A friend of mine tweeted a seemingly innocuous question today, polling her followers regarding spoiler behavior.
Informal Twitter poll: for a really popular show (GoT, TWD), how many days past an episode can a spoiler no longer be considered a spoiler?
— Tiffany, Absolutely (@TiffAmI0308) June 17, 2015
I did what I could to spare her my admittedly inflexible opinions about the subject matter, but we all know that good friends are our greatest instigators (at least my good friends are, and in the best way). She essentially asked me to go off. So I’m gonna.
I’ll begin by saying this much: I understand that television is not what it was fifteen years ago for a multitude of reason. The biggest variance, for me, is that my list of responsibilities is wildly different. I didn’t have a toddler to raise, bills to pay, nor a job that demanded a considerable amount of my energy. This made it much easier for me to adhere to a rigid TV schedule and watch along with a majority of viewers. Also, the absence of the DVR required people to make a choice: either make the time slot work for you or hope for a rerun. If you were savvy (and had access to a VCR, which was not a privilege that everyone had at the time) then you could stock up on blank tapes and record for your convenience. My mother kept a steady library of taped soap operas for a while to maintain the knowledge of all the complex story lines of General Hospital, All My Children, and the rest of the daytime line-up.
Another major difference is that television viewing then was a fairly solitary experience for me. When Topanga and Cory broke off their engagement on Boy Meets World, I didn’t exactly have anyone to commiserate with until the next day when I could talk about it to a handful of my classmates, and there wasn’t a whole lot of time to unpack the effect it had on us. Aside from a rushed homeroom conversation or a quick debrief during lunch, you just had to process that moment on your own until the next big TV moment came along (and with shortened attention spans, that moment could come at any time). This might have been different if you had siblings that cared just as much, but I had a brother seven years my junior who had no clue what was going on.
Things are clearly different now. We have DVRs to save these moments for you while you maintain a social life or catch up on sleep. Netflix and Hulu are available to those lucky enough to have subscriptions, and they are awesome. My favorite development, however, is the wide availability of social media, which allows me to experience television with people like me. My television viewing and social proclivities can come together in a way that really shapes the overall experience for me and millions of others. I choose (with the cooperation of a very lovely and accommodating family) to adjust my free time around a few shows that I hold near and dear to my heart so that I can tweet with different fandoms not only to squeal over those specific moments, but to engage in the resulting discussions, which are often interesting and entertaining in and of themselves. And that’s one of the coolest aspects of a form of entertainment that is often slandered as an instrument of laziness and anti-social living; it has a way of bringing people together and ushering in analysis, catharsis, therapy, and communication in a manner that other forms simply can’t. I choose to be a part of that. Every person has a right to be a part of that, if they want to be.
So if a show airs and I find a moment especially important, I’m going to talk about it and I’m going to use a microphone of sorts to do so. My mic of choice is typically Twitter, where I can interact with plenty of equally (if not moreso) passionate fans of the same thing, whatever that thing may be. Whether the fanbase is Empire big or The Mindy Project small, the conversations I have with various fandoms are treasured and they happen in Real Time. If life gets in the way (and it does), I just pray that my DVR fulfilled its one single duty (and that’s a crap shoot, but that’s an issue between me and my cable provider). I also avoid the sections of social media that might reveal certain surprises, if I care that much.
What I don’t – and won’t – do is demand silence from other fans and try to guilt them into reformatting their experience to fit my schedule.
There’s a certain brand of entitlement imbued in the attitude surrounding aired spoilers (which, by the way, is a term that really should be preserved for unknown aspects of a medium that haven’t been made public yet. Once that show airs then it should just be called “shit that’s happened”) that is extremely frustrating, especially when most programs these days rely on social media and interactive fandoms. It’s, at its heart, this misconception that individuals schedules somehow outweigh the overall experience and that everyone else should fall in line. I get that you had to work. I understand what it means to parent or to sieze opportunities to rest. I understand all of that through first-hand experience. What I don’t understand is this need to log on to social media knowing that there are other fans, like you, who may want to exercise their right to use their own space on the internet to process what they just saw. What I definitely don’t get is the passive aggressive Facebook or Twitter rant that follows said exposure, wagging their digital fingers at people they’ve, again, chosen to follow for daring speak about something that was just made available to the world.
Some will make the timezone argument (“But I”m on the West Coast!”) and all I can say to that is: there will be a plethora of things available to you where you live that won’t be available to me, a Florida resident. While I may be jealous of that fact, I won’t ask you to adjust/deny yourself to accommodate my living situation that you have no control over. Don’t expect anything of the like from me.
The only area that gets a little tricky for me is streaming because, well, convenience is kind of built into the model. Since the idea of convenience is different for everyone, it’s harder to formulate a standard of viewership. While it would be remarkable if all Orange is the New Black fans agreed to watch a certain episode at a certain time…that just isn’t happening, especially for an impatient person like me who finds a way to binge watch whenever possible. So the concept of spoilers becomes muddy, because not everyone has the ability to just take the day off and consume the entire season at once. That’s when I chose to exercise a combination of courtesy and self preservation. For example, I’ll gladly hold off on tweeting revealing specifics for at least 72 hours from the premiere while avoiding the likes of Tumblr, where GIF sets are floating around literal minutes after the big upload from Netflix. I’d likely wait quite a few hours for a weekly Hulu half-hour series before going off about it on Facebook, but I also know that if I log on, I have to be prepared for someone to have started the discussion without me. That’s just how social media works.
I should stress that this rather rant-ish post isn’t towards anyone without access or whose priorities trump preferences. All of these amenities – DVR, Hulu, Netflix, cable, internet, television – are products of privilege that aren’t widely available and not everyone can miss a show on ABC and catch it the next day on Hulu. This is also not towards the people who have no desire to know plot points before the show airs. I’d rather not know most of the time. Also, I won’t tell you how to navigate fandom/viewership behavior within your social circle. That’s not ever my place. And I should add that if you’re having a one-on-one conversation with someone and they express that they’d rather not discuss a show just yet, you definitely don’t want to force the conversation upon them. That’s just common courtesy.
But if Hershel died on Sunday night and you’re still shouting “NO SPOILERS” to me on the following Thursday afternoon knowing that you’ve had ample opportunities to catch up and join the conversation, then I can’t help you and no, I’m not about to stop this moment of mourning I’m having with my friends. If you’ve stood by and listened to me prattle on about Scandal since 2012 and your very sudden interest leads you to ask me to edit myself, I will give you the kindest “hell no” I can muster. If you know that your Facebook and Twitter feeds will blow up as soon as Cersei so much as sneezes, then why even step into that minefield willingly? If you try to use the flippant “I have a life” excuse, I’m going to immediately call into question how your bustling social life allows you time to judge my online behavior. It’s a rabbit hole neither of us want to find ourselves in, trust me.
Because in the time it took for you, DVR owner and Hulu-subscribing braggart, to draft that “spoilers etiquette” rant you’ve had poised at the tip of your fingers, you could have just watched the show and found out what all the fuss was about.