The Darkest Timeline: Why are we so obsessed with the multiverse right now?

Pop culture is always a sign of the times

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Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Wong (Benedict Wong), and America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
The multiverse is a cross-medium phenomenon in 2022. Image courtesy of Disney

By Yasmin Vejs Simsek, Staff Writer

The multiverse. It’s understandably on everyone’s lips right now. When it seems like our own reality is becoming increasingly nightmarish, we want to check-in on an alternate self to see who has it worse. Simply put, the multiverse is everywhere thanks to our increasing desire for escape and comfort.

That’s not to say The multiverse is a 2020-era invention. The idea of multiple parallel universes started circulating over 2,500 years ago in Ancient Greece. Flash comics and Michael Moorcock’s The Sundered Worlds helped re-introduce the concept to readers in 1961 and 1963, respectively. You’re probably familiar with the concept thanks to Marvel’s billion-dollar, movie-length meme. Marvel is not the only one exploring the multiverse. In the multiverse we also find comics such as DC, novels like His Dark Materials, and TV series like Rick and Morty. Undoubtedly the multiverse is most profitable capitalistic venture for show business.

So, why are we hooked on the multiverse right now? 

The best answer is the most obvious: COVID-19. These last two years have felt like the longest in living history and a lot of people wish there was a real end in sight to this pandemic. With Shanghai going back into lockdown, the finish line seems further and further away. Who doesn’t fancy an escape? A great escape would be to walk to another world, a parallel universe where there is no pandemic, no wars, no anti-vaxxers — just magic, heroes, and more Benedict Cumberbatches. 

With the multiverse, there’s a diverse array of escapist options. Everything Everywhere All at Once is a 2022 movie that makes absolutely no sense (humans have hotdogs for fingers at one point), but is a comedy about how the main character is struggling in our world and needs to connect with parallel universes to make sense of it all. If I didn’t convince you to watch it with hotdog fingers, it stars Michelle Yeoh, who we should watch every day, but especially during Asian/Asian American and Pacific Islanders heritage month. We all need a laugh these days, so watching a comedy about the multiverse is exactly the escape we need. 

It’s not just speculation. There was a huge surge in superhero and disaster movies in the ’00s. Just as we needed superhero movies after 9/11 to feel hopeful, we now see a need for several universes to feel there is a way out of the current state of the world. The reasoning was explicit in movies such as Iron Man and The Dark Knight. Both movies also revolved around terrorism — domestic and abroad. Despite increasingly problematic portrayals of Muslims, the media and political landscape allowed audiences to fulfill a desire for protection. Similarly now, humanity has plenty to gain safety from, so we seek it out in parallel universes. 

From Doctor Strange’s utopian Earth-838 to the fantastical, philosophy-heavy universes in His Dark Materials, the multiverse abounds. Check in to see if you’re really in the darkest timeline.