Alienation: A Minion Dollar Industry

Disorganized, unskilled, and conspicuous — yet the Minions have achieved a ubiquity of societal infiltration undreamed of by Cobra Command, The Foot Clan, or any other fictional private army that came before them. Their faces, each one a visualization of your brain on too much Dilbert and circus music, have breached every facet of sellable society. You can start your day with Minion cereal, smoke from your Minions vaporizer on the way to work, RVSP to your friend’s Minion-themed wedding and come home to find a Minion safeguarding the books you bought from Amazon.

That book will make for a welcome respite from a social media feed replete with Minion tattoos, Minion makeup tutorials, hand-painted Minion bra and panty sets. You might find yourself popping off a desperate Minion pun to your friends, like a burst of suffocated steam — you’re really one in a Minion — in the tired and tepid hope that crying Minion will liberate you from this headlock. The march of babbling, listless joy continues no matter how often we surrender to its presence.

It’s like Shrek, but worse, somehow. Shrek was at heart a character with a personality; there was the suggestion that his virality had confines. It was easy to delineate where the consumption is genuine and when it’s resentful, “ironic”.

The Minions are, by design, bereft of identity. They are a tailor-made, custom-ordered nightmare of our own avarice and alienation.

What separates the Minions from other groups of henchpeople is that the Minions achieved victory without their leader. Though dutifully serving the supervillain Gru in both Despicable Me films, they show no deference to him in their merchandising. The Stormtroopers need Vader, Jasper and Horace need Cruella; the Minions can sell a thousand phone covers and twin bedsheet sets in the time it takes Gru to decide whether he’s the good or bad guy in the film he’s in.

The presence of their master obstructs the fantasy. The Minions are a race-less, gender-less, age-less, aspiration-less workforce. They don’t despair for their rights. They experience only mild discomfort in being used as lightbulbs or shot from cannons. They have no individualism, only mimicry of the dominant culture. Their language is indecipherable by humans, which affords a blissful separation from their sentience.

The Minions are the platonic ideal of a capitalist service class. You need not expend the effort to wrest them into subhuman subservience. The Minions began as the intended end result of every indigenous population indentured to occupying industrialists.

Their new movie suggests that the Minions find fulfillment in their subordination, a tableau levied to justify slavery and the occasional “I have a minority friend who anecdotally echoes my thoughts on this ‘equality’ you are fighting for” argument. Not all of us can lead a squad of stormtroopers, but anyone can manage the Minions, a resource so readily available that it’s abundance overshadows the actual main character of their movie, lady supervillain Scarlet Overkill.

As we put the Minions in our pantries or set them as our screensaver, we collectively consume the fantasy of labor uninvested in the capital it creates. Like L’il Abner’s Shmoo, the yellow creatures clad in blue — I need just the tiniest of repose from using the M word — present us with an audacious promise of capitalism: we don’t have to cheat, oppress, and scheme from one another if we all just, as one people, cheat and oppress and scheme against a presumably dimmer, weaker, more docile population.

Those of us brought up in capitalism are conditioned to cope with hardship through the desire to one day be the boss instead of the bossed. The system is immutable, it is you, the labor, that is fallible.

Because of this, we are unable to tell when someone we see is “ironically” participating in the Minions fandom. Your friend finds a picture of a Minions cake in the supermarket, they tweet it — “lol I want this to be my wedding cake”. And maybe you retweet it, or you comment with the suggestion that the vows be in gibberish and you exchange goggles instead of rings. Or you just retweet it. And people who are earnest in their consumption share, comment — as we up the ante of how ridiculous and degrading our interactions with the media, this resentment is translated as enthusiasm, and the trend is sustained.

This works in reverse, too: imagine 10 people in a room, each one wearing a Minions shirt to mock the other 9. We’re self-aware of this programming, and even resent it at times; the assumption that everyone you meet is or will become a sellout when given the chance is an societal hypnotic suggestion keeping us from rejecting the kind of culture that dreamed of the Minions in the first place.

Every Minions mug or phone app is a receipt of our alienation, from one another and from the labor we consume.

The Shmoos upended L’il Abner’s society, transfixing them into complacency. The humans of his world nearly slaughtered the entire race of creatures to retain their way of life. Anything — even abundance — must be destroyed if it cannot be commodified for capital. We fear what provides for us — we decry the immigrants who take the jobs we feel are beneath us, we avert our eyes as police murder the youth that dictate the fashion and music white society finds “hip”.

Eventually you wake from the dream and see the loathing and violent indifference needed to sustain capitalism. Even if a “contently subjugated” workforce could ever be materialized, you would come to hate them, delighting in their misery, resenting every second applied to the task that services you— an antipathy likely demonstrated at great length by Scarlet Overkill or any character with temporary ownership of the Minions.

Ultimately, The Minions’ occupation of our mind’s eye ends not through resistance or disgust, but apathy. We’ll grow tired and something newer, fresher will come along. And the discourse will throw an arm over our shoulder and go “hey wasn’t that some stupid shit”? They’ll be throwaway jokes in sitcoms, and in a couple years someone will take a selfie of themselves wearing a Minions hat and suggest they’re wearing it to bed for sexual reasons and we’ll all laugh in a desperate ploy to get the taste out of our mouths.

The terror of the police state works in tandem with the indifference of the working class, consistently telegraphed the hopelessness of any other alternative that we are turned upon one another, placated in our chagrin with a toxic solipsism: everyone else is a sheep, only I understand how stupid and asinine [insert current trend] is and nobody gets that I’m just eating this blue-and-yellow cupcake ironically.

The Minions, for all their faults, rose and fell together, united in their bland inanity even as they are delegated to the refuse. Their least profitable quality is their most redeeming, and maybe the one fragment of the fantasy we should take with us back to the waking world upon our exit to lucidity — leaving the alienation and indifference to drift back into the intangible; the oppressor within broken down to a Minion little pieces.

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