of getting rid of it, since it has no reality; but it is a question of seeing its nature… It’s as if we have to go full circle. Our life is always all right. There’s nothing.”
In the second “Beethoven” movie, the dad and the vain woman don’t view life from the same perspective. The dad has learned to view his life as “all right,” because there’s nothing, while the vain woman views her life as “not all right,” because something is owed to her.
JubJubTheDog, “What It’s Like Walking With Jub Jub” (2013)
So far, in this essay, I’ve used St. Bernards as a general topic to make broad points from a vaguely Buddhist perspective about sincerity, chaos, loneliness and other things. The last subject I’d like to discuss is fame. One of the most profoundly depressing aspects of my life today is how many celebrities exist inside it as images only. I am constantly reminded, by magazines, billboards, commercials and more, that Tom Cruise is a person who exists, a person who likes to fight space aliens, a person who likes to make concerned faces while wearing cool leather jackets.
At the same time, I spend very little time in my day-to-day life watching Tom Cruise’s movies, reading what Tom Cruise has to say about whatever, getting life advice from Tom Cruise or feeling intellectually stimulated by Tom Cruise. The result, I feel, is that Tom Cruise, in my life, exists as a kind of empty shell, a purposeless ghost who is trying to haunt me, but has nothing to say to me, no message for me. All Tom Cruise is able to communicate to me, when I see him grinning on the cover of a magazine while waiting in line at the pharmacy to buy shampoo, is his image. “Here I am,” Tom Cruise says. “We get it, you really like being in movies, just fuck off already,” I sometimes want to shout at him a little.
With a celebrity St. Bernard, my expectations are different. Since Jub Jub exists primarily outside of human language, I am comfortable with him having absolutely nothing to communicate to me. As a celebrity, Jub Jub is modest and humble. If I were to ask him to lick my hand, he would probably be happy to do so. If I were to ask Tom Cruise to do the same thing, he might laugh at me or punch me in the face.
Since Jub Jub isn’t a human celebrity, we’re also less tempted to impose limitations or a weird code of conduct onto him, to shame him or attempt to police his behavior. Instead, we encourage Jub Jub to maintain a kind of experimental lifestyle. Users on YouTube, for example, will leave comments to express wonder at Jub Jub’s ability to balance a laptop on his head, or delight in seeing him consume large amounts of food. Again, if this was Tom Cruise eating those hamburgers, we would probably have collectively shamed him into never eating ever again.
Another very important difference between Jub Jub and Tom Cruise, of course, is that Jub Jub is an accidental celebrity. In other words, Jub Jub isn’t a celebrity to feed his ego, but one who simply happens to possess a small amount of fame. Tom Cruise’s celebrity, in comparison, seems, to me, to come from a very narcissistic place. It’s likely that Tom Cruise’s ego didn’t like that Tom Cruise was going to die, and therefore pressured Tom Cruise to pursue worldwide fame. What Tom Cruise’s ego wanted, simply, was to feel immortal, or permanent.
Buddhism often preaches the doctrine of the “no-self” as a way to overcome this desire of the ego to become immortal. In fact, this pursuit of ego permanence, in Buddhism, is usually understood to lead to suffering, instead of immortality. One way for me to feel a little better about Tom Cruise being an omnipresent douchebag in my life is to perceive Tom Cruise as a profoundly sick human being, one whose overwhelming need for external validation of his own existence is actually causing him suffering.
Lastly, I’d like to conclude this Ryeberg by arguing that because of their gentle demeanor, charisma, overall skillset and surprising intelligence, St. Bernards have always made excellent celebrities. Before a movie star like Beethoven or a social media sensation like Jub Jub, St. Bernards were legendary rescue dogs saving alpine travellers buried in snow. As a child, I was lucky enough to grow up around St. Bernards, and though it doesn’t seem like I’ll ever become a St. Bernard owner as an adult, I am surprised by how much personal meaning I can still find in these dogs, in their loving kindness, their presence, their goodwill, their humility.
- Guillaume Morissette