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3 lessons ‘Morbius’ can learn from meme culture and the ‘Gentleminions’ trend

Gen Zers all across the globe are suiting up in their finest attire to watch a criminal mastermind and his army of sassy jelly beans in their local theatres. Assembling a batch of friends, they are seen donning dress shirts, ties and blazers, pulling up to cinema halls armed with truckloads of bananas, heading to their seats in an orderly fashion with their hands set in a conspiratory pose, engaging in formal ovation—and in worst-case scenarios, starting riots, mosh pits, fire hazards, food fights, disruptive cheering (depends on who you ask) and damaging the movie screen permanently—only to be escorted out of the hall by staff and even police at times.

Coming to a theatre near you, if they haven’t already, are Gentleminions: members of a mostly-harmless—again, depends on who you ask—subculture birthed by the legendary memeification of Minions: The Rise of Gru. Hitting cinemas on 1 July 2022, the fifth instalment of the Despicable Me franchise went bananas at the box office by raking in an estimated $125 million over the Fourth of July holiday weekend alone—overtaking Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which only made $115 million in the same period back in 2011. This week, it is also set to compete with Marvel and Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love and Thunder.

As Gentleminions and minioncore continue to hook the broader internet, a certain mass media conglomerate can be spotted cowering in a corner with its painfully-mediocre superhero film. Yes, I’m talking about Sony Pictures and its living vampire baby Morbius. Minions is everything Morbius wished to be. The latter was supposed to have a hot girl summer and not a feral girl bummer of a time in theatres when it released for the second time to cash in on what the studio thought was a golden opportunity.

Before I give too much away and run out of substances to back my arguments, here are three lessons Morbius can learn from the memeified success of Minions and the Gentleminions trend across social media platforms.

1. Context in meme culture

This one’s a no-brainer although Sony still embarrassingly failed to grasp its concept. For starters, memes about Minions: The Rise of Gru started circulating in online forums seven months before the film hit theatres—just like how the Barbie movie starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling is already trending on the internet when it’s only set to release in 2023.

For Minions, its footing in meme culture was sparked in the ‘Tickets To X, Please’ format which initially originated on 4chan. The series of memes under this phrasal format essentially mocks the stereotypical audience for a given movie. So when news of the new Despicable Me spinoff hit the public, they quickly scrambled to edit images of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad, the internet’s ultra-masculine archetypes like sigma males and GigaChad and the men from the No Russian mission in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 asking for tickets to watch Minions, which is perceived to be a movie meant for kids. Here are some other notable examples for visual reference:

Following the ‘Tickets To X, Please’ format was a song called ‘Rich Minion’ by Portland-based rapper Yeat, who is also credited with the viral TikTok audio ‘Sorry Bout That’. On 16 June 2022, Cole Bennett, head of rap label Lyrical Lemonade, took to Twitter and teased netizens by stating: “I’m doing a trailer for the Minions movie and I convinced them to let me use yeat for the soundtrack.” The tweet quickly went viral on the platform and when the official Twitter account of Minions replied with an ‘eyes’ emoji, people started believing the far-fetched narrative.

Although the song was set to drop on 29 June, just two days before the release of Minions: The Rise of Gru, both Yeat and Lyrical Lemonade leaked a snippet featuring its primary lyric which goes: “I got money.” The 15-second clip later evolved into the official anthem of the Gentleminions trend which followed suit.

yeat x minions from yeat_

But before this viral trend gripped all social media platforms alike, notably gathering 51.3 million views to date on TikTok, there was another phenomenon which was initiated alongside the premature anticipation for the movie in question. In May 2022, TikToker @hutchbucketz started urging his followers to join the ‘Minion Cult’ or ‘Moonians’ by changing their profile pictures (pfps) to one featuring the creator in a Minion costume—holding what looked like the moon. “I’m starting a minion cult. Make this your pfp to join. WE ARE THE MOONIANS,” the video read. As of today, it’s safe to say that even American YouTuber MrBeast is a member of the online cult.

Back to the “rowdy” Gentleminions trend, there are several theories as to why suites and ties have become the weapon of choice among members. While some trace it back to supervillain Gru’s signature all-black outfit, others associate the preference with sigma males and GigaChads. According to Australian high school student Bill Hirst and his friends, who first popularised the trend on TikTok, the formal drip is also about “making an ironic, humorous display of gentlemen or adults going to a movie.” Simply put, it is the obvious visual manifestation of the ‘Tickets To X, Please’ meme format.

@bill.hirst

🍌#fyp #minions #banana

♬ original sound - billh

Now, the little refresher I just gave you about the history and evolution of Minions: The Rise of Gru in internet culture is important. On a closer analysis, one can note that the memes are all about watching the movie. Morbius memes, on the other hand, were essentially joking about watching the movie. Let me explain.

Starring Jared Leto and aptly released on 1 April 2022, Morbius gripped meme culture only from its opening night when Twitter user @ericszyszka uploaded a picture of an empty preview screening and joked, “Morbius fever has gripped the nation.” A horde of memes—apologies, parody memes (a mix up which happens to the best of us, right Sony?)—followed. The first pit stop for the internet was Rotten Tomatoes, Google and Metacritic, where people started leaving troll reviews—sarcastically hyping the film’s quality and expressing amazement at cameos that didn’t happen.

“The movie has little to no flaws whatsoever, and the CGI and visual effects were so spectacular that I creamed in the cinemas,” a user wrote on Google. “And let’s not forget the scene where Morbius and Batman meet. Breathtaking fight scene between the two, but Batman with prep always wins. And then Spider-Man, Superman and Batman having a threesome straight after single-handedly turned me on so much.”

“I almost passed away when it was revealed that Shrek is the main villain because he was angry that everyone was invading his swamp,” another admitted. “My absolute favourite part of this film was when the Dracula from hotel Transylvania showed up and helped Morbius defeat Shrek.” It’s also worth noting that Morbius has a 16 per cent critics rating and a 71 per cent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. And that’s saying something.

Then came the internet’s obsession with Morbius Sweep, a term given to the series of parody memes ironically celebrating the film’s massive commercial success—despite it crashing and burning across theatres worldwide. Now, Morbius did earn a respectable gross during its opening weekend, but sales dropped a staggering 74 per cent afterwards. Although fake revenue statistics and Photoshopped critic reviews were thrown around, it still didn’t get people to watch the ironically-hyped film.

3 lessons ‘Morbius’ can learn from meme culture and the ‘Gentleminions’ trend

This was quickly followed by the fictional catchphrase “It’s Morbin’ Time,” which was essentially a play on the Power Rangers’ iconic dialogue “It’s Morphin’ Time.” Since its inception, the phrase continued influencing gen Z’s vocabulary online, until Leto himself made the grave mistake of acknowledging it—thereby killing the meme with a single tweet.

All of this to say that Morbius ultimately became internet-famous by virtue of being a soulless and “scriptless” movie that nobody could even be peer pressured into watching. But this didn’t stop Sony from inexplicably mistaking ‘laughing at you’ memes for ‘laughing with us’ audience demand and re-leasing Morbius across 1,037 theatres in the first weekend of June—only for it to flop again and bomb the domestic box office for the second time.

The very fact that Sony was tricked by its online fandom to believe that the interest and backlash could translate into tickets only went on to confirm one thing: Morbius Sweep memes had come full circle. It’s okay, Sony. I bet everyone would love a TV show about the living vampire instead. So how about making us one with a humongous budget?

2. Market outside of meme culture

When I had a chat with several users on Discord and asked them for their opinion on the success of Minions and the failure of Morbius in tapping the same segment of internet culture, most of them had similar claims: the former is a movie simply worth watching while the latter is anything but. Frankly, I believe this entire article can be summed up by these facts too. Unlike its ancestors, Morbius relies too much on its shared Spider-Man universe rather than fleshing out its own mythology.

But a point to be noted here is that none of these users have actually watched Morbius—not that their claims are going to change much even if they do. “I was actually discouraged by the memes, even though I used to say ‘It’s Morbin’ time’ and ‘Morb’ in real-life conversations everyday until around June,” one shared. When asked about the reception to the movie’s re-release, they added, “[I] still didn’t feel like watching it, [I] just made more memes and shared them on channels.”

Minions, on the other hand, is rooted in nostalgia for all users alike. Despicable Me first came out in 2010, a time when most gen Zers watched the movie in theatres with their parents in tow. The Gentleminions trend aims to tap into this same nostalgia and ultimately resonate with others.

@minions

the best part of waking up is gru in your cup. #mintok #riseofgru #minions #fanfare #goodmorning #orangejuice #mornings #wakeup #cereal

♬ Universal Fanfare - The Minions

However, nostalgia is not the only booster behind Minions: The Rise of Gru—given how Disney’s Lightyear failed to tap the same audience when it was released back on 17 June 2022 despite featuring Buzz Lightyear, one of the most memorable animated characters ever brought to the big screen.

In the case of Minions, the franchise has also established a far better foothold in meme culture over the years as a bonus. Who could forget the time when our Facebook timelines were swamped with unhinged posts featuring Kevin, Stuart and Bob with all their slapstick stupidity? In fact, the memes were so random back then that they don’t even make sense when you look at them now. Here are some instances I stumbled across on a Telegram channel dedicated to Minion memes:

3. Don’t cast a known abuser

Over the years, Jared Leto, who plays Dr. Michael Morbius himself, has made a name for himself in the music industry with his band Thirty Seconds To Mars. He’s also credited with a surprisingly long-lasting acting career—starring in Fight Club, House of Gucci, Requiem for a Dream and Suicide Squad—all despite the fact that he has a history of predatory behaviour for which he has never faced the repercussions to date.

From turning his band into a cult to both the industry and fans accusing him of sexual assault and paedophilia, SCREENSHOT had previously gathered all the receipts of Leto’s problematic past.

In fact, the actor has also gained a reputation for his intense method acting. Leto has previously caused a bit of controversy while working on Suicide Squad for sending his costars used condoms, anal beads, “sticky” Playboy magazines and even a dead rat to try and “better understand the mind of the Joker.”

During an interview with Uproxx, Morbius’ director Daniel Espinosa confirmed a rumour that Leto was so committed to inhabiting Dr. Morbius that he even pretended to be disabled on the set by forcing himself to use crutches to limp to the bathroom between takes. Heck, things even got to the point where the actor’s long trips began slowing down production, so much that he had to be convinced to allow himself to use a wheelchair instead.

Given the lack of necessary background checks on both actors and the attention Morbius has been gathering online, here’s to hoping that Sony finally learns its lesson and doesn’t succumb to the trending demands of re-releasing the vampire superhero movie for the third time around. Or do, because who knows, maybe third Morb’s the charm? The internet will have a great time nevertheless.

Why is no one talking about Jared Leto’s history of paedophilia and predatory behaviour?

Depending on which generation you were born into, you might know the American actor and musician Jared Leto for a wide array of reasons. I personally remember him from Requiem for a Dream and the absolute trauma that movie caused my 15-year-old self. Some may also associate Leto with Fight Club’s Angel Face character while for others his face brings forth unwanted flashbacks from the car crash that was his performance as Suicide Squad’s Joker. Heck, if you’re not much of a movie buff but know a thing or two about fashion, then Leto can only represent one thing to you: Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele’s most favoured muse, placed even before Harry Styles and Lana Del Rey on the pedestal.

But Leto should be known for more than his surprisingly long-lasting acting career or the name he’s made for himself in the music industry with his band Thirty Seconds To Mars—fronted by the man himself along with his brother Shannon Leto on drums. It’s time for Leto to be dragged for more than his embarrassingly meme-worthy acting attempt in House of Gucci—it’s about time we addressed the problematic behaviour he’s been displaying for years without ever facing the repercussions. From accusations of paedophilia and rape to his bizarre cult island, we’ve gathered all the receipts.

 

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A post shared by THIRTY SECONDS TO MARS (@30secondstomars)

Thirty Seconds To Mars: a band that turned into a cult

When the Leto brothers formed their rock band in 1998, they probably never imagined the fan base it would accumulate over the years. Thirty Seconds To Mars (also known as 30STM) went on to consistently enjoy sold-out tours and even headline numerous festivals. Known for its energetic live performances, fused elements from a wide variety of genres, its use of philosophical and spiritual lyrics, concept albums, and experimental music, the band took a strange turn when it started holding cult-like “summer camps” for its audience in 2015.

What seemed to have started as an ironic comment—in 2013, Leto told The New York Times Magazine that it was “a joke, a response to journalists saying, ‘You have such a cult following.’”—quickly turned into a golden opportunity to fleece their audience. In August 2019, while on yet another island retreat they’d held in Croatia for hundreds of fans, Thirty Seconds To Mars tweeted, “Yes, it’s a cult,” sending the internet into an understandable frenzy.

As reported by KQED in September 2019, the band’s fans “collectively refer to themselves as ‘the Echelon’, and are a group that seems overwhelmingly immersed not [just] in music nerd-dom, but rather a more general sort of love for the community surrounding the band.” I mean, just watch 10 seconds of the fan-made video below and you’ll get an idea of the megachurch vibes 30STM is giving off:

Oh, and in case you’re still not convinced, keep in mind that the Echelon also seems more than happy to don all-white uniforms and worship Leto’s feet. No biggie.

KQED further noted, “Like many cults, the Echelon espouses an us vs. them mentality via the hashtag #YouWouldntUnderstand, a refrain Leto repeats often. That idea has pushed supporters to ever more fervent degrees of devotion any time the band receives any degree of criticism.”

Looking into the band’s eyebrow-raising trips, the publication revealed that its Camp Mars event, which was held between 7 and 9 September 2019, charged $999 for two nights of outdoor camping, where you had to bring your own tent and supplies, Fyre Festival-style. The getaway also included daytime outdoor activities like rock-climbing and archery, plus two Thirty Seconds To Mars concerts, which the band called ‘Church of Mars’. More expensive dorm options were also offered, but the only way to sleep in a space that wasn’t shared with strangers was to pay $6,499 for a “VIP experience.” Neat.

But that’s all fine, because Leto declared the band “anti-greed” back in 2013. Whether the whole cult aspect surrounding 30STM started as a joke or not, what certainly seems to be serious is how aware Leto is of his fans’ dedication to him. This thirst for devotion has most definitely played a part in the worrying accusations the celebrity has faced both before and after.

The industry accused him of sexual assault and paedophilia

In May 2018, in the midst of the #MeToo movement, Dylan Sprouse—yep, that’s the twin brother of Cole Sprouse who is best known for his role as Zack Martin on the Disney Channel series The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and its spin-off, The Suite Life on Deck—posted a tweet accusing Leto of sending DMs to every model aged 18 to 25.

It quickly escalated when Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn tweeted the following as an answer to Sprouse’s initial tweet, “He starts at 18 on the internet?” Though the tweet has since been deleted, many netizens managed to grab a screenshot beforehand:

Why is no one talking about Jared Leto’s history of paedophilia and predatory behaviour?

This was not the first time Gunn tried speaking up about Leto’s predatory behaviour either. In June of 2015, the director reportedly did a live stream on the video app Periscope in which he made similar remarks about the actor’s habits of sleeping with underage girls. SCREENSHOT did not manage to locate a copy of the video in question.

In that same year, the New York Post reported that the 30STM frontman had been pursuing teen models. “He’s been approaching all the girls and inviting them to his shows,” an anonymous source told the paper. “He’s a serial texter. He is constantly texting these 16- and 17-year-old girls. It’s really kind of creepy.”

For a man who openly held a competition in which the prize was a night sleeping in his bed and who fronts a band that is known to specifically request their fans get tattoos in their honour, to be accused of such things should have been enough to eventually lead the actor to face at least some kind of consequence. And yet, not much happened to the cult leader in 2018, even after a worrying number of allegations, some from years before then, started appearing online.

Oh, and so did his own fans

Though the article has since been wiped clean from the internet, in July 2015, pop culture writer for the now-vanished media criticism site Contemptor, Evangeline Van Houten, made some waves for her piece titled Another Cosby? A Reminder That Several Women Have Accused Jared Leto Of Sexual Assault. In it, the journalist collected several confronting allegations of sexual misconduct from fans of 30STM.

A number of victims, as young as 15, described having sex with Leto and some of the allegations suggested the singer acted despite a lack of consent or continued even when asked to stop. One account stated, “He was very pushy into coercing me to do sexual acts with him and he was quite rough and forceful. Once he was unnecessarily rough and when I told him it hurt he didn’t stop—he never did anything slowly or for my pleasure… And no, he never asked me if I was ever ok or comfortable with anything he wanted to do, simply because he is not the person to care.”

The 50-year-old actor never tried to respond to such accusations, and let’s be honest, it never seemed like he really had to, especially since barely anyone even made the effort to shed light on his alleged predatory behaviour. A Reddit thread based on the article mentioned above includes many more shocking accounts, in case you’re wondering exactly how many victims we’re looking at here.

In 2014, a Star Magazine print issue featured an interview with former adult film star Vicki Marie Taylor claiming that, back when Leto dated Cameron Diaz, she and three other strip dancers had been invited to a post-concert get-together one night in April 2002.

“The other girls and I stripped down to bikinis and hung out with Jared and the band backstage,” Taylor told Star. “After a while, Jared invited me onto his tour bus. His brother, Shannon, the band’s drummer, was already on it and the three of us were the only people there. I gave Jared a lap dance for just a minute, but then he asked me to do the same for his brother, who was sitting on a couch. As I started to dance for Shannon, Jared suddenly grabbed me around the throat from behind and said to me, ‘I can reach pure sexual enjoyment in 30 seconds just by looking into your eyes’. Obviously, it was kind of a weird situation.”

She went on to say that Leto then sat back down and watched Taylor lap dance his brother for ten minutes until a roadie announced it was time for them to leave for their next gig.

https://twitter.com/Ninjaharlot/status/1463604100440866817

The internet is home to many (many, many) more accounts of Leto allegedly sexually assaulting (sometimes underage) victims. However, some internet users have suggested that such online accusations are not to be taken seriously due to the fact that they never actually evolved into sexual assault and rape police cases—a very stupid and uneducated way of looking at the situation.

How many times do we have to say it? The fear of not being believed makes it even harder for victims to come forward, so imagine how frightening it must be for anyone facing Leto and his somewhat invincible yet invisible team of lawyers. Almost 90 per cent of sexual assault survivors will never go to the police.

And it’s not only that victims are worried people won’t believe them, they also worry they will face horrific repercussions for coming forward with their story—whether personally, professionally or from the perpetrator themselves—especially if they go on to report the assault to concerned authorities. Seeing how much of an expert Leto is at emptying his fans’ pockets, it’s not hard to think of the many options he has under his belt when trying to silence his victims.