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The Expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, a CARS reading!

Session 39

Follow along as we use MCAT CARS reading and analysis skills to ask, how far can a narrative reasonably expand? Can non-linear plot tell a compelling story?

ONce again, we’re joined by Jack Westin, the leader in MCAT CARS review.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[01:35] What to Do When You Lack Interest

This passage has a lot of details. And if you’re not interested in this material, it’s going to be harder to read. But if you’re into pop culture and into comics, you’re not going to have a hard time with this.

Come MCAT test day, you can’t tell yourself you’re not interested in this. You have to at least pretend that you’re interested. Otherwise, you’re not going to do well on these.

This is your only opportunity to listen to different authors. Or you’ll never hear their point of view about this topic ever again.

'Try to find interest in anything you read.'Click To Tweet

This is what makes CARS so great. You don’t have to come in knowing everything. But you’ve got to go in embracing everything!

So you have to completely change your attitude when you read these articles. Hopefully, you like reading these things. Students who do well are just willing to read and understand it. They listen to other people’s perspectives. They don’t zone out. And if you do, that’s okay. Just get back into it.

Link to article:

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-narrative-experiment-that-is-the-marvel-cinematic-universe

Earlier this month, Marvel Studios announced that the prèmiere of “Avengers: Endgame” would be preceded by marathon screenings of all the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or M.C.U. Since the M.C.U. consists, to date, of twenty-two movies, the screenings were fifty-nine hours and seven minutes long. They topped the thirty-one-hour screenings held last year, before the prèmiere of “Avengers: Infinity War,” and the twenty-nine-hour screenings held in 2015, before the release of “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” An M.C.U. marathon is “equal parts dare, endurance test, and assertion of fan dominance,” the reporter Alex Abad-Santos wrote, at Vox, after a pre-“Ultron” screening. Alex McLevy, a writer and editor at the A.V. Club, described the event he attended as “beyond anything I have ever experienced in a movie theater. . . . It’s beautiful, and terrifying.”

When “Iron Man” came out, in 2008, it was a standalone film. Moviegoers didn’t know that it would kick off a titanic interconnected narrative that, during the next decade, would include aliens thrashing New York City (“The Avengers”); a space jailbreak (“Guardians of the Galaxy”); a “Terminator”-style robot insurrection (“Avengers: Age of Ultron”); a civil war (“Captain America: Civil War”); and an apocalypse (“Thor: Ragnarok”). Although the subtitle of the newest film, “Endgame,” suggests a conclusion, there are more movies on the horizon, including “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” sequels to “Black Panther” and “Doctor Strange,” and a third installment of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Last month, Disney paid seventy-one billion dollars for 21st Century Fox’s entertainment business, insuring that Marvel characters previously owned by Fox—including Deadpool, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four—could appear in future additions to the M.C.U.

Though some fans complain about substandard movies and ever-lengthening runtimes, audiences remain invested in the M.C.U.: “Avengers: Infinity War” was the fourth-highest-grossing movie of all time, closely followed, in the top ten, by “The Avengers,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” and “Black Panther.” It seems likely, in other words, that the M.C.U. will continue to expand for the foreseeable future. This raises questions both superheroic and narratological. Will half of all the people on Earth, who were snuffed out at the end of “Infinity War,” ever be resurrected? And can the M.C.U. really keep expanding? How flexible is a story, ultimately? Can it be extended indefinitely without becoming meaningless, or will it reach some natural limit? How infinite can a fictional world be?

By most accounts, Aristotle laid out the ground rules of storytelling, in the fourth century B.C., in his Poetics. He argued that plot was at the core of narrative; a plot, he thought, needed to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, reflect an ordered structure of connected actions, and be self-contained. The most effective plots, he wrote, “should have a certain length, and this should be such as can readily be held in memory.” Poetics has proved persuasive: many narrative theorists see an orderly, coherent, and contained plot as crucial to the act of storytelling.

The scholar Brian Richardson, in his essay “Beyond the Poetics of Plot: Alternative Forms of Narrative Progression and the Multiple Trajectories of Ulysses,” offers his own definition of plot-based narrative—“a teleological sequence of events linked by some principle of causation; that is, the events are bound together in a trajectory that typically leads to some form of resolution or convergence”—before pointing out that “many narratives resist, elude, or reject” plot. Especially in the twentieth century, narratives began to “remain insistently fragmentary, open-ended, contradictory, or defiantly ‘plotless.’ ” There are, it turns out, many kinds of plotlessness. Episodic storytelling, as in “Law & Order” or “The Simpsons,” utilizes smaller, loosely connected narratives to allow for the maintenance of a comforting, predictable stasis over all. Extended novels, such as Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time,” allow a single narrative to emerge out of nonlinearity, in an effort to produce a more accurate representation of thought, memory, and experience.

[Related episode: MCAT CARS Skills—Our Comprehension of the Universe]

[06:26] Paragraph 1, Sentence 1

Earlier this month, Marvel Studios announced that the prèmiere of “Avengers: Endgame” would be preceded by marathon screenings of all the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or M.C.U.

Jack says:

This is pretty easy to read as you know it’s about comics and they’re talking about some marathon screening where you get to watch all these movies at once.

[Related episode: MCAT CARS Skills—A Passage About Horror and Culture]

[07:28] Paragraph 1, Sentence 2

Since the M.C.U. consists, to date, of twenty-two movies, the screenings were fifty-nine hours and seven minutes long.

Jack says:

They’re mentioning some stats here.

[07:42] Paragraph 1, Sentence 3

They topped the thirty-one-hour screenings held last year, before the prèmiere of “Avengers: Infinity War,” and the twenty-nine-hour screenings held in 2015, before the release of “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

Jack says:

This is something that Marvel does where they hold screenings of all of their movies before their next release. And it’s getting longer and longer.

[08:19] Paragraph 1, Sentence 4

An M.C.U. marathon is “equal parts dare, endurance test, and assertion of fan dominance,” the reporter Alex Abad-Santos wrote, at Vox, after a pre-“Ultron” screening.

Jack says:

The reporter mentioned here is basically saying that marathons are an endurance test and fan dominance. Not only does it show how long you can stay and watch movies all day. But it can also show the impact of these movies in how these movies are so popular.

[09:11] Paragraph 1, Sentence 5

Alex McLevy, a writer and editor at the A.V. Club, described the event he attended as “beyond anything I have ever experienced in a movie theater. . . . It’s beautiful, and terrifying.”

Jack says:

Another name mentioned here and how the writer describes it. “Terrifying” here is not said in a negative way. It’s probably terrifying in the fact that it’s surprisingly amazing. You can see how many people love these movies and how many of them are willing to stick around and watch these movies all day.

[10:07] Paragraph 2, Sentence 1

When “Iron Man” came out, in 2008, it was a standalone film.

Jack says:

Another mention of another Marvel movie here back in 2018.

[10:27] Paragraph 2, Sentence 2

Moviegoers didn’t know that it would kick off a titanic interconnected narrative that, during the next decade, would include aliens thrashing New York City (“The Avengers”); a space jailbreak (“Guardians of the Galaxy”); a “Terminator”-style robot insurrection (“Avengers: Age of Ultron”); a civil war (“Captain America: Civil War”); and an apocalypse (“Thor: Ragnarok”).

Jack says:

Whether you like these movies or not, it doesn’t matter. Pay attention to what they’re saying. They’re just bringing up a lot of different movies with a lot of different narratives, and different storylines.

Just know that one movie brought about all these different other movies. You don’t necessarily need to know the details about these movies. You just need to realize how these movies have grown.

[12:01] Paragraph 2, Sentence 3

Although the subtitle of the newest film, “Endgame,” suggests a conclusion, there are more movies on the horizon, including “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” sequels to “Black Panther” and “Doctor Strange,” and a third installment of “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Jack says:

These are examples of more movies coming.

[12:20] Paragraph 2, Sentence 4

Last month, Disney paid seventy-one billion dollars for 21st Century Fox’s entertainment business, insuring that Marvel characters previously owned by Fox—including Deadpool, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four—could appear in future additions to the M.C.U.

Jack says:

Disney bought this company for $71 billion. That’s a lot of money! Just realize they’re trying to connect more of these superheroes and movies together.

AAMC says that about 40% of the CARS section is reasoning beyond the text. But this does not refer to the plots of these movies. It means: what is the trend? They might introduce a new series or a new element. Then the question can ask about what you can assume about these books.

[16:51] Paragraph 3, Sentence 1

Though some fans complain about substandard movies and ever-lengthening runtimes, audiences remain invested in the M.C.U.: “Avengers: Infinity War” was the fourth-highest-grossing movie of all time, closely followed, in the top ten, by “The Avengers,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” and “Black Panther.”

Jack says:

Some people are complaining but the movies are still doing very well. They’re still popular.

[17:26] Paragraph 3, Sentence 2

It seems likely, in other words, that the M.C.U. will continue to expand for the foreseeable future.

Jack says:

As long as they’re making money, they’re going to keep making them.

[17:39] Paragraph 3, Sentence 3

This raises questions both superheroic and narratological.

Jack says:

We don’t know what these words mean but that’s okay. Let’s keep reading.

[17:53] Paragraph 3, Sentence 4

Will half of all the people on Earth, who were snuffed out at the end of “Infinity War,” ever be resurrected?

Jack says:

You don’t have to know what happens at the end of these movies. But know it’s posing a question about its narrative. What’s going to happen to the story if they keep making movies about it?

[18:31] Paragraph 3, Sentence 5-8

And can the M.C.U. really keep expanding? How flexible is a story, ultimately? Can it be extended indefinitely without becoming meaningless, or will it reach some natural limit? How infinite can a fictional world be?

Jack says:

More questions are asked here. There are so many of these movies and stories. Are they going to keep making stories over and over again about this stuff? Will it ever end?:

[19:56] Paragraph 4, Sentence 1

By most accounts, Aristotle laid out the ground rules of storytelling, in the fourth century B.C., in his Poetics.

Jack says:

He made some ground rules for storytelling.

[20:20] Paragraph 4, Sentence 2

He argued that plot was at the core of narrative; a plot, he thought, needed to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, reflect an ordered structure of connected actions, and be self-contained.

Jack says:

We have Aristotle’s definition of a plot.

[20:43] Paragraph 4, Sentence 3

The most effective plots, he wrote, “should have a certain length, and this should be such as can readily be held in memory.”

Jack says:

The plot can only be as long as we can remember. And we have all these movies. Hence, they’re making all these marathons. The bigger point here is that you need a plot in a narrative. Forget about the fact that a plot needs to be of a certain length. You need a plot and that’s the key!

[21:44] Paragraph 4, Sentence 4

Poetics has proved persuasive: many narrative theorists see an orderly, coherent, and contained plot as crucial to the act of storytelling.

Jack says:

We need a plot for storytelling.

[22:08] Paragraph 5, Sentence 1

The scholar Brian Richardson, in his essay “Beyond the Poetics of Plot: Alternative Forms of Narrative Progression and the Multiple Trajectories of Ulysses,” offers his own definition of plot-based narrative—“a teleological sequence of events linked by some principle of causation; that is, the events are bound together in a trajectory that typically leads to some form of resolution or convergence”—before pointing out that “many narratives resist, elude, or reject” plot.

Jack says:

We have another person here who’s saying maybe we don’t need a plot. This is going against Aristotle. So we don’t know which way the author is siding with this. But you have to understand that we’re not discussing totally different here.

We went from talking about these movies to how these movies can be sustained through narratives. Do we need plots or not? As Richardson implies, essentially, we don’t need a plot.

[24:35] Paragraph 5, Sentence 2

Especially in the twentieth century, narratives began to “remain insistently fragmentary, open-ended, contradictory, or defiantly ‘plotless.’ ”

Jack says:

He’s giving some examples of some narratives in the 20th century that are plotless.

[24:57] Paragraph 5, Sentence 3

There are, it turns out, many kinds of plotlessness.

Jack says:

The author is saying we have examples of how these stories can be told without a plot. You don’t even need to know what a plot is. As long as you know that Aristotle thought plots are important for storytelling. And that Richardson is bringing up the fact that maybe we don’t need plots for storytelling, then you’re going to be fine.

[25:40] Paragraph 5, Sentence 4

Episodic storytelling, as in “Law & Order” or “The Simpsons,” utilizes smaller, loosely connected narratives to allow for the maintenance of a comforting, predictable stasis over all.

Jack says:

Just remember that plots have a beginning, middle, and end. And so this is saying that loosely connected doesn’t have a beginning, middle, and end. They basically describe what a plot is in certain ways that you can pick up on and use to understand the rest of this passage.

[26:47] Paragraph 5, Sentence 5

Extended novels, such as Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time,” allow a single narrative to emerge out of nonlinearity, in an effort to produce a more accurate representation of thought, memory, and experience.

Jack says:

Understand that this emerged out of nonlinearity. It’s another way of saying that a plot is linear. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Understand that the author will describe that in many different ways. So you have to pick up on those things. And this comes with practice.

Basically, this paragraph is countering what the previous paragraph. We have Aristotle saying the ground rules for storytelling. It has to have a plot – a beginning, middle, and an end. And then this next paragraph is telling maybe it doesn’t have to be that way and there are many other ways to tell a story.

[30:00] Sample Question and Thought Process

What is the author’s primary concern regarding the Marvel cinematic universe?

(A) That its movies can remain high-quality entertainment experiences.

(B) That its owners have transformed the moviemaking business.

(C) That its approach to storytelling may not be sustainable long-term.

(D) That its narrative does not adhere to traditional storytelling principles.

Insights:

The correct answer here is C. The whole point of the passage is, how can we tell these stories over and over again? How can we sustain these movies if we’re just going to keep bringing up new stories that revolve around the same stuff?

Understanding answer choice A, this is not a concern in the passage.

B is not correct either as we didn’t really bring up the concern about its owners transforming the moviemaking business. The moviemaking business wasn’t even discussed here. The answer choice also suggests that the owners did something different to make the movie. But this wasn’t discussed.

Students may be confused with D that the narrative does not adhere to the traditional storytelling principles. But this is contradictory.

D is suggesting that it cannot adhere to traditional storytelling and it has to adhere to nontraditional. We do know the movies are leaning towards nontraditional plot. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t have traditional storytelling principles.  So D is out of scope and not relevant.

C is also better because it’s speculative since it says it “may not be sustainable.” You’d rather pick something that’s more general than something that’s so specific as it can seem a bit more extreme. And usually when the topic is on the neutral side. you don’t want to pick an extreme answer.

[35:55] Jack Westin

Looking for more MCAT CARS prep? Learn how to break down the questions and passages by going to medicalschoolhq.net/jackwestin to activate a coupon for you.

Links:

Jack Westin

Link to article:

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-narrative-experiment-that-is-the-marvel-cinematic-universe

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