Occasionally invoked in various Marvel Comics. While most folks will panic appropriately when a superhuman battle breaks out nearby, sometimes a jaded resident ignores the ruckus, or yells at the heroes to move their Quinjet and stop blocking the street.
One particular variation is invoked extremely often in Marvel Comics, particularly those written by Stan Lee: bystanders who exclaim "Ah, must be some publicity stunt!" or "They must be filming some nutty new sci-fi movie!" Curiously, in this variant, the populace seems to think the city is overflowing with publicists and filmmakers, not superheroes. Based on the sheer number of appearances, this might be Stan Lee's favorite trope.
It didn't start with Stan, though. The "just a publicity stunt" trope, almost exactly like Stan used it, turns up in a 1942 Wonder Woman story.
This exchange from Fantastic Four describes the Marvel New York perfectly:
In Doctor Strange stories, Doc can wander the streets of New York openly, in costume, because everyone takes him for a harmless quack. But when things get out of hand, characters will comment that they need to stop the [magical whatsit] soon, because even Greenwich Village is going to notice the [flaming headed monster/enormous dragon/giant rabbit].
Spider-Man: Um, Doc? If I told you the city had gone all misty, and demons were popping out of midair...that's bad, right? Or is this just something that happens on your street?
During Walter Simonson's run on The Mighty Thor, there was a story arc where the hosts of Asgard were trapped on Earth for a few weeks, and spent the time hanging out in New York City.
Narrator: ...and New York being what it is, almost nobody notices.
In an issue of Runaways, the kids are meeting with the Kingpin at an upscale restaurant, and notice a green-skinned woman eating scampi off-panel. They instantly think she's She-Hulk until Kingpin says otherwise.
Chase: You can't threaten us, we got She-Hulk in the house!
Kingpin: (unconcerned) That isn't She-Hulk.
Chase: Nice try. Don't you see her over there eating scampi?
Played with in Astro City, where the residents treat the various super-heroics as part of the appeal of the city. Even when a gigantic Thunder God threatens to level the town, most folks get outside, pull up lawn chairs, and watch the show. Except for the kids who needed to finish their homework.
And there are some Astro City residents with real super-powers who work as special effects consultants for an in-universe soap opera... about superheroes.
Even better. One of the soap's side characters is secretly a superhero because otherwise it wouldn't be realistic.
"Bus Stop", a Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, in which first the Doctor, then the alien monster pursuing him, get on the same London bus, with an Innocent Bystander who just wonders why the nutters always decide to sit next to him.
Cameron Chase: You sure seem nonplussed about this. You get a lot of evil geniuses sending robots to murder people?
Detective: Ma'am, this is Gotham City. Your story isn't even in the top five weirdest cases I've heard today.
Sin City is a very dark variation of this trope. Marv beats people into bloody messes in bars and the people around him keep drinking, a ninja assassin can kill a man in an alley while citizens walk by (as seen in the background of the short story Blues Eyes), and shoot outs are not entirely uncommon due to the Wretched Hive nature of the city.
Judge Dredd's Mega-City One is filled with around half a billion weirdos. With an eighty per cent unemployment rate, citizens resort to some very strange trends to alleviate boredom. There's even a mental card that gets you extra welfare payments.
Astonishing X-Men: The team are helping the SFPD investigate a corpse who was burned by a pyrokinetic:
Wolverine: Pretty weird stuff for you guys, huh?
Officer: Hell, no. This is San Francisco. Yesterday we had to arrest a seven foot tall dude dressed as a nun for wearing human kneecaps as earrings.
This is part of the shtick of the Doctor Who fanfic setting This Time Round, which is home to various aliens, time travellers and dimension hoppers. Weird tends not to faze most of the inhabitants; danger, on the other hand, does.
In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Trixcord, Discord picks up a newspaper from a Manehattan newspaper stand to read about the chaos he has sown. The stand owner tells Discord that if he wants to read the newspaper, he's got to pay for it. Discord is perplexed at how nonchalant this guy is about the fact that he's standing next to the pony equivalent of Cthulhu.
A minor example occurs in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, where most people are willing to accept the slightly out-of-touch Spock as a harmless stoner, even as he does weird things like jump into the whale tank...until he says some things about the whales that he shouldn't be able to know.
During the early stages of filming, the filmmakers were concerned that people would see the actors wandering through San Francisco and interfere with filming. As a test, they sent extras out in Starfleet uniforms to tour the city. Nobody noticed.
This is lampshaded in the Voyager episode "Future's End": as Janeway and Tuvok observe the wide variety of clothing styles in 1990s Los Angeles, Tuvok remarks, "We could've worn our Starfleet uniforms. I doubt if anyone would've noticed."
Men in Black II had a scene where J can't clear a subway car he just crashed into through the end window of because of this trope. They look up for a moment to see what it was, then go back to what they were doing.
To be fair, they do get moving when a giant worm starts eating the car...
"That's the problem with all y'all New Yorkers. 'Oh, we seen it all.' 'Oh no! A 600 ft. worm! Save us, Mr. Black Man!'"
Jumper. During the jumper duel, nobody really notices the two men that appeared out of nowhere, and are wrestling in the street.
Averted in the film Who, where an agent returns from behind the Iron Curtain with his face in a grotesque mask following an accident — or is it an impostor? Anyway, the filmmakers took the actor onto the street (forget which city) and filmed genuine startled reactions of passersby to his mask.
A running gag in The Muppets Take Manhattan is Miss Piggy, spying on Kermit and enraged by what she sees, taking her frustrations out on nearby architecture. Kermit looks round in surprise (without seeing her), but whoever he's talking to just says "Eh, New York."
In The Great Muppet Caper, Kermit and Miss Piggy go for a bike ride in London. A surprised girl exclaims that a bear is riding a bycicle (a Running Gag has Fozzy and Kermit being identical twins), but her father just nonchalantly corrects her that Kermit is a frog because "bears wear hats."
A rare rural example: in The Rocketeer, Cliff fails to control his rocket pack properly and ends up plowing through a field at high speed, leaving a wake of soil. The response of the farmers who watched him go by? "Big gopher." "Yup."
In Enchanted, a Disney Princess (complete with singing animal friends, a big poofy ball-gown and an obsession with True Love's Kiss) is transported from her animated world of trolls and wicked stepmothers into the middle of Times Square. The reactions of Manhattanites fall into two categories: they either believe that she is some sort of performance artist or assume she is severely psychotic. This is especially evident in her first Real World interaction (for example, when a little person on the street curtly tells her to move out of the way, she mistakes him for Grumpy from Snow White; later that day she has her crown stolen by a homeless person).
Another example of this trope is at the end of the film, when Queen Narsissa crashes a charity benefit called the King and Queen's Ball. She transforms into a dragon in from of hundreds of people and climbs to the top of the Woolworth building, then falls to her death and explodes into sparkles when she hits the ground. The people at the benefit comment on how the organizers "really went all-out on the floor-show this year."
The Disney comedy Jungle 2 Jungle (a remake of the French film Un indien dans la ville) has a Wall Street stockbroker (Tim Allen) learn that his ex-wife and a son he never knew he had have been living in Venezuela with an Amazonian Indian tribe - and when he gets there, he learns that the boy's name is Mimi-Siku (Indian for "cat pee") and that he wears a loincloth, uses a blowgun to hunt, and speaks broken English. Upon arriving back in New York with his son, the stockbroker meets up with his colleague (Martin Short) in the airport - and the colleague at first does not notice the long-haired white boy in a loincloth standing next to his friend. Determined to get the colleague's attention, Mimi-Siku leaps over the railing of the moving walkway (unseen by either his father or the colleague), slips up behind the colleague, and grabs his arm. The colleague finally notices Mimi-Siku, but still doesn't seem to understand: he assumes that the kid is an environmental activist in costume, collecting donations to save the rain forest.
In An American Werewolf in London, David tries to get himself locked up so he won't kill more people at moonrise, but is merely told to move along when he starts shouting insults about the royals and Britain's cultural icons in public. This, after his running around the park naked is greeted with a mere sniff of disdain by an older lady.
In the 1971 film Little Murders, after the heroine Patsy (Marcia Rodd) is shot dead by a random sniper, her husband Alfred (Elliott Gould) travels by subway to her parentsí New York apartment, covered in her blood. The other passengers hardly notice.
Per the page quote in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy aliens visiting Earth are advised to land in New York as it requires little to no disguise in order to fit in.
In Artemis Fowl it is mentioned several times that faeries often go to Disneyland on vacation, with no reaction from the human occupants.
In Stravaganza, Rodolfo (and other Stravagante) travel to 21st century London to drop off talismans and are regarded as nutjobs in period costume, rather than being noticed for being out of place.
In the Doctor WhoEighth Doctor Adventures novel Unnatural History, San Francisco is invaded by dragons, unicorns, strange men in fezzes, etc. No one thinks much of it, even when Lombard Street goes straight. (No, you're thinking of the Castro, Lombard Street is this one◊.)
Oddly averted in Ankh-Morpork of the Discworld, mainly because anything that happens in the streets of the city counts as a spectator sport, and standing around watching interesting things is the public's favorite pastime and penetrating stares the city's chief export. So they only really notice strange things inasmuch as it's something interesting to watch for a few minutes before going on with their day. If it's worth watching for more than a few minutes 'Cut-me-own-throat' Dibbler will show up to sell his 'sausages inna bun!'.
Played straight(er) in the Ramtop Mountains. According to Wyrd Sisters, when people in Lancre are woken in the night by strange happenings, they say "Oh, it's just another bloody portent," then roll over and go back to sleep. When someone goes for a long walk without seeing anything spooky, he needs a stiff drink to settle his nerves.
The title character of Mr. Spaceman almost avoids this—rather than picking any of the abovementioned cities, he decides to make First Contact in Baton Rouge. Unfortunately, he made the mistake of doing this on January 1st, 2000, and even landing a Flying Saucer in the middle of the city is assumed to be All Part of the Show. Then again, even those who meet him after the celebrations tend to assume this blue-skinned, lipless fellow is just costumed or disfigured.
This is a recurring motif in Spider Robinson's fiction: in the novel Night of Power, the hero is surprised that he and his wife — he white and covered in blood, she black and completely bald — actually attract stares in a New York City video arcade. The two characters in the short story "Half an Oaf" attract absolutely no attention in Times Square at midnight, even though one is a twelve-year-old boy with a fake mustache and the other is the upper half of an extremely fat man.
Mike Callahan of Callahan's Crosstime Saloon tells the story of waking up after an epic week-long bender naked in Central Park, fleeing on a stolen police horse. He gets all the way to Brooklyn by wrapping himself in a plaid horse blanket and yelling "Attack of the Horseclans! Coming soon from United Artists" as necessary.
Subverted in the Enchanted, Inc. series. Small town Texas girl Katie moves to NYC and thinks it's common to spot people wandering around wearing wings and the like, especially since nobody else seems fazed by it. Turns out she just is immune to magic and sees things as they really are.
Alan Dean Foster's Quozl features a group of rabbit like aliens who have colonized earth. A few humans know about them, and one even had a cartoon show made about them. When the aliens decide to gradually reveal themselves to humanity, their human friends take them to Disney Land, where they can walk around and talk to people and be completely ignored. Eventually they are nabbed by security...but only because Quozl are not licensed Disney characters.
In Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark series, the immortals live by this trope in New Orleans. Any odd, nonhuman features just get handwaved as being costumes. One group of demons are shown to regularly go out among humans with no attempt to hide their horns, and they get away with it because one of them wears a shirt claiming that they're a special effects company.
Live Action TV
In the first or second episode of Heroes, Hiro teleports himself to New York City, and nobody around notices the man who appeared out of thin air.
No one ever seems to notice Hiro teleporting, unless he's deliberately showing off his power to them. Maybe he has some sort of Weirdness Censor ability.
David Letterman once did a sketch where he filled a coffee shop in Times Square with 35 men in Spider-Man costumes. Crowds walking by failed to react.
Letterman has done the "How many guys in X costumes can fit in a Y?" bit several times, trying to get the proprietors to throw them out. The only time they succeeded was "How many guys in Easter Bunny costumes can fit in an H&R Block?" (during Easter/tax time) because it was disruptive to their business.
It takes a lot for anyone to notice anything weird in Eureka, but that's possibly because "weird" is pretty normal for a town full of mad scientists.
The citizens of Eureka notice the weird stuff; they've just gotten used to crazy situations.
Lampshaded in the pilot when Lupo can't get through to Henry at first, Sheriff Cob waits until they hear an explosion and try again without changing expression.
They relampshade this to emphasize how Carter is fitting in by him taking Cob's place in the same scene at the end.
The Coming Out of Our Shells video, featuring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a musical group, has a scene where the Turtles are performing atop the marquee of the Radio City Music Hall in New York. The crowds of people passing below weren't even looking up.
The citizens of Gotham City were pretty blasť in the old Adam West Batman series. The Batmobile could screech to a halt in front of city hall and the caped crusaders dash up the steps in their colorful costumes without so much as a second glance from passersby. Even looking out a window and finding Batman and Robin walking up the side of your building was treated as routine.
Referenced in Charmed when a knight from the Middle Ages is accidentally transported to the present day:
Phoebe: So he's just wandering around in chain mail?
Which just makes it all the more annoying when in EVERY OTHER EPISODE any vaguely unusual activity in public is treated as a serious risk to the facade, and that normal civilians will instantly suspect magic.
For example the idea that the three barefoot chicks in flowy dresses (who are actually wood nymphs) dancing in a fountain in downtown San Fransisco will attract any attention at all is laughable - let alone be a news story serious enough that the Newspaper Editor is 'compromising his journalistic ethics' by dropping his investigation as a favor to Phoebe.
Implied in one episode of Sanctuary when Henry and more importantly for this trope, the Big Guy were unavailable. They were at Comic-con.
Noel Edmonds' House Party sometime in the 90's did a transatlantic O/B to William Shatner standing on a New York corner playing a Hot Dog vendor. A truck driver rolled up in the middle of the segment and ordered a Hot Dog. "I'm doing a TV thing here!" "Yeah, can I have mustard on that" "Don't you know who I am?" "Yeah I know who you are. And onions."
Doctor Who references it in "The Fires of Pompeii". Donna's worried about whether her modern clothing will attract attention in what they initially think is the city of Rome, but the Doctor dispells her fear:
Donna: Don't our clothes look a bit odd?
The Doctor: Nah. Ancient Rome? Anything goes. It's like Soho, but bigger.
In "The Angels Take Manhattan", at least two Weeping Angels seen in the episode jump off their pedestals and run off unnoticed, despite being surrounded by commuting New Yorkers in broad daylight. Unfortunately, as the Doctor points out, this trope also makes New York City the perfect feeding ground for the Angels.
Akibahara in Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger is presented this way, given the vast importance of otaku culture to that section of Tokyo.
Invoked in Ray Stevens' Haircut Song, in which the singer winds up done up in punk style by a skinhead barber and claims he was lucky his next job was in San Francisco - "those people thought I was an insurance salesman!"
Sigil, the City of Doors, from the Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting Planescape. To paraphrase and misquote one of the creators, it is the sort of city where cannibal halflings can open a tavern and hire a drow as bartender while an angel and a demon fight each other on the floor. No matter what strange people you encounter, you can always find stranger ones.
Champions Online also has lots of random weirdos in the form of players. You can even run around as a puddle of ooze underneath people's feet, and they won't even blink when you materialize in front of them.
The crowd that gathers at the end of Metal Gear Solid 2 seem awfully calm despite a huge mobile fortress crashed into Federal Hall as well as the body of the former President of the United States wearing an exoskeleton suit with metal tentacles and a selection of swords lying nearby. They also seem to not notice the oddly dressed and armed Snake and Raiden. However, this may not be meant to be taken literally.
The weirdly dressed guys wouldn't really bother me much (it's New York City, two guys dressed in weird outfits aren't a completely uncommon sight). It's the former president smashed on the steps of Federal Hall and the giant crony machine that crashed through the city.
In the Grand Theft Auto series, you can generally walk around brandishing any weapon you want without drawing attention to yourself. In Grand Theft Auto IV this continues to be true with the exception of strip clubs and restaurants. Pull a gun there and the place goes nuts.
Also, you can indulge in any amount of destruction and carnage, but people will walk past the wreckage without a curious glance. Blow up something and they'll flee in terror...for a few hundred yards, then they forget all about it.
Even one of the official trailers for GTA4 has this where two cops walk past Niko and Packie ignoring the fact that both of them are wearing balaclavas and carrying AK-47s, all while another cop talks about fighting terrorism.
Having started its life as a GTA clone, the Saints Row series starts off this way and progressively turns it Up to Eleven as the series continues. Gang wars between teleporting rollerbladers and maniacs riding VTOLs and wielding mind-controlling squids and giant purple dildos? Just another Tuesday in Steelport.
In Prototype, the reaction many Marines (and not a few Blackwatch) will have to the sight of wanted fugitive Alex Mercer effortlessly sprinting up vertical walls and smashing holes in the pavement with every landing is "Fuckin' New York!" and nothing else.
Sumaru City. Dear God, Sumaru City. It does not get any worse than a city where rumors become reality.
In MegaTokyo, invading hordes, Humongous Mecha, and Rent-A-Zillas are common in Tokyo to the point where no one is surprised any more. Possibly justified in that undead hordes invading Tokyo are a regularly scheduled event by the police force's cataclysm division.
No, the police just enforce the schedules. They would prefer that the undead hordes didn't invade, if only because it's less paperwork.
The City of Reality is one of the best examples of City of Weirdos. The city is crime-, inconsideration-, and worry-free. The citizens regularly take part in city-wide role-playing events such as defending against anamatronic zombies,with no fear whatsoever for their safety. It is only once the city borders are opened that people begin to realize how different their city is.
Happens regularly in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja. The residents of Cumberland, Maryland don't particularly care when the mayor installs a citywide anti-zombie system, and a rampaging Paul Bunyan is treated by the police as ordinary policework, not worthy of exceptional notice.
In Peter Is The Wolf, Jean, a werewolf, is caught out in public partially transformed. Passers-by just think she's a furry and ignore her.
In MSF High, this is rather obviously in effect. Even moreso with the forum game, where a few students fighting to the death during the middle of the class can, at times, be completely ignored. Sometimes averted, however. At which point, it becomes a group activity.
Definite evidence of this in Voodoo Walrus. There's a local finance manager who's a coffee powered cyberpunk/steampunk cyborg in a suit, three mute and odd looking brothers who run a variety of stores and shops, and the devil himself manages to work at the art store and the coffee shop simultaneously.
Not to mention the mad scientists, superheroes, possibly demonic comic publishers, and the magic girl who might be from a completely different dimension who thinks lobsters are baby humans.
Mechanicsburg from Girl Genius. Lampshaded when one of the inhabited asked if growing up there made them weird.
Carson Von Mekkhan: Don't try to boggle me, mister talking cat. This is Mechanicsburg. You are by no means the strangest thing in this town.
Played for Laughs in Revenge of the Weasel Queen. Town of Zoggletonk is apparently infested with "zombie warriors, giant insects, hideous extra-terrestrial intelligences from Herr Klopman's Well" and no-one thinks this is unusual.
In The Mad Scientist Wars, Xyon City. Not surprising when 60% of the citizens are mad scientists, and a good chunk of the rest are latents, henchmen, constructs and normal people from Mad families. Weird sights are so commonplace as to be more annoying than interesting.
All the residents of Night Vale have seen so many bizarre paranormal happenings that nobody bats an eyelash anymore when the high school's quarterback grows a second head or a glowing cloud rains animal carcasses upon the city, among other things.
While not a large city, Springfield definitely applies.
Krabappel: Then let us take our case directly to the townspeople!
Chalmers: Oh, yeah, that'll be real productive. Who do you wanna talk to first, uh, the guy in the bumblebee suit or the one with the bone through his hair?
Sideshow Mel: My opinions are as valid as the next man's!
Freakazoid: A couple of weirdos like Jeepers and Vorn should be pretty easy to spot around here!
Cosgrove: I don't think so.
(shot of the various hippies and weirdos living in Venice Beach)
Freakazoid: Good point. Am I overdressed?
In the Classic Disney ShortSocial Lion, a lion is dropped in the middle of a big city (obviously New York, but never mentioned by name). No matter how loudly he roars, the citizens fail to notice him, even mistaking him for one of their own. A tailor even makes him a suit, and that is when everyone recognizes him as a wild animal and run away screaming.
Happens on occasion in Biker Mice from Mars, set in Chicago. In one instance while the titular Mice are fighting a villain in the street, we see a civilian calmly check his watch and wander off as though nothing odd is happening.
An entire Powerpuff Girls episode focuses on a typical day in the life of villain Mojo Jojo. He goes to the grocery store, the park, and walks down the street without anybody giving him a second thought. In fact, there were even kids swimming in his moat.
There's also an episode where this is justified. The citizens of Townsville are so used to having the girls fighting giant monsters that when one goes on a rampage through the city (with no girls in sight) they walk around as if nothing's happening. One little kid even asks if he can TAKE THE MONSTER HOME.
O'Grady. Weird things happen on a daily basis so no one thinks twice about it.
In Turtles Forever, this trope is both played straight and subverted. The 1987 Turtles, transferred to the universe of their 2003 counterparts, walk around New York like they're a common sight, unaware of the pains the 2003 Turtles take to conceal themselves. People are surprised by this as would be expected. The trope is, however, played straight when the teams end up in the 1987 universe, where rampaging living bananas fighting mutant turtles don't even get a glance from residents.
Similarly, the original Turtles cartoon took place in a city where giant humanoid turtles fighting an army of mooks, flying around town in a giant blimp, and regularly appearing on the local television news doesn't warrant much comment or outrage from the locals.
This quote from the first series should sum it up well;
"We're getting some weird costumers, Louie."
"Ahh, whaddya expect in this crazy town?"
In the Chuck Jones MGM short, The Bear That Wasn't, everyone in the company refuses to acknowledge that the titular Bear is anything but "a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat" to the point that he actually goes along with it for a while.
Regular Show the city where the characters live are filled with people who possess supernatural powers over mundane things. Such as a shop keeper of a board game store, or a guy how makes prank calls.
In Static Shock, the townsfolk don't seem too fussed with the vast number of meta-humans running around, unless their superpowered antics seem to put civilians in danger. Given how the "Big Bang" that created said meta-humans was made public, this is all justified in that everyone in town is well aware that there are super-human people running around.