A Post-Structuralist Semiotic Analysis of the Most Politically Radical Movie Series Ever Made
For the seven US citizens who’ve somehow managed to avoid seeing any of the Despicable Me movies, a brief summary is in order. The nominal protagonist of the movies is Gru, a middle-aged man whose backstory led him to aspire to become a master-criminal. The true center around which the movies turn, however, are small yellow-colored dungaree-clad creatures referred to as Minions. The other primary characters are three small girls, each evincing an archetype common within US popular culture: cutie-pie, feisty girl, and nerd.
While most who watch these movies will see simply an amusing cartoon, thanks to the profound insights of French structuralists and post-structuralists such as Ferdinand de Saussure, Jacques Derrida, and Jacques Lacan, we can see that in reality these movies are a searing commentary on the failings of capitalism, the malevolent influence of the Patriarchy, and a plea for enlightened socialism not heard since the glory days of Marxist-Leninism and the benevolent reign of Joseph Stalin.
The clues are hidden in plain sight, and we will now expose them one by one.
First comes Gru. His name tells us everything we need to know. GRU, otherwise known as Гла́вное управле́ние Генера́льного шта́ба Вооружённых Сил Росси́йской Федера́ции, is a clear reference to Russian Military Intelligence, signifying his ultimate role as protector of the innocent and scourge of capitalist running dog lackeys.
Furthermore, homophonic reference also yields grew, which is a nod to the malign influence of consumer culture on the young hero during his formative years when his natural socialist impulses were quashed and forced into the narrow channel of aquisitionist thinking. Fortunately Gru is able to shake off the chains of the oppressors and fulfill his destiny as a Hero of the Socialist Revolution by finding True Morality.
Next come the Minions. The implications of their collective name is impossible to miss: these are the eternally exploited proletariat, dressed alike, treated alike, forced to carry out the orders of their leaders with no recourse to workers’ collectives nor access to the spoils of capitalist exploitation. Their yellow color signifies jaundice, both moral and physical, as these hapless workers are clearly malnourished both physically and emotionally; again, a searing indictment of the unfair distribution of profits in an exploitative capitalist society.
Yet this is by no means the entire burden placed on the shoulders of the little yellow creatures. Although some have generic proletarian names (Dave being the only one I can bother to remember) they are clearly without significant gender. Even their sexuality has been appropriated by the capitalist-patriarchal society that oppresses them. Whereas the gender of their Fuhrer Gru is never in any doubt (he’s a man, in case anyone was unclear about that) the gender of the proletariat under a capitalist system is irrelevant. All that matters is obedience and meeting their production quotas. The Minions are the true face of capitalist evil: some are permitted only a single eye in order to reduce expenditure on goggles.
Next come the three little girls. Agnes is the infant cutsie-pie, all giggles and wide eyed innocence. She represents the initial stage of society in which all live in perfect harmony and mutual assistance. Yet at the same time she is clearly a victim of the Patriarchy, forced to exploit her seeming innocence in order to secure food and shelter, trading her giggles and wide eyes for scraps of bread and bowls of water.
The dark clouds of exploitation are already gathering over her innocent head as the first movie begins, heralding the inevitable development of an exploitative capitalist economy in which individuals are valued only for their inputs and their consumption. Far from being a lamb (agnus dei) who will be permitted to gambol in unsullied fields, capitalist patriarchal power structures will impose agonies on her as her bleak future unfolds.
Next comes Edith, the archetypal feisty girl. Once again her name tells us all we need to know. The first syllable derives from Old English ead, meaning “riches” and the second syllable from gyth, meaning “war.” Hence we see she is constrained by the imperatives of capitalist patriarchy to secure riches for others by means of battle.
Far from being a symbol of female equality, she is nothing more than a soldier-serf, her individuality submerged and forced to serve the requirements of the capital-owning class. Any triumph she may experience is really a triumph secured for those whose plump and pampered hands will never have to sully themselves for they can command others to perform the myriad unsavory tasks that serve to prop up the capitalist system.
Lastly comes Margo, the bespectacled female nerd. Margo derives from an old French word for pearl, and here signifies how a hidden treasure is rudely torn from the safety of its cradle in order to adorn the neck or ears of an undeserving capitalist exploiter of the poor. In addition the homophonic echo of Chateau Margaux gives a mocking allusion to wine she will never be permitted to taste. She will be sullied and then disposed of: mar + go.
Her spectacles indicate how the capitalist will invest just enough in the proletariat to ensure that they can perform their tasks in a satisfactory manner, yet their style-less anonymity shows clearly that individualism within the proletariat is considered subversive. All will wear the same spectacles, just as all will wear the same dungarees.
So we see that merely by glancing at the designations of the principle characters of the Despicable Me movies we can discover the hidden depths that point to a searing critique of the capitalist-patriarchal system on which Hollywood itself is based. Using the entire series of movies as l’object p’tit a blown up to an enormous scale, creating an unmistakable message hiding in plain sight, the worthy socialist makers of these movies are undermining the very power structure that has permitted them to accrue vast wealth and deleterious cocaine habits.
We can only applaud these brave fighters and their unceasing struggle for global equality, humbled that they would willingly assume the burdens of riches and expensive narcotics in order to make the world ready for the glorious socialist revolution that must inevitably one day arrive and sweep the poison of consumer society into the trash bin of history, along with millions of ticket stubs, empty cartons of popcorn, and candy bar wrappers.