It has happened to us all at one time or another.
You’re out at night and your DVR is running. By the time you get home, the latest episode of one of your favorite shows has been recorded and is waiting for the mere touch of a button in order to play. Maybe it’s late. Maybe you have other stuff to do. One way or another, maybe you don’t get to watch it until the next day.
Regardless of when you watch it, you will likely sit down in front of your computer or use your phone to browse Facebook or Twitter or your other social network of choice before you get the chance.
And there it is.
“I can’t believe (character) died!!!” or “OMG, (character) did (horribly unpredictable thing)!”
Right at the top of your feed. As unavoidable as death. Staring you right in the face. You’ll try to will yourself not to read it the minute you realize what it’s about, but you’ve already seen and cannot unsee.
You’ve been spoiled.
This has been especially prevalent over the past few seasons with shows like Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, where character deaths and crazy twists could be lurking around any corner and may surprise you even if you are a student of the source material.
Even though we live in the DVR/On-Demand era with most of our favorite shows at our fingertips, some of them available immediately after their original airing, social media has helped to keep these late-views to a minimum. It has also increased the availability for discussion of said shows thereby generating groups who will actually physically get together to watch a show or even do an online hangout so that commentary can be made while the show is actually being viewed.
I believe that these first-run viewings and their associated discussion groups, live or virtual, have come about due to the prevalence of spoilers popping up in full public view on a consistent basis. In essence, Facebook, Twitter, and the like are contributing to Nielsen numbers and are making it easier for networks to continue to track ratings with fair accuracy without as heavy demand on adjusted numbers for recorded or downloaded episodes.
More people are making sure to watch their favorite shows in real-time because it provides for a more pure experience. Once an episode is aired and in the zeitgeist, it becomes almost palpable. Even though you may not see any spoilers posted, you realize that the information is out there and is close enough for you to touch. People will reference it. People will discuss it off-hand. It may happen in person – you may overhear someone discussing it – but, it is most likely you will see something referenced on social media or in a meme or in a meme posted on social media which will reveal a detail that you would have preferred to get from the source.
This is also attributable to the current trend of serial television. Yes, I realize that most television has always been serialized but when you look back on the 80s and 90s, you realize that shows back then could usually be taken as independent episodes. You didn’t need to know the backstory to realize what was happening. Some shows running multiple seasons in the modern era don’t even bother to name the characters out loud, even in the season openers, because they expect that the viewer base is a returning one and will know the story up to that point. We rarely even see flashbacks anymore, unless you’re seeing something in season four that you may not remember from season one.
Even sitcoms are following the recipe of continuity more heavily than they have in the past. Most sitcoms in the past could be watched at face value no matter where you came into the series. Kids may get older, neighbors may move away, the main characters may switch jobs or even locations, but not many of them had story arcs or characterization deeper than the surface. Roseanne is an example of a prototypical serial comedy as there were story arcs with building tension and sometimes even a big reveal. It did this better than any other sitcom on the air at a time when most big twists in a comedy were advertised with the prefix “A Very Special Episode of…” This was usually when a main character, typically a child, was caught using drugs or joining the army or dying or another reason I can’t think of that could be used to escort a rapidly aging child star off the show because their appeal was down.
Then there are sitcoms such as 30 Rock and Big Bang Theory which, while easily digestible in a single serving, are much more satisfying when you come for the entire meal. Something always looms in the background and is usually brought to the fore in a one-hour season finale. Spoilers can ruin the final punchline just as easily as the big cliffhanger.
Television’s initial fears about the prevalence of downloading and how DVR can affect ratings should be largely allayed by the egregious amount of spoilerific material permeating social media (and even legit media, if they show is big enough).
Sundays are a very busy television day and, if I don’t get the chance to watch one of the two or three shows airing at the same time that very night, I know that at least one of my Facebook friends is going to blow any potential surprises I may have received watching it live. I am at the point where I will begin ignoring or deleting those who must constantly spoil.
I am declaring a moratorium of three days. No spoilers, no discussion on social media for three days after any given episode has aired. At that point, if you didn’t see it, it’s your own fault. There are a number of avenues available for you to watch an episode within three days (unless you’re on vacation away from the internet, as I have been before). After that, blab about who died or who killed who or whatever insane twist as much as you want. You have my permission.
Spoilers, for me, are incentive to absorb things as soon as possible. Movies, video games, television, books… I feel that if I’m not first to the finish, it will be inevitably ruined by some schlub who blabs about it on the internet. I’m sure that my particular brand of paranoia helps contribute, at least a bit, to first-air ratings and opening weekend box office totals and so on. It’s a marketing tactic we, as social media addicts, have brought upon ourselves. It is a very beneficial side-effect of internet assholes, at least to Big Entertainment, and gives me and those like-minded a reason to do it right away rather than put it off.
Oh, and in case you didn’t hear: Vader is Luke’s father, Bruce Willis is a ghost, “Would you kindly?” is a trigger phrase, and Dumbledore dies at the end of Book 6.
Keep fighting the good fight.