The Rise of the Minions and Conner O’Malley’s “Minion Squad”

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The Rise of the Minions and Conner O’Malley’s “Minion Squad”

Minions—who can get enough of them? That’s a rhetorical question. It seems that since Despicable Me found massive commercial success back in 2010, the diminutive, yellow overalls-clad henchmen creatures known as the Minions have been executing their own takeover of the real world. Basically, if you can think of it, there is probably a Minions version of it (and I assume this includes porn—I’m not gonna double check on that, but you guys certainly can). From facemasks to Crocs to waffle makers, steering wheel covers, motorcycle helmets, bras and, yes, dildos, it feels as if the good folks over at Illumination Studios planned for this worldwide merchandising coup all along.

To what end? It’s hard to say, though it most certainly includes indoctrinating your aunt via one of any number of curious Minions-themed memes shared on Facebook, the popularity of which among the Boomer generation is both astronomical and downright strange. Though as ruminated on by Tickld last year, it’s probably because Minions can be applied to both nothing and everything. As characters, they are meant to be “evil” but ultimately ascribe to no true worldview and, thus, can be easily projected onto. And since many Minions memes reflect specific feelings and emotions, it’s almost as if they function as communal therapy for a generation specifically unwilling to actually deal with their emotional problems.

This unspoken way that Minions have infiltrated nearly every facet of our day-to-day lives in these strange, inescapable ways is perhaps best articulated through two YouTube videos from comedian Conner O’Malley. O’Malley gained cult recognition from his Vine videos during the 2010s, enough to secure himself a spot in the Late Night with Seth Meyers writers’ room. Since then, he’s cropped up in occasional movie and television spots, like in Palm Springs and I Think You Should Leave. But he mostly maintains a niche online popularity, performing alt-comedy in his preferred form: Experimental short films such as Endorphin Port and Top 10 Wisconsin Dells Haunted Houses For Free Pulled Pork, where he explores (in a near-Cronenbergian vein) the warped relationship between technology, capitalism and humanity.

But before O’Malley became quite so avant-garde, his YouTube channel primarily consisted of videos doing man-on-the-street comedy—namely at Trump rallies, where his strange personas and the borderline unintelligible yet confrontational questions he’d pose to random people would bring forth nuggets of confessional gold. Somewhere in between O’Malley’s more recent string of eccentric visual and performance art and his old on-the-street bits came his pair of “Minion Squad” videos in 2017 and 2018, a bit born after O’Malley bought an airbrushed t-shirt boasting the phrase “#MinionSquad” on it.

What exactly did “Minion Squad” mean? Well, O’Malley was intent on coming up with the answer on his own, first by harassing drivers while walking on the New York City Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE), and then five months later by badgering residents of downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

In both instances O’Malley purports to be an advocate for an organization known as the “#MinionSquad,” though the mission statement of the Minion Squad changes between videos. In the first video, O’Malley loudly and breathlessly informs New York drivers on the highway that the Minion Squad will be shutting down the BQE that upcoming weekend to raise awareness of…highways.

In the second video, O’Malley attempts to get Milwaukee residents to join the Minion Squad where members will try to turn themselves into Minions—which he explains to one middle-aged woman who is initially intrigued at the mention of Minions, but immediately put off by the idea of turning into one. O’Malley then claims he started this group back in 2007 (before the first Despicable Me movie even came out) following his son’s funeral. In both videos, the #MinionSquad is sponsored by Chase Bank. It would do a disservice to O’Malley’s true command of craft to divulge anything else that happens, so I will let the videos speak for themselves.

When asked why exactly he found the Minions so ripe for comedic material, O’Malley explained that, for him, the Minions are funny because their very existence is so manipulative towards children. As he puts it, it’s as if the algorithm came up with the perfect thing for children to want to play with and put in their mouths. A true no-brainer, the inception of the Minions can be attributed entirely to craven consumerism: To create the most appealingly simplistic thing that is simultaneously mind-numbingly annoying yet completely irresistible to a large swath of the population. The sheer amount of exposure to the Minions will likely make you either hate them or love them, but most importantly, you feel something about them. You know them.

Conner O’Malley’s conception of “#MinionSquad” removes it from its origins as purely kid-friendly and Boomer-friendly—the target demographics of a #MinionSquad shirt. Instead of being a moniker to denote someone who is simply a fan of the Minions, he perverts it into a visual articulation of what the Minions really represent and the bigger picture of their placement in the world: Frothed-at-the-mouth brand loyalty made palatable through the image of cuddly yellow blobs. And, well, these little yellow blobs are everywhere, and we can’t get away from them. So, do we relent and give in? Accept the Minions as an inextricable part of our modern society? Or do we resist their cultural takeover and fight back?

It doesn’t seem like there’s any use fighting the Minions insurgence. Just as the Minions canonically had a hand in just about every evil event in human history (still waiting to hear back about Adolf Hitler, though) and have been lurking in the background and influencing all of human civilization, so too have the Minions seeped into real life as major figures of pop culture, branding lunchboxes, lining claw machines with plushies made by some poor child in Taiwan and giving your weird uncle a funny way to tell his Facebook friends that “a balanced diet is chocolate in both hands.”

Conner O’Malley might have felt that he’s “the only motherfucker who’s trying to get the Minion Squad to pop off,” but I’m sure there’s already a group of people trying to turn themselves into Minions. We are all already part of the #MinionSquad after all, whether we like it or not.

Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.

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