If you’ve been on social media at all over the past decade, you’ve definitely been bombarded with Minions in some way, shape or form. The compact, spectacled, yellow creatures have been seen on everything from Facebook mom posts, children’s clothing, uncomfortably sexual memes, and corporate collaborations with Supergoop and Verdy. This past weekend, I took my 7 year old cousin to watch Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022), surrounded by a cheering crowd of suited high school boys. Between the children who found yellow-colored butts funny, teenagers in suits “ironically” watching in the theater for TikTok content, and exhausted mothers picking up popcorn spilled by their kids, Minions has captured capital(ism), both on and off the screen.
Off the screen, the minion represents the perfect product. They are easily drawn, can be stuck on any product (and I mean any, unfortunately), are loved by kids, and are frequently memed. They don’t speak a human language, making their silly talk appealing to children anywhere. With few human characteristics but no discerning features, their charm is not limited by borders, language, or race. In memes, they can portray any expression, so you can stick them wherever you want and the meme would still make sense. The silliness of Minions and their appeal to children, families, and old people would naturally cause young adults to hate them. Young adults generally do find Minions to be extremely annoying, but not without an ironic love and attempted subversion that seems almost intentionally created by Universal. Minions are pervasive on the internet and in stores, and seem to have penetrated nearly every area of life.
The role of the minion representing labor in a multitude of ways is quite fascinating. On screen, they seem to almost be commentary on the utilization of the blinded proletariat by the capitalist bourgeoisie. The minions have existed since the dawn of time itself, and have one purpose – to serve the most evil of villains, from Tyrannosaurus Rex to Gru (with an understandable career gap pre-1960). When they have no villain to serve, they become depressed. This represents the blinded proletariat who have not reached class consciousness and love their oppressor. We see this in real life, with the working class defending the very capitalist system that exploits them. There are flashes of consciousness – in Despicable Me 3, the minions go on strike. However, they are on strike because Gru is no longer a supervillain, and the minions choose to join his long-lost twin Dru who still is. This portrays that it is not allegiance to individuals, rather, it is allegiance to capital and power that drive their actions.
The minions also have very little to distinguish themselves from each other. While they slightly differ in height, girth, and number of eyes, they are all small yellow bespectacled blobs in overalls. They all speak one language, much like the global proletariat speaks no language. As the international working class has no countries and is defined by their exploitation by capital rather than borders, the minions have no sense of nation, but are only defined by their labor. They possess no ownership of the fruits of their labor, and do not complain about it. While it is their choice to work for the world’s supervillains, they immediately obey their masters. Their bosses don’t have to force them to, but their relationship to labor and their role in the hierarchy has been internalized in them so strongly that they know nothing else. As their masters profit from the minions’ labor, using those superprofits to achieve world domination, the minion sees this as the minions’ success, while not enjoying the benefits from that labor.
The minions representing an aspect of the international proletariat may not have been intentional by the producers of the franchise. They may have designed them to be cute, funny creatures with licensing rights that bring in profit. That being said, they represent us well – we are often not conscious of our oppression and gladly participate in it, while being distracted by consumeristic urges – even if it isn’t bananas and half-nude minions with wigs.