But the path they envisioned is proving to be disturbingly accurate—with long-term ramifications for communicators.
(Warning: Here be spoilers….)
The two Avengers films tell the tale of a cosmic tyrant, Thanos, who blames the universe’s woes on overpopulation. Through age-old gems called Infinity Stones, he gains the power to wipe out half of all life everywhere. Shockingly, he succeeds, until the surviving superhero Avengers reverse his heinous act.
Between those two events, five years pass on Earth—a period known as “the Blip.” The abrupt loss of 3.8 billion people is devastating globally and individually. There’s a great scene in Endgame where Steve “Captain America” Rogers leads group therapy: “The world is in our hands,” he tells the group. “We gotta do something with it.”
Then, suddenly, everyone comes back—and humanity faces yet another reality, one surprisingly as shattering as what Thanos wrought.
Two recent Marvel television series on Disney+, WandaVision and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, dive deep into the effects of a post-Blip world. WandaVision explores personal grief. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier deals with the global ramifications—political, financial, humanitarian, interpersonal—of removing billions of people for five years and suddenly bringing them back.
“Nobody’s stable. Allies are now enemies. Alliances are all torn apart. The world’s broken,” Colonel James “War Machine” Rhodes tells Sam “Falcon” Wilson. “Everybody’s just looking for someone to fix it.”
Rhodey could have been talking about the world we live in today.
COVID-19 is our real-life Blip. For more than a year, our reality has been profoundly altered. Jobs disappeared or changed dramatically. Families have fallen into financial instability. Countless businesses are struggling to survive or have been forced to close. Millions of students are falling behind. Mental health problems are skyrocketing.
And most tragic of all, nearly 3 million people have died—565,000 in the United States. Unlike a Marvel film, those people won’t be coming back.
Through heroic efforts of scientists and the health care industry, new vaccines and treatments are emerging. They offer hope that the end of our Blip is within sight.
But herd immunity won’t fix everything that’s broken.
Conflict, distrust and outright paranoia are hardly new. But life under the coronavirus Blip has stoked their flames.
We can no longer agree to disagree; differences of opinion are reason enough to end friendships, disown family, even take a life.
We trust little, if anyone or anything—science or faith, journalists or government, physicians or mentors or elections or anyone who is different from ourselves.
We dismiss facts. We place blame. We weave inane rationales and conspiracies. We take up arms at our keyboards and aim vitriol at anyone on social media who questions the reality we insist upon.
To be sure, I have a perspective on our Blip. But that’s not the point of this blog post. The point is the crucial task before communicators in a post-Blip world.
I’m confident we can, as a society, bridge the chasms that have formed in recent years, especially since COVID-19. But it will require communicators to champion the fundamental trait of good communication: interaction. Listening to stakeholders. Understanding and empathizing with their perspective. For too long the job of communicating has been one way—developing your message and pointing it at the masses. (I still cringe whenever I hear someone say, “We need to issue a communication…”.)
Communication isn’t something I do to you; it’s something I do with you.
The challenge is huge, of course. Different viewpoints will remain. Opposing sides will seek to demonize each other. Some chasms will never be crossed. I’m an optimist, but I’m not naïve.
Yet I believe communicators are uniquely equipped to span the gaps where possible—if we embrace, even insist upon, the strategic leadership role we must hold if our mission is to succeed.
As Captain America said, the world is in our hands.
What will we do to make it better?