How Not to Defend Spoilers

L-Train spoilers. August, 2010.

A seemingly endless pattern has developed. Somebody on my Facebook feed gives away a development from a television program, and another person complains. Then, the discussion starts about spoilers. It’s always the same arguments that prevent any meaningful exploration from taking place. The arguments that defend spoilers are even more tiresome than spoilers themselves. And so, I rant:

1. The tone of these discussions is infuriating. Many seem to be started by the person who ‘spoiled’ something for another person, and has opted to translate tjeir guilt into righteous indignation. I know some people are pretty awful when complaining about spoilers, but this kind of response is hardly productive.

2. The indignant party spits out the snide ‘what is too soon?’ strand of argumentation. People ask sarcastically if they can spoil Hamlet, Citizen Kane, The Crying Game, or The Odyssey. Such an approach rarely addresses the question of contemporaneity that is facilitated through social media, but not matched in mainstream cultural distribution. We need to remember that social media can often have its own culture and chronological scale.

Moreover, they reek of the ‘right to free speech’ canard that is also trotted out in defense of making rape jokes. Let me be clear. No one is trying to silence you from speaking about anything. However, you may be asked to think about how and what you’re saying, and who hears it. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of responsibility for that speech.

3. I am not sure why people won’t acknowledge that serialized entertainment, and new platforms of exhibition, consumption, and exchange, are changing the ways we consume and enjoy media. It’s not about whether spoilers are good or bad. It’s about what constitutes spoilers today, and how this changes over time.

4. Not all spoilers are necessarily “spoiling anything.” A good story will not be ruined by the revelation of certain plot points, and something that relies on gimmicks is not quality. Aristotle wrote as much in The Poetics, wherein he claims that one can return to a good story, even knowing what happens. So are we talking about ‘spoiling’ the story, or ‘spoiling’ the pleasure of surprise? Should we dismiss this pleasure simply because it is fleeting? It does not necessarily affect the quality of the story.

Game of Avoiding Spoilers. March, 2012.
Game of Avoiding Spoilers. March, 2012.

5. As I’ve pointed out on almost all these threads, I find it intriguing that the angriest grumbling comes from Americans. In fact, I have only seen rants in defense of spoilers from Americans. I think this results from the fact that so much TV for the Anglosphere comes from America, and those in the U.S. are privileged in the distribution/exhibition structures. While they may see things as they are released, other people usually have to wait.

As some finger-wagging informs us, our impatience is harmful. What is particularly important is not to huff and puff about the right to spoil programmes, but rather, to think about how content providers are changing their practices.

Mad Men, for instance, after having been on a serious delay via BBC4, is airing its final season with a 2-day lag on Sky. Similarly, Sky Atlantic has started to broadcast Game of Thrones at 2am in the UK (to some annoyance of people who don’t want to be spoiled.) However, people are claiming (as I’ve actually read) that if one doesn’t want to be spoiled, one should watch when ‘everyone else’ does. This is seriously solipsistic and ignorant about global television.

6. The ‘stay away from social media if you don’t want to get something spoiled’ point is both understandable and kind of ugly. Granted, it’s easy enough for me to stay away from Twitter because I usually forget that I have an account, but Facebook is for me (and for many others) a constant way of maintaining contact with people as we become personally dispersed.

More than that, Facebook is increasingly positioning itself as the primary portal though which someone gets news, makes purchases, and engages with other people. If this particular feature is accelerating, how does one ‘stay off’ social media? Though maybe staying off the grid for any purpose is a good thing.

TL;DR The current defenses of spoilers only generate tired and dead-end arguments. However, it’s worth noting that they provide an opportunity to allow us to think about global media, technology, television, and community. We should embrace it.


Photographs courtesy of Jason Eppnick, and Sophie Blackhall-Cain. Published under a Creative Commons License.

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