Let’s start this off with a clarification: no one should ever be spoiled on something if they don’t want to be. It’s jerky to knowingly, specifically spoil a TV show, a movie, a book - anything. People have the right to consume their entertainment the way they want, and if that includes being utterly unspoiled, that’s their choice.
But if it’s their choice it’s also their responsibility. With last night’s big episode of Game of Thrones shocking fans, my Twitter and Facebook feeds were today jammed with the usual huffy comments about people getting spoiled by social media and the web. And while it was magnified because of the particular episode, I see these gripes almost every single week about shows like Game of Thrones, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Every episode it's the same litany of complaints: "I hate that you guys spoiled this for me while it was airing because I intend to watch it later."
Now, it’s possible someone broke into the homes of these people and forcibly spoiled the episode for them. Or perhaps a guy with a loudspeaker attached to the roof of his car trolls through neighborhoods, announcing plot points of popular shows. It’s more likely that these people got spoiled by logging on Twitter, Facebook or websites that actively and immediately discuss plot points of TV shows as soon as they air.
These people, it seems, expect everybody else to discuss TV shows on their schedule. Instead of watching the shows live, or as close to live as possible, they want to watch whenever they want, but they also don’t want to change their social media/web habits at all. Listen pal, they’re saying, if I want to wait until two weeks from now to watch Game of Thrones that takes precedence over your desire to talk about it openly.
That’s simply silly. Despite the fact that we live in the age of time shifting and streaming, TV remains an essentially communal activity. It’s still something that comes to our homes in a segmented, serialized way; while you can watch a TV show in big chunks, most of them are designed to be watched week to week. They’re designed to have the space between the episodes. They’re designed to create conversation in the week between airings.
What’s more, TV shows - especially these big, buzzed about shows - are some of the last spots of pop cultural connectivity we have. Over the last few decades our pop culture has splintered into niches, and there are fewer and fewer shared entertainment experiences. People happily wait for movies to hit Netflix, it seems like nobody reads anymore, pop music doesn’t bring us together the way it once did, and even big live events don’t have the same sense of linked experience. There’s a thrill to the connection, to being able to jump into conversations immediately with the millions of others who have just shared this experience. And that’s always been the nature of television; whether it was people gathering together in homes to watch shows as a group or the sound of your telephone ringing as soon as the episode ended, your friend on the other end excited to talk, this is one of the joys of episodic television. Despite it being something beamed into the comforts of our own home it’s something we really enjoy sharing with others.
When the storytelling is good, when the drama is exceptional, when we’re really wrapped up in it, it’s impossible to not talk about it. To get mad at people jumping on Twitter and discussing a show immediately is to be mad at their enthusiasm, to expect them to tamp down their excitement to be more convenient for you. Whenever you decide to watch, that is.
The decision to time shift a show is yours to make, but the consequences are then yours to accept. Of course there are some cases where you don’t make the decision - I live on the West Coast and so my Twitter feed fills with TV spoilers three hours before I have a chance to watch a show live - but that’s the unfair nature of being alive in this age. I try to not go on Twitter or Facebook when there’s a big episode of a show I like airing in a different time zone. I take responsibility and avoid the places where I can be spoiled.
It isn’t even that hard to avoid this stuff. Stay off Twitter, or use a client that will allow you to mute keywords. Log off Facebook. Avoid websites that tend to do big spoiler discussions right after airing. I long ago learned to stay away from the Huffington Post or EW or Vulture right after Breaking Bad if I wouldn’t have a chance to yet watch the show.
It boils down to this: if there’s something you don’t want to see or know, it’s up to you to avoid it. The world does not revolve around your schedule. Television shows, even in this DVR era, have specific times when they air. Even Arrested Development, a show whose fourth season was designed to break the standard TV mold, had a specific release time*. The idea that everybody else is supposed to tiptoe around you seems so strange to me that it’s almost clinical. There will always be someone who hasn’t seen the show/watched the movie/read the book yet. We can’t wait around for you forever.
It isn’t Twitter or Facebook or blog reviewers who are ruining the experience for you - it’s you doing it. Not just because you’re unable to disengage yourself from this stuff for the hours or days it takes you to watch, but because you’re not taking part in the full, wonderful ritual of watching a great TV show. You’re not setting time aside. You’re not preparing for the show to start. You’re not turning to the channel a couple of minutes early so you don’t miss a moment. You’re not sitting there feeling a strange connection to the unseen millions who also gasped, who also laughed, who also cringed at that moment. You’re not joining the conversation right away while it’s fresh, before everybody else has said all the things you’re going to say.
Watch that TV show whenever you feel like it. But it’s on you when everybody else in the world opts to talk about it without waiting for you. Me, I’ll be here watching as close to live as I can, because that’s the way it should be done.
* by the way: I have not seen all of the fourth season yet. It’s been out for a while, but I haven’t had a chance. By simply being smart and avoiding conversations and articles I have also remained absolutely unspoiled on it. And it hasn’t even been very hard, honestly. I'm sure this is inviting somebody to be an ass and spoil it for me, but I also take responsibility for that, since I know that sharing this kind of information in an article like this is almost a siren call to assholes. I'll still ban you, though.