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TV 101: The Spoiler Police Need to Calm Down

by Jay Black, posted Jun 3rd 2010 2:24PM
Sorry, Nerds, this is what you look like.During the 'Lost' finale, I tweeted the following:

"So the key to the whole thing was putting a cylindrical object into a hole? #enjoyingthesubtext #lost"

Okay, so not the funniest update in the world, but pretty good considering I was not only distracted by the finale itself, but I was also karate-fighting a future version of me who had traveled back in time to stop me from watching the last fifteen minutes of it. So, you know, a lot was going on.

My tweet was met with some anger from my West Coast followers because they felt it had provided an unwelcome spoiler three hours in advance of them being able to watch the show. That anger, combined with recent comment threads on TV Squad got me thinking about spoilers and people's reactions to them.

Here's what I've figured out: You people need to calm down.

Putting SPOILER before a piece of information about a work of art started as a simple gesture of etiquette. After all, you wouldn't want someone to miss out on the joy we all had when we discovered the Charles Foster Kane was really Keyser Soze or that the lady from 'The Crying Game' was actually Luke's father.

Spoiler warnings for movies -- even classic movies -- make sense for two reasons: 1) the movies are behind a pay wall and are therefore not an "open" event, and 2) for some movies, the entire experience is tied to not knowing the ending.

(To that latter point, I'd argue 'The Sixth Sense' is built entirely around its ending. The first time you watch it for the surprise; the second time you watch it for the mechanics of how they pulled it off; the third time you watch it until the midway point, ask loudly what it is you're doing with your life, then head outside to take care of some long-neglected yard work, never to watch it again. The surprise is everything, and to spoil that would be to actually, legitimately spoil the movie.)

Plain and simple, anyone who spoils the ending of a movie like 'Million Dollar Baby' while it's still showing in theaters will rot in the lower circles of hell. Those who spoil the ending of classics like 'Chinatown' are less evil, but still pretty slimy. As Jack Ross once said: These are the facts and they are undisputed.

But then the Spoiler Police decided to take it up a notch.

What's happened is that people have come to expect the same level of courtesy extended to every episode of TV that we give to the surprise ending of 'Fight Club.' This is ridiculous. I'm sorry, Spoiler Nerds, but there is a fundamental difference between a midseason episode of 'Private Practice' and the ending to the original 'Planet of the Apes.'

And because TV is fundamentally different than a movie, the rules of courtesy should be different as well.

The most important difference is that TV isn't behind a pay wall. A show like 'Lost' is free to everyone who has a TV. Even HBO, which costs you money above your monthly cable fee, doesn't charge you on an episode-to-episode basis. When something airs on TV, it airs to everyone who wants to watch it at pretty much the same time.

Another important distinction is that except for season finales, TV shows aren't designed to have complex twist endings every week. Hell, most TV is lucky to actually achieve the status of "mildly entertaining" on a weekly basis, let alone be able to pull off the machinations necessary to surprise us 'Usual Suspects' style.

The Spoiler Police will counter the above differences by saying that the DVR has changed the way people watch TV, negating the "event" effect. Further, they'll say, who are we to decide what's important to the enjoyment of a show? To some people, accidentally hearing ahead of time that President Logan was going to return to '24' is worthy of a comments-section jihad.

Both of those arguments are selfish.

Yes, the DVR has changed the way we watch TV. For the first time in human history, we have an easy way to record television, so you're not tied to the live TV schedule. And that's great for you! I'm glad you decided to avoid every episode of 'Breaking Bad' because you recorded all three seasons for your end-of-the-world viewing party in December of 2012. I'm sure it'll be nice to end humanity on a high note like that. But that doesn't mean it's my responsibility to shield you from spoilers. It was your decision not to watch with the rest of us, not mine.

And yes, you might be so dedicated to show purity that you believe a casting announcement put out in a press release by the show's own producers is something that shouldn't be a part of polite public discourse, but that's because you're quite possibly a crazy person. You need to seek treatment while the rest of us make note of the news and then get on with our lives.

The Internet shouldn't be subject to your personal whims. The Internet exists for only three purposes: to spread information, the (ahem) intelligent discussion of that information and hardcore balloon-stomping fetish porn. To ask everyone to tiptoe around the first and second of those pillars just because you DVRed 'Dexter' and haven't gotten around to watching yet is pure selfishness.

So here's my personal handbook for spoilers (note, TV Squad has a different handbook for spoilers, far kinder to the Spoiler Cops than I'm going to be):

1. Prior to a show's airing, it's okay to discuss any news put out by a show's producers, but any "inside" information is off limits.

2. Once a show begins to air, I can discuss it in real time. If you live on the West Coast, stay off of Twitter and Facebook. Sorry, it's the price you pay for great weather and loose marijuana laws.

3. After the show is finished, anything and everything is on the table. If you don't wish to hear about it, I suggest you unplug your Internet connection and move into the Unabomber Cabin.

4. Any time a Spoiler Cop complains about any of this, I will shake my head sadly at them, then give them a look that will be equal parts pity and scorn.

With that said, I now turn it over to you, the Spoiler Poilce, to tell me why I am now history's greatest monster. In the meantime, I've got to go write some more 7th-grade level 'Lost' jokes.

(Jay Black is a writer and comedian who really hopes you like this column. For more information about Jay or to check out one of his live shows, go to www.jayblackcomedy.net.)

[Follow @jayblackcomedy on Twitter]

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Eric H

I think Mr. Blacks biggest assumption is that people care what he has to say, looking back at he previous articles, he appears to be just another internet jerk.

June 04 2010 at 3:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Eric H's comment
Jay Black

Aw hey, now that one hurt! As Jimmy from South Park once said: Come on. I mean ... Come on!

June 04 2010 at 5:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Those of you that don't "get it" when it comes to people's frustrations with spoilers--fine. That's you. But just because you don't get it, it doesn't make it any less valid of a concern for those of us that don't want to know. I don't get people's preoccupations with uniformed athletes throwing a ball through a hoop, but that doesn't mean that it's not important to some people.

Jay, I tend to agree with most of what you write, but this one we have to part ways, at least slightly. I agree that once an episode is out there it's fair game, but I think your time zone issue is wrong. So people on the west coast have to live in a state of constant internet avoidance because they like television? That's a little much. Waiting until a show has aired in all time zones is not that hard of a courtesy to grant, I would think.

June 04 2010 at 2:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Chuck's comment
Jay Black

Fair enough Chuck. But I do think that tweeting your thoughts in real time isn't a crime. Surely if it's a big deal, you can avoid social media for a few hours, right?

(And I'm triple shocked by this post: not only do you know my by-line, you actually like most of what I write, and when you do disagree you do so thoughtfully and respectfully! It's like my conception of the universe up to this point has been completely off!)

June 04 2010 at 5:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well, I'm glad I could restore your faith in the universe! Truthfully, I think your TV 101 posts are my favorite thing on TV squad, so keep 'em coming!

June 04 2010 at 9:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I also believe that it's common courtesy to not put spoilers in the post titles. Well to the best of someones ability at least. I mean saying kutner shot himself in the recap title is kind of a dick move but if someone is making a post about the specifically then it's not easy to hide the fact that it happened AND make it make sense as a post title. you're going to have to use the word dead, died, demise or something along those lines to make it make sense.
but please, try to keep key information out of the titles. yeah, the show will go on after that one good episode with the twist but that doesn't mean that twist wasn't as good as a movie twist just because I didn't pay for it.
of course I did kind of pay for it because I made the decision to get a dvr so I COULD watch a show on my schedule.
sorry for the rambling. just my 12 cents.

June 04 2010 at 1:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dan H

Its not your responsibility to shield anyone from spoilers, but that doesn't mean you have to actively spoil them either. If you do it on purpose, you are the A-hole you come off to be by writing this blog in the first place.

Take Kutner's suicide in House. Its fine to talk about it in a recap of the show...but does it have to be a headline!?!? No, it doesn't. I have never written in complaining about spoilers, but things like that in a headline are rude. I don't care if you write a 1,000 word blog saying its not....it is.

June 04 2010 at 8:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There's a small but loud portion of the internet base which thinks merely saying anything about a future (or otherwise as yet unwatched) episode of a TV show, no matter how trivial or irreverant, is a "spoiler". We saw this taken to the extreme over at Lostpedia's forums, where they came up with like 50 rules governing what constitutes a "spoiler" (which is forbidden anywhere except in the one forum dedicated to spoilers). No matter how they defined spoiler, people still kept screaming about posts saying "DAMN YOU THAT'S A SPOILER YOU'RE GOING TO ROT IN HELL!" and then the rules had to be modified again to include whatever that post was. It ended up being such a broad definition of "spoiler" that even making a vague reference to what was shown in the 30-second preview for "next week on Lost" (which everyone saw) was grounds for getting banned from the site.

Ever since Lost ruined itself for me, I could care less and I'm sure most people don't bother with reading Lost forums anymore, but I can only imagine what the Spoiler Police are looking to bitch about now that Lost is all finished. They're probably demanding a rule barring anyone from repeating what Cuse or Lindelof may have said regarding the Lost finale, because "their explanations would tarnish our own mental impressions and interpretations of the finale and ruin the entire series for those who don't want to know what the creators have to say about it."

The type of people who bitch and whine about spoilers are the same type of people who correct other people's grammar and pretend to cough in an accusatory manner when someone is smoking near them. Frankly I don't understand not wanting to know things about the future of something you are interested in. It goes against human nature. It's like Columbus returning from the New World and telling him "no no don't tell me what you saw, it will ruin the surprise!"

Get over it. Darth Vader is Luke's father. Suck it.

June 04 2010 at 3:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

People complaining about spoilers are probably people who look into the sun with their eyes wide open and complain they can't see afterwards.

Hint starts with dumm and ends in ies...

June 04 2010 at 1:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tony DIMeo

My problem is that Im still in season 4 of LOST so I cant have anyone spoil it for me also last year I was at school and couldn't watch Mad Men or Breaking Bad til i got home

June 04 2010 at 12:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I will never understand how knowing the ending of something before you see it is "spoiling" something. I knew Darth Vader was his father before I ever saw Star Wars and still loved the entire trilogy. This is not an insult to people who do feel something is ruined for them if they learn the ending early, this has just always been a point of curiosity for me; I don't get it.

I had to laugh though when a coworker "spoiled" a critical part of Avatar for me. This is because this girl was the type who was always a week behind on every show she watched and every time I tried to start talking about the show she would immediately SHUSH me. I didn't really care, it didn't affect the outcome of the movie or my connection with it, but she felt so bad after spilling the beans. Trying to protect people from being spoiled in real life is nearly impossible. I couldn't even talk about the end of season 4 of Dexter with a coworker who had seen it because another coworker hadn't seen it yet... six months after it aired!

I agree with Jay Black's article. I can respect people's desire to remain in the dark to a point, but by the time the next episode airs, I'd say it's fair game - especially in real life where you find yourself having to censor a conversation with a coworker in case the spoiler police find you.

June 03 2010 at 11:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joel A

Here's how I see it. I live in Australia. For me, I'm seeing these shows days, if not weeks or months after the US. I don't want to ruin everyone else's fun when it comes to discussion. So I turn off Twitter during things like the Lost final. I save blog posts on episodes in my RSS reader until after I see the episode. My problem comes when people put spoilers in the headings of blog posts. In the few days between Lost being aired in the US and it being aired in Australia, I had several plot points spoiled just by reading headings.
Now I have two options here. 1) Never come to sites like TV Squad until I've watched every show ever (which I'm assuming is not the intent) or 2) have things spoiled for me.
I'm a big boy. I can stay away from information I don't want to read. Just don't put it in the post title.

June 03 2010 at 7:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joyce N.

YAY, JAY! I'm one of those who don't mind spoilers and also one who usually watches a show when most people do, on its first run showing. I understand that circumstances happen and sometimes it has to be watched at a later time. As others here have mentioned, the spoiler police should just stay away from sites that recap episodes or show spoilers until they've found the time to watch their tapes or whatever. Why should the majority of us be penalized by having to wait 24 hours? And TV Squad is hardly the only source of recap info. So, yes, stay off the internet until you've found time to watch your episodes and let us enjoy our recaps and/or spoilers while everything is fresh in our minds.

June 03 2010 at 7:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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