The Ethical Problem Of Minions; Are They Evil?

Canonically, the Minions never served Adolf Hitler.

In “Minions” (2015), the Minions are stuck in an ice cave between the years 1812 and 1968. Quickly doing some Pop-History, that means not only would the Minions comfortably avoid Hitler and the existentially terrifying image of little yellow blobs pushing people into gas chambers, but as a nice bonus it means the can say they weren’t tempted to aid the rise of other despots like Stalin, Mao, or Pinochet.

Now it’s funny and obvious what happened here. Illuminations and their creative team realised Minions, who are naturally devoted to serve whoever is the “baddest” thing on the planet at the time, would wind up serving an in-universe Hitler. It would have been too much to halt a children’s movie to exposit why in this universe there was no Holocaust or World Wars, so a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it twist was made. It’s just funny to think about…

…At first.

Then it becomes scary.

Think about it; it took being trapped in an ice cave for the Minions to NOT serve Adolf Hitler! They figuratively had to be held back from giving in to their natural urges and help butcher 24 million people (12 million~ for the Holocaust, 12 million~ in WWII). I get it’s a children’s film, but it’s a children’s film where there exists these soulless, unquestioning, immoral creatures that would have no qualms with screaming “BANANA” as they shovel coal into a train engine hurtling towards Dachau.

Besides being the funniest image I’ve ever seen in my mind’s eye, it raises an interesting question; are the Minions evil?

Just to clarify; canonically the Minions have a natural instinct to “serve the most despicable master they can find”. Within the first four minutes of the film, the Minions are shown serving (and then accidentally killing) a Pharaoh who owns slaves (seriously, check it out), so straight away they have no problem with subjugation. Within the same minute, they’re shown help Napoleon, with no problem with violence or warfare (I’m not making this up, this is all canon!)

Once they’re in the ice cave they spend the next 156 years slowly getting more and more depressed, until three (Kevin, Stuart, and Bob) set out to find a new master to serve.

So, canonically, Minions;

  • Are naturally subservient and attracted to power (to the point where they will serve a new master if they defeat the former master). It’s stated as a “goal” and “purpose”, meaning it goes beyond just a survival tactic and has a whole existential, philosophical, and spiritual element.
  • They have no objections to violence, warfare, enslavement, and authoritarianism. It’s cartoony in nature, but still.
  • They respond apathetically to manslaughter. To them, killing is just something slightly embarrassing.
  • They psychologically NEED to help evil people. They will suffer a form of depression if they don’t (though it can take over 150 years of it to kick in).

On the surface, this all sounds like the profile of a psychopath; fetishism of force, amoral conditionality, lack of appropriate emotional response, a psychological need to be close to power. But the Minions are mostly childlike, essentially toddlers involved in war crimes.

Yes, I’m aware I am reading a little too deeply into a children’s movie. But it does raise some interesting questions.

Can you be evil if you can’t help it?

Should amorality be treated as an infliction like alcoholism or addiction? If so, can that be used to excuse crimes like an insanity plea?

If you have no remorse, no sense of empathy or of human life, (in essence, a psychopath) but you don’t have the maturity nor intelligence to understand that, are you a psychopath? Can you be a psychopath if you can’t comprehend you’re one?

The Minions have similar psychological profiles to Meursault from The Outsider and Lennie Small from Of Mice And Men; Can we judge the Minions more or less harshly than we judge those characters?

The answers don’t get any clearer when you try viewing the Minions through ethical and philosophical lenses.

  • Moral Skepticism says no one can ever truly know what is and isn’t moral. Verdict on Minions being evil? No-ish, but because there isn’t “Evil”.
  • Virtue Ethics judges virtue (and vice) as character traits that make someone good or bad. The Minions, aren’t necessarily selfish or self-serving. Arguably they dedicate themselves to the service of others (even if those others aren’t as virtuous). Verdict? No, surprisingly.
  • Consequentialism focuses on the result of the action. Seeing as the result is ultimately the success of a villain, the Minions would be contributing to negative results. Verdict? Yes!
  • Utilitarianism, related to consequentialism, says that the maximum amount of well-being for the most people is the ultimate good. Verdict? Yes, if not for helping a villain, then for the small number of people they’re willing to help.
  • Deontology argues morality shouldn’t be based on the consequences but rather duty, obligation, and rules; there are no victimless crimes even if no one gets hurt. Verdict? Yeah!
  • Hedonism says that the primary motivation (and thereby, virtue) should be towards pleasure. Offshoots of Hedonism would say the pleasure of others should be taken into account, but the overall umbrella term starts with personal pleasure. Verdict? No!
  • Pragmatic Ethics zooms out from the individual and focuses on society, believing scientific advancements ultimately progress the world morally. As such, they don’t judge the need for a society to act in a manner later considered immoral. Verdict? Since the Minions do contribute to scientific advancement and could be argued to be products of their time, no.

It takes Negative Nihilism and Proto-Randianism to not view the Minions, however naive and “innocent” they may be, as anything other than evil.

Why does it matter? They’re just fun little cartoon characters. They’re just silly little yellow mascots for Boomer Humour on Facebook. They’re just fictional creatures that recently made a Grumillion (or $400 Million).

It matters because someone had to find a reason why they didn’t serve Hitler. I have been awake for DAYS because of this. The Minions, canonically, had to literally be isolated from the world in order to not serve Hitler! The world is burning and on fire, and I’m obsessed with fictional characters who can’t help themselves but be little yellow, soulless psychopaths.

And we all love them.

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