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October 24, 2014

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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