Teens dress up in costume to see ‘Minions’ as meme culture and boredom collide: NPR
@wixmovs/TikTok; @_.itzvan_/TikTok; @joel.evans13/TikTok; Screenshots by NPR
Since the dawn of time, youthful trends and styles have never failed to perplex their predecessors – and the latest viral trend of “nice servants” is no exception.
Following the publication on July 1 of Minions: The Rise of Gru, hordes of teenagers (mostly) have been documenting themselves online as they orchestrate viewing events in movie theaters in their finest 8th grade graduation attire.
The bands show themselves heading to their local movie theaters in full suits, dress shirts, and sometimes sunglasses, and carry themselves with an aura that resembles part businessman, part Secret Service, with a hint of self-awareness.
They dubbed themselves the #gentleminions, earning a total of 65.4 million views from the hashtag on TikTok alone.
Besides the prevalence of social media, the trend may have something to do with Rise of Gru has been a huge success at the box office since its release last weekend. The film reportedly grossed around $164 million domestically in its first week.
In a video that has received nearly 170,000 likes and more than a million views, a large group of more than 20 smartly dressed teenagers in Singapore ride in line on an escalator, then walk out of frame, stone-faced and with a rigid posture. Some pictured towards the end of the procession cling to small Minion soft toys while staring straight ahead. The video is overlaid with a text that expresses their simple request: “22 tickets for Minions: Rise of GRU please.”
The boys in this particular video say the now-viral clip was more of a coincidence than planning or intention.
“After we finished the movie, we went outside and were walking down the escalator,” said Joshua Law, an 18-year-old college student. “And then we saw this group going up the escalator, and we kind of met halfway.”
In fact, many of the boys in this particular video had never met before, but decided that a video with so many participants was too good to pass up.
Part of this unity, they admit, is the embarrassment they experienced beforehand by participating in the gag.
“By doing this stuff, you actually get a lot of eyeballs,” said Devan Rajen, another 18-year-old student pictured in the video who posted the video from his own TikTok account. “People probably thought we were humiliating ourselves.”
Rajen’s video showed a softer iteration of the trend. But other videos showed the supposed gentleminions to be rubbish but mild, starting mosh pits in theaters, disrupting the movie for others, and generally just rowdy teenagers.
Some theaters have taken steps either to ban the wearing of costumes at screenings or to issue strict warnings to any group of teenagers who might disturb other patrons. This choice, however, also spawned innovation, with the most dedicated of the group showing up in costume and later revealing their costumes in the theaters themselves.
“All [about this] is highly memetic,” said Jennifer Grygiel, an associate professor of communications at Syracuse University who is an expert on social media and memes. In other words, it’s a perfect storm for a virality opportunity.
Grygiel sees the trend as an endless, accessible feedback loop for teens watching and those who might want to join in.
“They were exposed to it because they all see TikTok and so they [become] aware,” Grygiel said. “I think that leads to that kind of participation. You know, sometimes social media ends up working like a big water fountain.”
“Their algorithms sort of sync with their peer groups, promoting it through a moment like you would see it on Twitter or as a trend.”
Grygiel added that spreading a message or a trend is not a new concept. But the way it is now communicated can be.
“TikTok kind of seems to be the way they understand what’s going on, right? So maybe it would have been a teen magazine or, you know, kind of teen show a la television.”
Grygiel said once the trend became popular, the participatory nature of social media encouraged others to join. In that case, wearing fancy clothes and showing up to the theater with your friends isn’t particularly difficult for the average teenager.
And in a world where influencing has become a dream career choice for young people, the opportunity to have your moment of glory may explain why so many people are compelled to join us, even though they don’t want to see the movie or deal with those banana-loving, pill-shaped workers.
“I didn’t like the movie,” admitted Law, who was in the viral #gentleminions video. “I thought it was mediocre at best. But I liked the vibe.”
And when asked why they chose to join this trend, to bother spending their own money to see a movie aimed at children, Law gave perhaps the most honest and more specific about why teenagers have always done the things teenagers do:
“I think we’re bored. There really isn’t anything better to do.”