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British “Minions!” And the staging of Hilarious Servility

June 28, 2015


A last minute decision regarding the age and sensibilities of certain of our party ensured that our movie going trip yesterday was, at the last minute, switched from Jurassic World to Minions.

Well, there is one dinosaur in Minions, but it’s near the beginning and in all honesty it’s not very scary.  The film, initially narrated by Geoffrey Rush, describes the rise of Minions from single celled oceanic beings up to the 1960s.  The movie is one of those economic necessities that construct themselves as soon as market research reports that the minions were the things that people liked best about the Despicable Me films.

They are tiny and pill shaped and they speak a kind of high-pitched accelerated hispanic language.  Faux Spanish on helium.

Of course, taking one’s favorite thing about a thing and making it the entire thing is not always a good thing.

Laurence Lerner, writing on the poetry of Philip Larkin, once wrote that apple pie is nicer than apple, but the best thing about apple pie IS the apple.  Sometimes the things we love need to be encrusted in something we love less.

What we do learn about the minions is that they live to serve.  They can sort of take care of themselves, but they are biologically programmed to be depended, to bask in the shadow of a greater being.  Which is why it is inevitable that any film devoted entirely to minions (in this case, Stuart, Bob and Kevin) must locate itself at the locus classicus of hilarious servility.


Many in the USA find it both convenient and amusing to believe that the Queen is an absolute ruler who can make or break laws as she sees fit.  The movie, set in 1968, flatters precisely this assumption.  (I did note, incidentally, the 1968 ticket prices for the Tower of London were listed in what looks like decimal currency – a full three years before Britain went decimal – rather spoiled the scene for me I’m afraid.)  The young looking 1968 Queen is described routinely as “The Ruler of England”.  I suppose the twenty-first century comic potential of an animated Harold Wilson is considered limited.

The 1960s Brits (“England” is used as a lazy and offensive synecdoche for Britain throughout the movie) prostrate themselves merrily in front of anything wearing a crown any given moment and appear utterly bereft of any sense of anything resembling democratic or legal entitlement.  In many ways England (Britain, the UK, Whatever?) is a nation of minions in the popular global imagination – a nation of merry little people who need someone to serve.  One of the reasons why I fear it may be many years before Britain ditches the monarchy is that Servile Imbecility is a marketable brand of national self fashioning.  Other nations find it both hilarious and gratifying and will pay good money to see buck toothed serfs on film – people who at least they are better THAN.

In other words, the minionification of England/Britain creates a brand identity that makes a small number of already very wealthy people slightly wealthier.  And making very wealthy people slightly wealthier seems to be the only reason why anything is ever attempted in the twenty-first century.

Incidentally, the term “minion” or “mignon” can be traced back to the sixteenth century, when it was a violently homophobic term of abuse used to describe effeminate favourites of the French King Henri III.


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