Why Are Minions So Frigging Popular And When Will This Madness End?
This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a hoard of inescapable sentient emojis.
Despicable Me’s inevitable spinoff film Minions recently premiered around the world, and turned its exhaustive and inescapable marketing campaign into cold hard cash. Scoring an enormous $115.2 million in box office sales, it’s now recorded as the second-biggest animated film in history behind Shrek The Third, and in front of (the obviously superior) Toy Story 3.
It also finally knocked Jurassic World off the top of the box office charts which, let me tell ya, is no easy feat. Not only does that film feature a ripped Chris Pratt leading a velociraptor motorcycle gang, it’s now ranked as the fourth-highest-grossing movie of all time.
But more interesting than Minions‘ stacks of cash or unremarkable critical attention — “You’ll laugh, but you’ll forget it all the minute the credits start rolling” — is the way its characters have become so methodically and aggressively embraced by pop culture. Of course, this is something that started in 2010 after Despicable Me. The enduring fandom is the very reason the new film exists at all. But, perhaps spurred on by the $593 million its producers recently spent on marketing (more than eight times what the film cost to make), things have really stepped up a notch.
This is no longer affecting just kids and twenty-something women who still use baby talk; the Minions have rooted themselves in every demographic like a particularly contagious venereal disease, and we’re all still searching for the cure.
Someone had a minions themed wedding, please kill me now pic.twitter.com/CakCQMPmya
— Andy (@heyitsandy_) July 12, 2015
THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS
Like most relentless and infuriating things in this world, much of the Minions’ spread can be traced back to marketing partnerships with big-name brands. Amazon are delivering all their products ensconced in Minion Yellow; there are Minion stickers plastered on 500 million bananas across the US; character toys are in the boxes of nearly every cereal; Twinkies and Tic-Tac packets have been transformed into exactly what you may imagine; and Kotex briefly subjected us to the horror of Minion tampons.
Also, when I talk about “Minion Yellow” please know I’m being serious — Pantone have created a new shade in honour of the film’s release.
Predictably, none of this quite matches McDonalds’ involvement, which includes a full series of Minion-specific ads, new items on the menu including amorphous mounds of Minion-esque potato, and Happy Meal toys which maybe probably definitely say “What the fuck”.
Hardcore fans of the franchise has taken this time as the perfect opportunity to go ALL OUT and do highly inadvisable things like create Minions menstrual pads and etch the characters into their flesh so they can fondly chuckle at them every day until they die. Others have taken on this fun idea with less long-term commitment, colouring their entire heads and chests into the shape of Minions, and sharing their living nightmare with the world:
Elsewhere online, this exposure has led to the inevitable Buzzfeed list which transforms each of the Disney Princesses into tiny jaundiced demons (to their credit, each image is captioned, “I’m so sorry”), but it’s now stretching to all of the internet’s deepest pits of filth. Minions are being used as memes for everything from cute innocuous Facebook fodder to brazen sexual statements I cannot possibly imagine a context for, and wholly inappropriate political fare.
Why Is This Happening And When Will It Stop?
Much of this is the usual fanfare that comes with any major release, and it will no doubt peter out in its own time. Eventually it’ll just be the kids reciting incomprehensible things which might be quotes, before they shamefully repress all memories of it — and at some point nostalgia will kick in and make it cool again. It’s the natural order of things.
But with its genuine appeal to audiences from all demographics — an ongoing aim of computer-animated film in general these days — there’s something unique about Minions that makes you think the fad may have some added momentum.
I would rather be in a room with 100 TVs playing Frozen on repeat than be in a room with 1 TV playing Minions
— Lili (@swedishcrepes) July 14, 2015
Nate Jones tried to break some of this down yesterday for Vulture, questioning whether people’s engagement with the characters is ironic, sincere or a little bit of both. “You can read Minions memes simultaneously as a satirical commentary on overexposed pop-culture merchandising and a joyful embrace of their lab-grown adorableness,” he wrote. “With their yellow skin and exaggerated facial features, Minions are essentially anthropomorphised emoji.”
“They’re cute, they’re enthusiastic, they’re kind of gross, and they’re also struggling through life. In short, they’re exactly the way most online communities see themselves. Aside from that, they don’t really have individual personalities, which makes them the perfect canvas upon which to project whatever desires you want.”
In fact, this idea was first raised by Brian Feldman writing for The Awl last month. “[Minions] function as a malleable shorthand for almost indescribable feelings,” he wrote. “If we view Minions as a template onto which we project ourselves, then sharing a picture of something Minionized is not only saying ‘I like this’, it’s like saying ‘This is an extension of who I am’.”
Cynicism aside, the kind of widespread identification people from all number of backgrounds have with the characters in this way is really impressive. Someday someone may write a thesis about Minions As Symbolism For The Citizenry Of A Globalised Postmodern World; Minions: The Meme That Would Undo Us All. I’m sure that thesis would make some salient points. I’m sure it would teach us something new, valuable and utterly horrific about ourselves.
But until then — until I say otherwise — I think it’s best if we just wait this one out. Throw your phone into a volcano. Take to the seas. This storm ain’t over yet.
Minions is currently in cinemas.