I visited M&Ms World in Leicester Square this Tuesday, for the first time in rather a long time, but to be honest with you I’m not sure why they bother calling it M&Ms World at all anymore. The whole thing is just Minions.
As many of you will know, I’ve thought and written quite extensively about the M&Ms store in the past. From the moment I first saw the M&Ms store, in October 2011, I was completely fascinated with it. Posing as an amusingly left-field attempt to market a hard-shelled chocolate candy, the M&Ms store in fact represented the attempt to replicate the entire world, in M&Ms form. Aside from the sweet itself, you could buy anything at all in the M&Ms store, filtered and distorted through the prism of the five M&Ms character-candies: not just food but clothing; domestic appliances; farming equipment; all of the most terrible engines of torture and mass destruction ever contrived by man; the great works of western art and literature; pornography representing every fetish (so long as it involves fucking the Green M&M); all animals real, extinct, and imagined; the eight planets of our solar system; and God.
As I argued in my 2013 essay, the M&Ms store represented a new development in the dialectic of capitalist reification: it utilises a five-fold ‘character-ontology’ to more effectively reduce all things and qualities in the world to itself. Since an M&M is, of course, a capitalist product, this means that all things will, in turn, have been rendered into money and thus made exchangeable and fungible. In my essay I wrote as if the transformation of all things into M&Ms, a process kickstarted by the M&Ms store, was pretty much an inevitably. This was something I sincerely believed: I was not being ironic. But I now know that I was wrong.
I know I was wrong because, in the M&Ms store today, you cannot buy any M&Ms t-shirts. You cannot buy any M&Ms keyrings, or golf clubs, or any statuettes of all the M&Ms characters in a band. There is no machine that will tell you which M&M you are if you stand in it, and no pictures of the M&Ms dressed up as all the great figures from history on the walls. And there certainly isn’t any hard-shelled chocolate candy about. Instead, all you can buy is Minions. A Minions t-shirt, a Minions keyring. A statue of all the Minions in a band. A diamond-studded Minions leather jacket. The Minions as the Beatles. A machine which when you step into it, it tells you that you are a Minion, in the coldly bored voice of someone repeating the most banal and indisputable fact on Earth. Even the shop itself is not in a building anymore: I don’t know how I didn’t notice this when I entered but on Tuesday, as I stepped outside of it, I realised that my whole shopping experience had just taken place inside the mouth of a giant Minion.
Disoriented by this discovery, I stumbled through Leicester Square, trying to get away from the Minions, but it was impossible. It wasn’t just the M&Ms store the Minions had usurped: everything else was Minions, too. Minions on the buses. Minions in the windows of every shop. Children covered head-to-toe in Minions clothing, and adults in what looked like giant Minions suits. Little fucking Minions scurrying about everywhere on the floor. Burger King across the road from what had used to be the M&Ms store, but now it was called Minions King, and when I reached into my pocket to get the money out to pay for the Bacon XL Cheeseburger I’d just purchased, hyperventilating, to comfort-eat and steady my nerves, I realised that I didn’t have any money in it after all: I just had Minions. My burger arrived, and was handed to me, but I froze, unable to pay for it, until from the box there emerged a chattering, scurrying Minion. At this point, the floor melted.
We all know what happened next. This was the day that all of reality turned into Minions. What I once had feared would be wrought upon us by the M&Ms, had now been successfully accomplished by the Minions. Everything is Minions now: when you read this, all you will see is a steady stream of Minions; as I type it, on the Minions in front of me, I simply launch more Minions into creation. We are all Minions now, and I am yellow, and named Stuart, and wear dungarees, and I have a single giant stupid perspectiveless eye. And, as with everyone and everything else under the sun, my only purpose now is to incompetently serve evil.
But why were the Minions able to do this, when the M&Ms apparently could not? In what follows, I want to sketch a few things towards an understanding of the Minionification of reality.
My analysis here proceeds from an excellent article written by Brian Feldman, published a few weeks before the disaster on The Awl. As Feldman’s article points out, Minions were in fact originally characters in a film called ‘Despicable Me’ before being given their own film, released recently, simply entitled ‘Minions’. It was originally as an attempt to promote this film that the Minions started being everywhere, with the disastrous results we now experience at all times.
According to the films, a ‘Minion’ is a creature older than humanity, that emerged from the proverbial primordial soup fully-formed, and has not undergone any substantial development since: indeed, it is suggested by the films that no new Minions are ever born, and none die. The Minions, thus, always have been, and always will be. They are universally tubular, and yellow. They all wear goggles to correct poor vision, though some only have one eye and some have two. The Minions have buttocks, but no sexual organs: conceivably, however, they are all male, since they all have names like Kevin or Norbert or McKyle.
Just as a dolphin needs the sea or a polar bear needs the snow, the Minions need at least one major environmental factor in order to maintain themselves, and to flourish: it is a matter of biological necessity for the Minions to serve an evil master. T-Rex, the Pharoahs, Napoleon, Hitler: it is ‘Minions’ canon that the Minions have served them all. The comedy, however, emerges from the fact that the Minions are completely incompetent: their idiot antics always undermine their evil masters’ schemes, frequently leading to said masters’ demise. Despite their idiocy, however, the Minions themselves are never the victims of their own pranks: and so they persist.
I myself first became aware of the Minions when they started appearing in adverts for the Sky package (or some aspect of it). I think probably the first time I saw them was in an advert on TV shown during the French Open tennis final. I can’t say they left a particularly powerful impression on me. But then all of a sudden, after that, I started seeing them everywhere: on posters on public transport, on the internet, in magazines – advertising not just Sky but a whole range of other products, including their own film. Then they were emblazoned on apparently every internet meme, usually shared by norms. The kicker was when I saw, on twitter, an image that simply read ‘Keep Calm and Minions’. That was when I knew they were taking over. Although even I didn’t think the whole thing would be over so fast…
But still, why? What exactly is the source of the Minions’ apparently enormous appeal? Feldman’s article suggests that it stems from the fact that, in an age of – often divisive – identity politics, the Minions are determinedly post-identity (or perhaps pre-identity, considering that technically they existed before humanity did). Their universally yellow complexion knows no racial difference; their genderless masculinity gives us one image of a world with all ‘gender constructions’ undone. The Minions speak a garbled mish-mash of all languages, taking elements from English, Spanish, French, and Japanese, though the end result is essentially gibberish. For these reasons, anyone can identify with the Minions, and anyone can identify anything with the Minions: a Minion can simply be a Minion, or it can be Marilyn Monroe standing over the vents, or it can be trying to fuck a fire hydrant, or it can be Hamlet, or that guy from the Big Bang Theory who says Bazinga, or Leopold Bloom, or Goya’s painting of the Nude Maja. A Minion can be a spade, it can be a gun, it can be a keyring, it can be a t-shirt, it can be a bus. They have been used to ‘explain’ everything from academia to the Decline and Fall of the Western Roman Empire. A Minion is, in this sense, infinitely fungible.
Hence we have discovered that a minion is: (1) bound to serve evil; (2) infinitely fungible. What does this sound like? What else is fungible and always serves the interests of real evil? Why, money of course! The Minions, then, are money. But of course, Minions are not quite money. The Minions are funny little characters that represent money. Particularly in an era in which physical money is increasingly being replaced by its electronic representation (as we ourselves existed in, prior to its usurpation by Minions), ‘money’ consists in something brutely quantitative, a number. But, as I have already argued in relation to the M&Ms, you cannot reduce everything in existence to a number: that would be to eliminate quality, and people will not, despite what scientistic philosophers seem to think, stand for that. Human reality consists in large part in experiences of quality, and even if you can pretend that ‘reality’ is ultimately describable in terms equivalent to numbers and thus undermine the objective purport of these experiences, you can’t really get people to discard them. So, if you want an ontology that everything in existence can be fully reduced to (perhaps in order to monetise it), you need it to be an ontology that can fit quality essentially in to it. Otherwise something that cannot be reduced to mere numbers, such as love or hot takes, will always remain in a relationship with the numbers such that it can potentially resist them.
The character-ontology of the M&Ms could effect this sort of qualitative reduction. But the M&Ms’ ontology was in truth, I suppose, always rather clunky. An ontology, like that of the M&Ms, which was consistently having to add new characters to it just to keep up with existence, by definition fails to constitute a unified framework which everything in that existence can be reduced to. The Minions, also, constitute a plurality; but it is a plurality of sameness, with any one Minion exactly interchangeable with any other (some are slightly shorter, some have only one eye, but it doesn’t really make any material difference: they are simply, in whole and in truth, Minions, neither more nor less). In this way, the Minions give us all the advantages of ‘character’ – the ability to incorporate quality in a real and full sense into our ontology – within the context of an ontological monism. The consequences are here for everyone to see: I’m a Minion, you’re a Minion. Everything is Minions. Minions Minions Minions Minions Minions.
But it worth emphasising that the definition above of Minions as bound to serve evil and infinitely fungible is not exhaustive. For a third quality inherently defines the Minions: aside from their affinity with evil and their fungibility, the actions of the Minions will always inevitably undermine their evil masters.
So what, then, are the Minions? Money, yes, but more specifically than that: they are a form of currency that, just insofar as it exists, inevitably undermines the evil intentions of its masters. The Minions, then, must be the Euro: the Euro project was devised in order to bind the economies and ultimately the governments of all Europe to the economic interests of Germany, but it is now backfiring terminally, leading to political instability and economic stagnation.
Perhaps then we should not be surprised that the two things which most define our current moment, politically, are the Eurozone crisis, and the rise of the Minions. The two go along together. And although the real and explicit transformation of everything into Minions has now caused events in Greece to develop in previously unexpected ways, the way things were unfolding prior to that should at the very least have indicated to us that the EU was already being run, at least in part, by Minions. The Eurozone’s leaders have consistently, in their attitude to Greece, proven themselves equally evil, incompetent and, at the most essential level, interchangeable with one another: a conspiracy of nothings who would condemn us all to the void, if only it might save a banker from having to write off a penny.
And yet, if there is any comfort left for us now, it must precisely lie in the Minions’ incompetence. Everything, now, is Minions. Everything, then, serves evil. But it is, equally, inept. Thus now that everything is Minions, the machinations of every objective tendency, which previously served evil anyway, will now tend, precisely against themselves, towards the good. Evil will team up with Evil to fire a home-made cannon at Hope, but in doing so, it will backfire, and topple a big rock over itself. Communism will Win. Minions Minions Minions.