Let’s make this as simple as possible and put all the content warning up front.
Content Warning: Vaccinations, medical peril, political cartoons, actual fascism, and talk about how jokey jokes have become actual real downers!
Despicable Me is a 2010 movie about a supervillain who adopts some kids as part of a scheme but then finds it warms his heart to be their dad and they now have a dad who is also a supervillain. That’s it, that’s your lot. But in the packing peanuts of this perfectly decent premise the supervillain is surrounded on all sides by his minions, bright yellow little humanoidish things with feet and hands and an eye or two that wear coveralls and communicate in a weird pidgin language. These are one of the most maddeningly successful things about the franchise, with Illumination studios repeatedly trying to do ‘miniony’ things with their various subsequent products. That’s where they come from and at this point they are obnoxious but largely harmless.
Next up, Despicable Me is a success and we get a chain of movies about the characters but even then a whole movie just focused on The Minions and then a tv series and a web series and now there’s a lot of minion content being churned out in general. The Minions movie explains that the Minions are a type of strange supernatural creature that appears throughout history to serve the most evil people in the world and help enact their schemes, and the movie does go out of its way to pre-emptively state that they were busy between Napoleon and Hitler hanging out in a cave, bored. That’s kind of a good choice if you’re stuck on this bad idea backstory, but it does come with the awkward admission that everything not between those periods that was ‘the most evil’ probably had their involvement. This means the purges of the Khmer Rouge, the sack of Carthage, post-World War 2 Nazi hate crimes, the Oklahoma City Bombing, the pre-Napoleonic genocides, that stuff all definitely had Minions involved.
I mean, if you didn’t declare that the world you’re in has real enough history to have Napoleon and World War 2 you wouldn’t have to address this kind of thing, but then you also could just not address the backstory of the minions because who cares, they don’t need that kind of thing.
Then they got involved in real problems.
You might have seen at some point, and I won’t replicate it here, a minion meme that seemed to be promoting antivax thinking. This is initially because of ‘joke’ memes made by younger people about how the minions were anti-vaccination, and then distributed into places where they might be shared without thinking by the people who were already sharing minions memes.
The people who were already sharing minions memes, by the way, were largely boomers.
Minions are weirdly attractive to boomers, and there’s probably a super interesting comparative study about that there, where you could point to how the minions were like, unoccupied meme territory. Young people weren’t really making minions memes, but older people were really into them, in that sort of particularly boomercore style of memes, you know the sort. ‘Back in my day we DRANK OUT OF THE HOSE’ with a grinning minion next to it. It’s weird, but I don’t have an explanation for it, at least not right now. We’re doing this quickly, like I said.
Anyway, the result is that now, oh hey, during a time when antivaxxers are directly impacting people in their own age groups, they’re doing with a pre-existing memescape of people who have been unconsciously making the idea seem normal and socially acceptable. It gets to build that into the same defiant space as ‘you always be on your phone.’
You might have seen a newspaper cartoon by Glenn McCoy. He sucks. Of course that’s tautological, newspaper comics are bad, but Glenn McCoy (not reproducing or linking here) makes that particular variety of ‘Dems Bad’ style that still rooms for boomer ideas like ‘My Little Pony smuggles in Al Qaeda, and Obama lets them.’ It’s terrible piss garbage, but also, he was consulted for and helped to create the minions.
If you’ve ever seen a newspaper comic of the Statue of Liberty panhandling with a sign saying Don’t want to pay for my abortion drugs, that’s Glenn McCoy. That’s him.
Which means that the minions, a seemingly harmless little monster from a fictional universe are now, in our real world, associated directly with some of the worst people, who had a hand in their creation.