[The following article represents the views of Kofi Outlaw. Not Screen Rant, its other writers, editors, owners or subsidiaries. All angry responses may be directed @ppnkof. Thank You – “Management”]
Today we live in a world where our options for consuming TV and Movies are as extensive as ever. We can do it the traditional way (catching things on live broadcast or when they first premiere in theaters) or we can save that experience for later – either in the near or not so near future – via DVRs, streaming services, digital downloads, and everything in between.
As is always the case, though, advancement in technology brings with it new challenges to our culture. With the advent of more personalized and customizable systems of media consumption, came a new and uncertain terrain of proper cultural etiquette, when it comes to the discourse about the TV shows and movies that capture widespread attention. No bigger evidence of that brave new cultural world exists than the term “SPOILERS.” Born of the digital era, the word exists for no other purpose besides regulating our discourse on TV and movies, in a world where one can never be sure what the next person has seen or not seen.
However, like so many cultural practices of the new technological era, the issue of SPOILERS has veered somewhat off course, which is why I am here with some friendly course-correction: I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, ladies and gents, but not dropping SPOILERS – in public conversation, on the Internet, WHEREVER – is a courtesy that a person (or Website) chooses to give; it is not one of your unalienable rights or entitlements.
I’m honest enough to admit that I was once guilty of the exact thing I’m about to criticize: I thought that I was entitled to an existence in which the movies and TV shows I had not watched yet were never ruined by those who discussed plot details and twists without discretion. My hardline stance on the subject wasn’t just ideological: back in high school, I suffered the great trauma of having David Fincher’s Se7en – which has one of the biggest surprise twists in ’90s movies – SPOILED for me by a fellow JV soccer player with a chip on his shoulder. I know about the crushing disappointment of having something spoiled for you, and for years and years I called “SPOILERS!” on anyone in earshot who was about to (or just had) ruined something I wanted to watch for myself. And I didn’t feel bad for doing so.
The turning point came when, this past summer, I was confronted with a situation I could not justify. I was out in public, when a group of young men nearby began a conversation about Sons of Anarchy, which was about to return to the airwaves. The show was about to hit season 6, however seasons 4 & 5 were still sitting in my Netflix que, awaiting my attention. So there I was, ready to tell these young men – excited about the potential developments in the new season of their favorite show – that they couldn’t discuss said show because I had not caught up with it yet.
….And in that moment, as I was about to cry foul, it hit me: I was on the wrong side of this SPOILERS thing. I had no right to do anything but shut up and suffer my penance for not keeping up, or simply remove myself from earshot. The burden of censorship rested on me, the lazy viewer – not them, the dedicated viewers. I was using the word SPOILERS as a coercive tool – and so many others are doing the same, these days.
The closest comparison I can make is cell phones. If you can believe this, kids, there used to be a time when phone calls tended to be held in private – in a particular room or booth that was designated as space for the purpose of phone conversations. Then came the advent of mobile phones (cordless, then cellular, now “smart”) and suddenly it was as if technology had magically granted people new social entitlement: to talk as loud as they want, wherever they want, whenever they want. These days, with bluetooth headsets and such, they can actually talk as loud as they want, wherever they want, whenever they want, looking as crazy as they want - and woe be to anyone who would try to object. If you’ve been to a movie theater in the last half decade, you’ve surely dealt with this issue.
…Which brings us back to SPOILERS. Like cellphones, the new, singularly-occupied bubble technology now allots to each individual has fostered a belief in some (okay, many…) that life should move at the pace set within their personal bubble. This specious notion has progressed to a ridiculous point: You can’t talk in public without some random screaming “SPOILERS!” like you just spit in his/her face; want to discuss a big TV/movie event on your own personal social media page, with other interested parties? See how many complaints show up on YOUR PAGE from others chastising you for a SPOILER violation. Happen to write for a website or blog? If your headline about a major event in TV/Movies is anything but a vague and bland head-nod to the subject at hand, you might as well make your own effigy for the mob to burn. Nowadays, people treat their respective bubble-worlds like they are holy shrines to be worshipped, and TV shows/Movies don’t actually exist until they finally shine their divine light of attention upon them.
The reality of matter is that cinema (and even more so TV) were created to be communal experiences. Whether in a movie house, or via broadcasts airing simultaneously in millions of homes, we were meant to watch these stories unfold together (a practice now reserved solely for sporting events and awards shows, its seems). Subsequently, the various lanes of discourse that these screen stories engender were meant to be discussed together, often in specifically allotted frames of time. While people are indeed using the new options technology offers them to break from the traditional communal viewership pattern, it still currently remains the trend (by and large) that the discourse about what is viewed takes place in a more traditional, communal (and timely) fashion.
In other words: when a movie is finally out, or a show finally airs, many people want to discuss what they saw immediately following the experience; they don’t want to wait a week until everyone on planet earth is caught up (a month, a year, depending on the viewer’s habits). There has been no “on demand” option created for the pop-culture zeitgeist; it moves when and how it moves, and if you follow your trending topics on social media, you know by now the pattern of just how quickly it does move – wholly independent of the habits, preferences and whims of a single individual. That fact alone makes any claim of anti-SPOILER rights not only invalid, but utterly delusional. Live in your bubble, watch things in your own time, fine, but the world outside of your world still moves according to its own rhythm and pace, and claiming that you have some kind of right or entitlement to be shielded from that reality is simply incorrect.
The worst part is that there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to SPOILER qualifications anymore; doesn’t matter if 10 million people are discussing Breaking Bad the morning after it ended – someone is crying SPOILER as if 10 million other people should whisper around them. Doesn’t matter if I’m discussing a movie that’s a couple months, a year, several years, or even several decades old – some nut is crying SPOILERS if I happen to mention what Dil (Jaye Davidson) is concealing under that bath robe in The Crying Game. Catching up on The Wire or Lost a decade late? Whoops! Nobody better SPOIL them for you! Ten years let is never too late! You’re entitled! Except that…. you’re not. At all. Nobody owes you any secrets at this point.
Yet, everyday people censor themselves in conversation (verbal or web-based) about the pantheon of TV and movies – and some websites (like screenrant.com) even risk traffic and revenue to keep big SPOILERS safely hidden away from the casual observer – lest he/she opt to look for themselves. But let us all be clear: This practice is not done because of what is owed or what is required when it comes to the listener, the reader; it is done as a simple courtesy, because one person (or website team) is empathetic enough to know how bad it can be when the developments or surprises of a good show or film are SPOILED, and we want to preserve that experience for others, as hopefully it was preserved for us. It is a choice kindness – not a hardline duty.
This needs to be remembered, going forward, as we continue to revise our culture to suit the needs of a new era – and it’s only going to get messier, before it gets better. As more big movies open overseas before they do domestically (see: Marvel); as streaming and subscription services offer more alternatives to traditional broadcast television; as social media continues to help the cultural zeitgeist (and all the discourse that comes with it) develop and spread at a rapid pace, the issue of who knows what, when, and how much about a given show or movie is only going to get harder to separate.
….But before you’re so quick to call “SPOILERS!” from now on, maybe take a second for self-reflection, or maybe just fire up that Netflix que and catch up to the rest of us. I’m sure you’ll be happy when your two cents can finally be added to the discussion at hand.
[REMINDER: The following article represents the views of Kofi Outlaw. Not Screen Rant, its other writers, editors, owners or subsidiaries. All angry responses may be directed @ppnkof. Thank You – “Management”]