to the viewer goes the spoils

Image: Spoiler_Alert, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from alexlane's photostream

SPOILER ALERT!

Just kidding, but really, this post is about spoilers and in it I might spoil a years old movie or book or two (particularly Harry Potter, so, don’t come crying to me if you don’t know how the series ends already). (Though I promise I’m not spoiling LOST in this post.)

SPOILER ALERT!

You may have seen that phrase on the internet, or even have heard it in conversation.  You may have yelled it after someone ruined the ending to something for you.  I admit, I’ve been one to use it.  I’ve had a few things spoiled for me.  Like “The Sixth Sense.” Before I ever got a chance to see it, some friend blurted, “Ohmygod, can you beLIEVE that Bruce Willis was freaking DEAD the WHOLE TIME?” Me, somewhat crestfallen, “Um, what? I haven’t seen ‘The Sixth Sense Yet.'”  And then there was the time I was reading one of the Harry Potter books while working as a camp counselor and one of my campers was all, “Can you beLIEVE Dumbledore DIES??” Me, “WHAT!!! You’re lucky I can’t strangle a camper because otherwise you’d be dead right now!!”

And to some extent, it makes sense not to spoil books, as they’re something one reads on one’s own, or movies, as long as they’re still in the theatre.  But what about television?

Used to be that television was something the nation watched as one (to the extent that time zones make this possible).  The day after the finales of “Friends” and “Seinfeld,” everyone was talking about them, and everyone had already seen them.  There was no “Spoiler Alert!” for things that had aired on television, because everyone was expected to have watched it as it aired, and no one really had much sympathy for the poor schmuck who had a meeting and had to tape it using his VCR.

These days, things have changed.  We all have Tivos and DVR’s, and we’d rather not watch the commercials, so we watch later, when we can fast forward, and pause, and rewind.  Some of us, myself included, are annoying luddites who proudly go without cable and have to catch things online or via iTunes, or wait until things come out on DVD so we can get them from Netflix.  Television is no longer something the nation experiences at once, and it’s changed the way we have conversations about television.

I got to thinking about this last night, after watching LOST while live-tweeting it with various friends.  Without cable, I tune into LOST using some good old fashioned rabbit ears, because I’m too excited to wait 24 hours to watch it via abc.com.  Usually Jon and I watch together, and I’m not on the laptop live-tweeting, but he was out playing basketball, so I figured the next best thing would be to watch it with my internet friends.  TV is just that much more enjoyable when there’s someone to riff with, someone to agree with you when you talk about how creepy crazy Claire’s ratty wig is, or observe that people on desert islands should perhaps write more than one word on pieces of paper if they don’t want to run out without replacements.

Later, another friend on Twitter asked if maybe I couldn’t refrain from tweeting about LOST, because he’s a few seasons behind.  And I sympathize! I really do! I’ve been annoyed when people spoiled the ending to Project Runway when I had to wait 24 hours to be able to watch it online, since you can’t get Bravo/Lifetime via rabbit ears.  I’ve hidden people on Facebook because I’d rather not see Mad Men spoilers while I wait for the next season to come out on DVD.  Though Mad Men star January Jones would tell me that’s ridiculous–she actually laughed at the idea of being “spoiled” after a show has already aired.

And you know? I think I’ve come around to Jones’ point of view. The freaking out (and I include myself as a freaker-outer) over television spoilers is robbing us of a cultural conversation and shared experience.  Part of the power of television is bringing people together to experience the same thing at the same time.  And, at the risk of sounding like a hypocrite because I’m a Facebooking, Tweeting, Blogging, Commenting, Internet Addict, we need to resist the ever compartmentalizing of life into solo experiences in front of screens.

Many websites have grappled with how to handle spoilers in their content, but the general consensus seems to be, don’t read a story about a show if you’ll be upset about spoilers.  TV writers shouldn’t have to spell out at the beginning of each piece what may and may not be spoiled within.  But what about social media like Facebook and Twitter?  I’m of the mind that spoilers shouldn’t be on Facebook, because you just log in and WHAM! you could be assaulted with a spoiler in someone’s status message right on the home page.  That said, it’s easy enough to “hide” friends with a proclivity for spoiling things, so there’s always that option.  But Twitter? The appeal of Twitter is its immediacy.  Watching the Oscars while on Twitter was hilarious– like getting play by play commentary and dress snarking with my funniest internet pals.  Another friend and I used to live-tweet while watching So You Think You Can Dance, and it was almost as if we were on couches next to each other.  Personally, when I know I can’t watch LOST, I avoid Twitter for a few hours on Tuesday night to avoid spoilers, much the same way my husband used to avoid the internet when he was DVR-ing sporting events to watch the next day.

What say you? What should be the rules for “spoilers” on the internet?

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5 thoughts on “to the viewer goes the spoils

  1. I can only say that I, too, was robbed of membership in that cultural moment of awe. Meaning my girlfriend told me about Sixth Sense and I sat there wondering how hard I could hit. You know, if I *really* tried. And I think her ruining that movie probably had something to do with how the rest of them (after Unbreakable) quickly declined into manure.

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  2. I am really REALLY unsympathetic to people who get pissed about spoilers, except when it comes to books. People read at their own pace and even if a book has been out for a couple months it doesn’t mean everyone’s gotten to the end.

    But TV and movies? Watch them in a timely manner or prepare to get spoiled. Maybe it’s because knowing the ending doesn’t totally ruin a show for me – I’d watch Project Runway or America’s Next Top Model even if I knew who the winner was going to be. And my husband told me everything that happened in the first season of 24 long before I watched it and I STILL love it. I just feel like asking other people to refrain from talking about something because you haven’t gotten around to seeing it yet is incredibly self-centered. As if everyone should keep track of which friends watch what shows on what nights. You’d need an Excel spreadsheet!

    Although I would also agree having The Sixth Sense spoiled for me was one of the biggest disappointments in movie history.

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  3. If it’s a show that I would really, really care about being spoiled about, I avoid reading anything about it until I see it–but to be honest, if it’s that important I’m watching it live anyway. The one exception to this is Weeds, because we can’t justify getting Showtime for just one or two shows right now, so we wait for the DVDs. That said, once the show airs, the onus is on me to avoid certain blogs so I don’t catch snippets of recaps/spoilers.

    Basically, if you know something before the show airs–keep it to yourself, and while it’s airing, maybe only make vague references if possible. Once it airs completely, though, it should be fair game and if you don’t want to see it, scroll on by.

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  4. on claire’s wig:
    horrid. i keep thinking it’s going to crawl off her head at some point during the show.

    on spoilers:
    i agree that TV & movies are of the cultural phenomenon that requires a somewhat timely viewing. granted, going in to see the newest flick & then screaming out the surprise ending to those headed into the theater is just rude.

    i like how televisionwithoutpity.com does it with spoilers (allowing spoiler tags that redact the text but one can highlight to see the text at one’s own risk) which means i can go & react to what i’ve seen. but even their spoiler policy is that it’s only prior knowledge for something that has not yet aired. if it’s aired, it’s fair game.

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  5. Yeah, I agree, books are one thing but TV shows? I’m not saying people need to be jerks about it (ie go out of their way to spoil) but I also don’t think they should have to tip toe around for god knows how long after the show airs.

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