Editorial: Are The Minions ‘Punk?’

The Minions are more than just silly kids' entertainment. They may just be the most punk rock thing your kids have ever seen.

Witney Seiboldby Witney Seibold

The proliferation of the Minions has only pleased me.

Whether or not you know what they are, you’ve seen the Minions all over town. Minions have invaded the back corners of popular culture in a way that we haven’t seen for decades. Occasionally, other original child media characters will make a sudden surge into the public consciousness – SpongeBob SquarePants leaps to mind – but while SpongeBob remains in the realm of entertaining absurdist TV shows for kids, the Minions have grown into the very face of the company that first presented them to us. They are Universal the same way Bugs Bunny is Warner Bros. Minions rival characters like Mickey Mouse for sheer cultural ubiquity and overwhelming corporate sponsorship.

They’re also, perhaps, the most subversive, punk rock thing that children of this generation have perhaps ever encountered.

Minion closeup

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I was a casual fan of the first two Despicable Me films (2010 and 2013 respectively), but, like most people, I found myself more strongly drawn to the chittering little yellow henchmen more than I was to Gru, the films’ lead character. The Minions were Gru’s unwavering servants, built to do his grunt work while he thought up bigger and better schemes to make the world a less pleasant place.

The Minions were instantly appealing, mostly because they seemed to exist in their own little world. They spoke their own cobbled-together language, which sounded like the oddly structured babble of twins. They also rarely paid attention to the main action of the scenes they were in, more often distracted by a banana, a cupcake, a puppy, or something just off camera. They had a short attention span, and were always in good spirits. They were, then, naughty little kids who didn’t know better than to let their youthful interests sideline them.

It’s that naughtiness that makes the Minions so important, and sets them apart from most of the other pop figures offered to kids in this oversaturated marketplace of ours. In this age of heroes and warriors and “ultra-cool” protagonists, the Minions are pointedly without heroics and certainly void of cool. They aren’t made to be aspirational. They are selfish little critters with ADD and a penchant for evil. They have no need for money or success. They have no personal ambitions. They simply are who they are, and they are utterly pleased to be that way. They aren’t cruel or angry or mean, but joyously, obliviously destructive. They live on a matrix between the rascally wiseacre pranksterism of Bugs Bunny, and the gleeful destructive jerkiness of the Martians in Mars Attacks!

Minions Mayhem

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The silly, destructive obliviousness of the Minions teaches kids a very important lesson, and it’s one that I think their parents may not want to hear, i.e. It’s okay to live in the service of evil people, so long as you’re happy doing what you do. Oh my, think about that for a second. It’s okay to be evil. There is most certainly a dark streak to the Minions’ philosophy.

But it’s a philosophy that kids can relate to. Kids don’t look at superheroes seeking inspiration for virtuous behavior; They just want the punching and the action. Hero stories are appealing to kids because kids like the age-old, predetermined structure of good triumphing over evil. The Minions, however, eschew that order entirely. Like proper punk rockers, Minions merrily ignore all semblances of adult organization, of all authority, and indulge in their appetites. The Minions argue that your most childish impulses – the ones that force you to hide inside clothing racks, eat too much candy, or giggle at your teachers – are the purest, best, and most important impulses.

The Minions live to serve an authority figure, but they are most assuredly anti-authoritarian. They must serve an evil master, kowtowing to their chaotic whims. They serve the lords of chaos. Chaos is the only God worth serving in the mind of a Minion. Order is not just to be ignored, but to remain unacknowledged. There is but one thought in a Minion’s mind: Anarchy. If that’s not punk, I don’t know what is.

Minions giggling

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I assumed when I saw my first Despicable Me film that Gru invented the Minions himself through an unseen Frankensteinian process, but their true origin was never made explicit.

It turns out, as revealed in Minions, the new film due in theaters on Friday, July 10, that the Minions are just another species of animal that evolved on Earth alongside all other lifeforms. They crawled out of the oceans in their current form, complete with homemade goggles, ready to be Minions. (They are also perhaps immortal, which is handy, as they don’t seem to reproduce.) It’s also revealed that the Minions have a single biological imperative, and that is to serve the most evil entity they can find. In Minions‘ opening scenes, they are seen doing the bidding of evil dinosaurs, cavemen, pharaohs, and even Napoleon.

Consider that. The Minions, while essentially bumbling children, have only one urge in this world. To aid evil. It’s not something that was given to them by a man, but was part of them all along. Service to chaos and evil is their only a priori knowledge. Sure, they’re little kids who giggle, eat bananas, play with toys, and become easily distracted by puppies and cupcakes – there is no dark adolescent nihilism in their sweet little yellow hearts – but they are pure in their service to punk rock.

And kids, well, they don’t get enough of that in mainstream entertainment.

 


Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. You can follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.