Weighing in: Spoiler Alerts

5 Jun

In the wake of some shocking TV (which I haven’t actually seen yet), a lot of people are talking about spoilers and how, in a new age of TV where watching it as it comes on is almost out of fashion, the internet demands a gag order on talking about surprises in TV or movies.

This squawking has already elicited a good deal of responses from people about the ethics of spoiling, the statute of limitations, and the where the responsibility lies. I hope we can all agree that some complaints about spoiling are ridiculous. If you don’t know how The Great Gatsby ends, I’d like a word with your tenth grade English teacher. If seeing a picture of the mother’s face from How I Met Your Mother really ruined the show for you, you’re doing TV wrong.

I say ruined because that is what we’re talking about here, right? We are talking about when knowing something about the end or some twist beforehand completely takes the fun out of watching it for yourself. And to be sure, knowing ahead of time that some specific dramatic thing will happen can rob you of the emotional reaction you’d have if it was a genuine surprise.

But doesn’t that suggest that these stories that we must be so careful not to ruin for others are perhaps relying too much on shock value and twists to deliver emotion? After all, surprise is cheap.

Perhaps, instead of demanding that nothing be spoken about the new Game of Thrones episode, perhaps we should be demanding stories not so easily spoiled.

Let’s look at some stories that are not ruined by knowing significant events ahead of time. If you are super sensitive about spoilers, you might as well stop here, but really? Come on. I promise that knowing these “surprises” doesn’t actually do anything to ruin these wonderful stories. Because in these stories, it’s the journey that counts.

Anyone who is familiar with the cannon of stories Steven Moffat is working from could probably guess that Sherlock dies, but not really, at the end of the episode called “The Reichenbach Fall.” But even if you don’t have a set of these on the top of your shelf because they are too big for the shelf itself, knowing this doesn’t take anything away, because the wickedly cruel, beautifully twisted dance of psychopaths that led to this moment cannot be spoiled. Nor, for that matter, can the tear-jerking aftermath of Watson’s reaction. It cannot be reduced to a tweet or Facebook status update, no matter how many exclamation points are used. The emotional impact doesn’t come from the fact that he falls, but from how and why he falls. And that can only be experienced through actually watching the show. Which you all should do, if you haven’t already. Like—right now. Go.

While we’re talking about Steven Moffat, Doctor Who may be pretty close to an un-spoilable show.

I came on board the Doctor Who train relatively late, since I spent two years of graduate school pretending I wasn’t a sci-fi nerd. (What a silly waste that was.) So when I started watching, it was already Matt Smith’s territory. I came into it knowing already roughly which seasons would have a Doctor-death. I also saw pictures of the companions, so I roughly knew when they’d be coming/going too. That is why it took me three weeks to work up the courage to watch “The Journey’s End.” But when I did, it was awesome. I cried. I knew it was going to happen, had known when it was going to happen for episodes—and yet the emotional impact was certainly there.

I’m still behind in Doctor Who, with four episodes waiting in my mother’s DVR. I’ve been afraid that something will be spoiled for me, especially worried that someone will Tweet the Doctor’s name or something. But would even that really spoil it? Without context, would I even know what to make of it? I am looking forward to traveling on the last leg of Matt’s Smith’s journey with him, because it is how he gets there that is important, not where he ends up. (But I still don’t want to know his name beforehand. So, don’t be a jerk, internet.)

(A side note: Much of what I’ve been reading
about Doctor Who lately is calling it a kid’s show. What? Are we watching the same show?

        My worst nightmare = not for children.)

I’ve also noticed that when shows try to build up the “twist” factor of their plotlines, things tend to go downhill.

So, I’m sorry if this is a shock to you, but Ted and Robin really, really, really don’t end up together. I’m surprised people keep thinking that this will be the twist at the end since it would pretty much invalidate the whole narrative structure of the show.

There she is. The mother. Some people who happened on this picture before they saw the show were furious. I am flummoxed as to why.

HIMYM is, or at least was, built on the theme that the beauty of life is the journey—not the destination. It’s very narrative structure is geared towards this concept, because everyone is spoiled from the beginning. The reminiscing  narrator isn’t trying to spring on his kids who their mother is, but take them through the journey he had to go through to become who he was when he met her (which is BY FAR more interesting.) I’ve found all the hype the producers are piling on around these final “reveals” highly disappointing. The recent episodes of the show seem contrived to build tension—which to me is antithetical to everything I loved about the first several seasons. The show is getting worse because it’s becoming spoilable.

So, while tweeting deaths as they happen or wearing a “Dumbledore dies on page 596” T-shirt makes you a bit of a jerk, don’t let spoilers ruin stories for you. Because if you can really take away the pleasure of a story in 140 characters, then there wasn’t a whole lot there to begin with.

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2 Responses to “Weighing in: Spoiler Alerts”

  1. Mary Elere June 6, 2013 at 7:03 pm #

    I hate it when the DVD covers or pictures inside the DVD set spoil me. OK, I didn’t watch the show when it originally aired, but I DID make a 9:45 p.m. run to Best Buy so I could get the next season of whatever show so I could be immediately satisfied. Too bad the picture on the cover gives away big plot lines!
    Like: http://goo.gl/RSCsV

    • justthrashtalk June 6, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

      I remember when we did the series with mom you tried to always hold the case with your hand over evil Willow so mom wouldn’t see it coming.

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