I get it. You want to talk about that show you just watched.
The one where a major character died. Or someone got engaged. Or one person was unmasked as another person. Or an alien. Or a sentient washing machine.
And you are quite plainly free to discuss these events in whatever social media feed you possess. It’s your social media frequency channel and you can broadcast anything you want on that signal. You can tweet pictures of monkeys drinking their own urine. You can post Facebook updates about that genital rash that won’t clear up. It’s your digital yard. You can trim the hedges into whatever shape warms your heart and I can’t make you do different.
I can, however, choose to not walk by your yard.
I can unfriend you on Facebook. I can unfollow you on Twitter.
That’s more my responsibility than it is yours, I understand that.
Just the same —
I’d like to talk to you a little bit about spoilers not in an effort to beat you about the head and neck with my opinion but rather to at least try to get you to understand where I’m coming from. See, where I’m coming from is, spoilers kinda suck. They trouble me. They trouble me both as an audience member and as a storyteller myself.
A storyteller concocts a story in a certain way. Anybody who tells stories is familiar with this — you want to create a certain rise and fall of plot, you want to escalate tensions and then give some breathing room, and at a great many of the narrative peaks are tentpole moments. Moments of character that seriously complicate or compromise the plot. Characters dying. Secrets exposed. New steps taken. Old enemies reborn. And we orchestrate these moments almost like we’re writing music. We’re trying to build to various crescendos and not just make a cacophony.
The problem is, were you to isolate that singular moment of musical crescendo, it’s not particularly interesting. It’s just a blurt of noise, a sudden spike of sound.
Spoilers are kinda like that. When you extract these impactful narrative moments and isolate them — and then broadcast them — you’re really just transmitting a weird, context-free spike of sound. It’s not that the story is ruined, exactly, but you’ve robbed some of the potency from it. You’ve stolen urgency and thieved surprise. It’s not the same thing as announcing who won an Oscar or who lost the sportsball game — those are data points not dissimilar from noting the temperature outside or the color of the sky at noon. But when you grab these crucial narrative events and spoil them, you’re reducing them down to being just data points. SCOOBY DOO IS DEAD. DOCTOR WHO IS PREGNANT. BRUCE WILLIS WAS ACTUALLY THE STATUE OF LIBERTY FROM PLANET OF THE APES THE WHOLE TIME.
It’s like you just told a punchline without letting people hear the joke, first.
See, storytellers spend a lot of time trying to claw and climb to these narrative moments — and the audience spends a lot of time going along for the ride.
Spoilers short-circuit that. They rearrange how I experience narrative.
Which is cool, if that’s what I want as an audience member, and if that’s how the storyteller has designed the architecture. But if it’s just what you want, Mister Spoilertrousers, then you’ve gone ahead and forcibly changed my experience of the story. And that sucks a little bit.
And here’s where someone says, “You don’t like spoilers, stay off of social media.” And that sounds fair on first blush, but it doesn’t really change the fact that inconsiderate is still inconsiderate. You are likely broadcasting this stuff to a whole lot of people who aren’t yet aware of it. The Walking Dead — easily the most spoiled show, and one so spoiled for me now I’m not even sure I’m going to watch it anymore — airs later because of the time difference, but those who watched it on the East Coast feed were spoiling the shit out of it as the thing aired. It’s not like you’re asked to hold spoilers for weeks — but, you know, you might at least wait 24 hours till some folks have caught up? At least until people have watched it live?
I get it. You want to spoil it. And again: you’re allowed to. But that doesn’t make it particularly nice. And it’s not nice to say, well, just stay off Twitter, then. I’d rather you not blow cigarette smoke in my kid’s face or take a shit in the public pool, but nobody would ever say, YOU DON’T LIKE POOP, DON’T SWIM IN THE PUBLIC POOL, PAL.
It’s funny. The type of audience seems to have an impact on this. The audience for Breaking Bad seemed protective of spoilers — hell, they still are. But The Walking Dead or Doctor Who seems to draw far more spoilers without regard or consideration of those who maybe haven’t seen it. People seem to be more protective of spoiling the experience in films than they are television — and take even greater care with books. I know part of this comes down to the “second screen experience” that television seems so keen to push, but certainly you have ways to talk about the experience without spoiling it to a very large, potentially public audience? Google+ allows for limited broadcast. Or there exist forums or second-screen apps or direct messages or blogs or email or… you know, good old-fashioned “go watch the show with human beings and then talk about it over a slice of pie.” Hell, even a Facebook update with HOLY FUCK WE’RE GONNA TALK SPOILERS HERE AWOOGA AWOOGA at least tells me at least to stay away from the comments.
But spoilers come fast and furious. No warnings. Sometimes as graphical memes. Sometimes just as a single line: YOU GUYS I CAN’T BELIEVE THE DOCTOR JUST REGENERATED AS A PERSNICKETY POSSUM IN A BOWLER HAT AND A HOUNDSTOOTH JACKET.
The other thing is, I don’t know what the value proposition is for spoilers. It’s like, for the people who already watched the show — well, you announcing OMG PAPA SMURF GOT SHOT isn’t a surprise nor is it in any way insightful. You’re announcing something they already know. And for the people who didn’t watch it — well, now you just ruined it for them. What do spoilers earn you, exactly? What do you get out of it? Serious question.
Can you spoil stuff? Sure. Should you? Well, that’s on you. But I’d rather you didn’t. Just as I’d rather you not open my Christmas presents and tell me what’s in ’em before I get there. Just as none of us like those movie trailers that seem to give the whole movie away in two minutes and thirty seconds. Just as you’d probably rather not have me time travel to an hour before you watch a show so I can spoil it for you.
I won’t come to your house and tell you the endings of all your unread books.
And you don’t broadcast spoilers to people who haven’t yet caught up within a reasonable time.
Just try to think about the experiences of other people.
(I know a lot of this is first-world problem bullshit. I know starving kids in third-world countries aren’t like, “Sure, I’d like some potable water and fresh food, but sure, I’ll listen to how you got spoiled on The Walking Dead last night first, because that sounds totally important, too.” So, you can take all this with a grain of salt. Just the same, as a storyteller with some skin in the game, I thought I’d talk about it. Feel free to toss thoughts in comments. Play nice.)