The Significance of the MCU

By | Monday, December 23, 2019 Leave a Comment
Avengers running at the airport
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has undoubtedly had a big impact on the media landscape. Everything from raising relatively unknown actors like Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston to star status to introducing the masses to characters like Dr. Strange and Ant-Man to making a ton of money for Marvel (and later Disney) to the point that other studios are actively trying to copy their success. The worldwide impact this franchise has had is incalculable.

The impact these movies has had on an individual level ranges quite a bit, though. Jack Kirby's son Neal almost certainly has had a different experience and gotten different benefits than, say, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. So the question I'm looking at today is: what impact have the movies had on me personally, speaking as a Marvel fan from decades back?

Some of you might jump to something about my appearing as an extra in the first Avengers movie. In seeing Hiddleston's acting up close, or watching Whedon direct, or just the overall experience of making a movie, or something. It was certainly impressive to see Hiddleston acting 6-8 feet away from me (I've said it before -- as good as he is on screen, the camera doesn't capture half of what he puts into a performance!) but that didn't change how I watch his performances or anything. I didn't actually see Whedon directing because the scene I was in was done by a second unit director (whose name escapes me at the moment). And the process of movie making was interesting to see first-hand but it wasn't really anything I didn't already know at some level. So while being in the movie was cool and a great experience, that isn't the most impactful part of the MCU on my life.

You might then guess something along the lines of fannish validation. For example, now I'm not only able to have conversations with most any relative or random co-worker about the characters, and they at least know some basic information about them. It doesn't come across like me just spouting gibberish. In fact, I've had more than a few people come up to me, knowing I'm an old Marvel fan, and ask questions about the characters that weren't explored in the films. My geek cred has been transferred into more broadly usable social capital. "Ask Sean! He knows about this stuff!" While that's certainly weird and cool to start receiving that kind of attention after growing up being ostracized (sometimes even by my friends!) for literally knowing the exact same things, that's also of relatively minor impact. Especially as time has worn on, and the characters have had more time to be diffused into popular consciousness, both by more movies but also the tons more ancillary material that's been put out by thousands of other people.

No, the biggest impact the MCU movies have had on my life are these three words: "On your left!"

I'm, of course, referring to this scene from the second Captain America movie...
The movie came out in 2014. By that point, I had been running for about four years myself and the concept of alerting another person that you were about to pass them by shouting "on your left" was well-established.

But only among runners and cyclists. If you shouted "on your left" to one of them, they knew what you meant and would generally veer a bit to their right to give you plenty of room to pass. If you shouted "on your left" to someone just out for a stroll or walking their dog or something, they would jump and often take a step to their left while turning completely around, putting themselves directly in your path. If you shouted "on your left" to someone who wasn't familiar with the idea, you'd be as likely as not to cause them to get more in your way than they were.

While this wasn't too much of an issue when I was living in Ohio -- I rarely saw people out walking or running or anything -- the more populated Chicago areas I've been living in the last several years meant that I come up on other people with a lot more regularity. And before 2014, I would regularly startle people into my path with an "on your left!" Since then, however, I've noticed a significant decrease in that being an issue. I can shout an "on your left" to someone and they'll take a step or two to the right without even looking back. In the cases of some dog walkers, they'll even step off the path entirely and have their dog sit until I pass! This has made running so much easier, particularly in those areas where they have uncomfortably narrow sidewalks. (Fortunately, there aren't many of those where I am, but there are some!) I can't believe I'm the only runner who's noticed this.

That's not to say that everybody now knows "on your left" and it's all thanks to that one scene -- I still occasionally come across someone who just acts confused about the whole thing -- but in terms of day-to-day, practical significance, the biggest thing I've personally gained from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is teaching the population at large about "on your left!"
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