Can The Minions Tell Us Anything?

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"I will never again spend money on a Minion movie. ... I surprised myself. I went into this a huge fan of the Minions. And I thought 'Oh, they're so popular, we should talk about them on the left.' And I don't regret this conversation at all. It has deepened my understanding. But I have come out of it as an anti-fan." — Yasmin Nair

Current Affairs podcasts have been deadly serious lately, with many shows devoted to U.S. foreign policy, including episodes on Palestine (Part I, Part II), Afghanistan, U.S. empire, and the threat of nuclear war. Today we take a break from eating our vegetables and indulge ourselves in a bit of dessert, with a much lighter subject (some might say a frivolous one): the "Minions" from the Despicable Me series.

Films featuring the Minions have been hugely successful, being some of the top-grossing animated films of all time and spawning a multi-billion-dollar franchise with a vast range of products, from toasters that will imprint a Minion onto a piece of bread to toothpaste dispensers and Minion-shaped tic-tacs. On Etsy, one can choose among dozens of different crocheted Minion hats. The Minions have become ubiquitous in memes and a 2015 article called "How Minions Destroyed The Internet" argues that Minions have become a "template onto which we project ourselves."

But can we learn anything from the Minions films? Today, Current Affairs editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson is joined by editor-at-large Yasmin Nair and managing editor Lily Sánchez for a discussion about the Despicable Me and Minions films, probing such questions as:

  • In depicting unfree and uncompensated labor by a mass of nondescript fungible workers, do the films implicitly affirm a Marxist critique of capitalism? (Answer: not really.)
  • Should children actually watch Minions films, or will they be corrupted in various ways? (Answer: Do not let your child watch Minions films unless you want them to start imitating Minions for weeks on end.)
  • Are these films entirely stupid or do they have artistic merit?
  • Do the films have some uncomfortable ethnic stereotypes and some stuff that is weirdly inappropriate for kids? (Yes and yes.)
  • Does the fact that Minions have to "serve the most villainous master" explain why the films had to trap them in a cave for the years 1933-1945?
  • Why has Yasmin gone from loving posting Minions memes to being an "anti-fan"?
  • Does Hollywood's relentless search for giant profits mean we will be subjected to new Minions films for the rest of our natural lives?

"I think I feel about the Minions the way I feel about shopping malls, which is that I can go to them or see them as sociological experiments mostly, as opposed to genuine enjoyment." — Lily

"I am surrounded by ever-growing piles of Minions in my dreams." Nathan

The scene of Minions being tortured can be watched here. The full "banana song" can be heard (if so desired) here. Lily's article about families is here and Nathan's about J.K. Rowling is here. The Cracked article alleging that the film leaves open the possibility that the Minions have committed murder is here. The Vox article "Labor exploitation, explained by Minions" is here. A more basic Vox "explainer" on Minions is here. The academic article "Beautiful Exploitation. Notes on the Un-free Minions" is here.

"Are children who watch the first three Despicable Me movies going to grow up to become laborers who don't understand their enslavement? Given the way capitalism is crushing the world, I seriously doubt it. ... It's a kids' movie about a bunch of yellow pills who like bananas and run around speaking gibberish. Those kids will grow up, they'll be fine." — Yasmin

"No! The movie normalized and accustomed them to situations of exploitation by depicting the Minions as content with their condition!" — Nathan

Please enjoy our detailed analysis of Minions. As Nathan promises at the end of the episode, we will never be revisiting the subject, no matter how many more of these films are released.

Minions Being Tortured:

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