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Why Invader Zim's GIR should be your favorite robot sidekick

Illustration for article titled Why emInvader Zim/ems GIR should be your favorite robot sidekick

Science fiction has portrayed its fair share of glitchy and bumbling robots over the years, but none hold a candle to Invader Zim's GIR. Quite possibly the most erratic and unhelpful robot to ever hit the screen, GIR has become one the most loved and oft-quoted characters to appear in a sci-fi cartoon in years.

Illustration for article titled Why emInvader Zim/ems GIR should be your favorite robot sidekick

GIR has remained remarkably popular since the show came to an untimely end in 2002 after a teasingly short two-year run. He has since lived on in the public's imagination in the form of action figures, video game characters, a clothing line, and a seemingly endless array of YouTube tributes.


One of the more infamous moments in post-show history came during the Occupy Wall Street protests last year when a young girl, who happened to be wearing a green GIR hat, was arrested in a high profile incident; it was an endearing reminder of GIR's legacy in popular culture.

So, what is it exactly that accounts for GIR's popularity? Is it his flair for making waffles? Or does it have something to do with his incredible moves on the dancefloor? Perhaps it's time we dug a little deeper into the personality that is GIR — the robot, the dog, the evil minion — and find out.

Perpetual malfunction

GIR, for those unfamiliar with Invader Zim, is a malfunctioning Irken SIR, a Standard-issue Information Retrieval robot assigned to Zim on his mission to take over the Earth. Haphazardly put together at the last minute, GIR is constructed by The Tallest from bits of scrap metal, articles of trash, and anything else they could find in their pockets. GIR gave the name to himself, but when asked what the acronym stood for, he proclaims, "I don't know!"

Despite his sorry condition, GIR does possess some potent robotic traits, including "superior geographic abilities", X-ray vision, boot jets in his feet, and the ability to shoot lasers from his eyes. And like Bender, his animated counterpart in Futurama, GIR has a remarkable amount of empty space in his chassis where he's been known to store such things as a giant pile of rubber piggies, a puppy, and even a beehive.


GIR was erroneously passed on as a top secret advanced model, but it soon becomes obvious to Zim that there's something profoundly wrong with his strange new little robot. As they journey towards Earth in the pilot episode, GIR sings "The Doom Song" for the entire duration of the trip, an ordeal that lasts six months.

A dog's life

Indeed, it becomes obvious very quickly that GIR is not completely right in his positronic head. He's hyperactive, completely spaced-out, and mostly incapable of understanding situations. During important missions, GIR is almost always irreverent and he rarely obeys Zim's commands, most often on account of distraction, disinterest and just plain disobedience.

Illustration for article titled Why emInvader Zim/ems GIR should be your favorite robot sidekick

After settling on Earth, Zim figures that GIR should be disguised as his pet dog. They put together a green costume featuring a prominently displayed tongue, a head that was put on like a hood, and a rather revealing front zipper. GIR never does fit into the dog role, often getting dragged by his leash, walking on two feet, and meowing like a cat.


Despite the sub-par dog disguise, GIR is actually quite good at blending in with the humans. In "Attack of the Saucer Morons," he befriended a number of humans — all of them teenage females. Indeed, GIR is known as a lady's robot. He was very popular at dance clubs and was often seen in the company of beautiful young girls.

GIR's the closest thing Zim has to a friend, and despite his shortcomings, is given little jobs such as guarding the house or monitoring Earth broadcasts, which he essentially uses as an excuse to watch TV. Outside of his television addiction (he watched "Intestines of War" over 100 times), GIR enjoys cooking and eating just about anything, including tacos, bubblegum, and waffles. He even gets fat in the episode, "Halloween Spectacular of Spooky Doom", after he gorges on candies that he stole from Halloween trick-or-treaters.


"Hi floor! Make me a sandwich!"

As Invader Zim's sidekick, GIR is far from effective. He's way too friendly and unable to discern friend from enemy. GIR's also easily tricked. Zim's arch-rival, Dib, is often able to get him to do things, like putting a camera in Zim's base in "Zim Eats Waffles."


Despite GIR's poor mental condition, he does enter into fits of lucidity every now and then. These moments, however, are excruciatingly fleeting. Most of the time he spouts nonsense and non-sequiturs, a strong indication of his bizarre and twisted inner world. Perhaps the strangest glimpse into GIR's mental state is his interpretation of cows on a field as dancing hot dogs wearing tuxedos and top hats.

But when he does function properly, the teal-colored parts of his body - namely his eyes, shoulders, and belly - glow red, like normal SIRs. Sometimes during these moments of clarity, he's even able to offer Zim some sound advice. In "Walk for Your Lives", he worries that making the explosion go faster might not be such a good idea: "But if the big 'splody goes fast," he asked, "won't it get all bad?"


GIR is more of a hindrance than helpful, but he does come to Zim's rescue on occasion. GIR saves Zim from alien fanatics in "Attack of the Saucer Morons". Zim often calls GIR a horrible little robot, but after helping to fight off Dib in "Battle of the Planets", even Zim has to admit that "maybe he isn't such a horrible little minion after all."

"I was the turkey all along!"

By constantly poking holes into Zim's plans, GIR even serves as a kind of antagonist for Zim. As a result, GIR's antics often help to move the story along. More importantly, however, it's through GIR's shenanigans that various truths about their predicament are revealed.

The best example of this can be seen in the episode "GIR Goes Crazy and Stuff" in which Zim uses an obedience chip to put GIR into duty mode. Unfortunately for Zim, he places him on a dangerously high setting which resulted in GIR becoming intelligent enough to question and rebel against him. "Your methods are stupid!" he says to Zim, "Your progress has been stupid! Your intelligence is stupid!" While in this enhanced and clear-headed state, GIR concludes that Zim is a threat to the mission. He becomes frustrated and angry at Zim for not using him properly and for being so ineffective as an invader. But before GIR can do anything drastic, Zim reverts him back to his old chaotic self by the end of the episode.


The experience also reveals GIR's true feelings about being Zim's servant. While GIR is enhanced, Zim asks him if he remembers being his servant. GIR responds by saying yes, and that he didn't like it. This particular insight might help to explain some of the things that GIR says in other episodes, including "Yay! We're doomed!" in "Bad, Bad, Rubber Piggy," and "Awww... I wanted to explode." in "Plague of Babies".

GIR, it would appear, might actually have a thoughtful side. Or maybe not...

"Somebody needs a hug!"

GIR's ongoing legacy in popular culture is easy to understand. It's hard to not be drawn to this character. He's cute, friendly, and mischievous. He's also unpredictable and at times spout-milk-from-your-nostrils hilarious.


In a show that features a nasty array of selfish, mean-spirited, and indifferent characters, GIR is symbol of child-like innocence and free-spirited rebelliousness. He may have weapons that pop out of his head, but he never once uses them. He hates no one, and despite the mission, actually comes to love the planet Earth. GIR draws out our sympathies, even when he's inadvertently working to undermine Zim's plans - which is not necessarily a bad thing given that Zim wants to eventually destroy all humans.

And as a final word on GIR, it's also worth noting...wait....there's a squirrel....


Images via Zim wikia.

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Corpore Metal

As if we needed a meditation on why GIR is awesome!

But basically it's pretty clear how this all works for a story, a comedy. One of the ways to make an AI funny is to deliberately hobble it in some way.