On Spoilers

(This post contains no actual spoilers.)

Something happened on your favourite TV show last night.

Don’t worry, I won’t tell you what happened.

But boy did something happen.

In the age of Twitter, spoiler etiquette is more important than ever.

Unfortunately, many, including the most prominent TV, movie, and book critics, fail to grasp spoilers on a basic, fundamental level—even though not spoiling the reviewed work is the sole rule all critics must honour.

One vice is giving in to the urge to react to an episode, followed by the urge to share the reaction.

Some share multilaterally by discussing their reactions with other people in public—Twitter, Tumblr, the watercooler.

But they couldn’t possibly spoil “it” for other people, so “something” becomes "that thing". You may even fashion the conversation with an acronym—hashtagged, of course. They will never know!

Then retweeting and -blogging features enter the picture and amplify everything a thousandfold.

Saying that something happened implies an extraordinary event. For most TV shows, this means someone died. I’m not entirely sure what it says about you that you presume me so dense that I can’t parse your brilliant crypto-spoiler. You’re the Mt. Gox of spoilers.

And let’s not forget the common cryptographic variations on the turn of phrase:

  • The episode was a “shocker”, “surprise” or “bombshell”.
  • It had “a twist”.
  • "Major plot development".
  • "Just finished watching X. Whoa.”
  • "How were the people behind X able to keep the secret for so long?”

I’d research the examples more, but, you know, I didn’t want to ruin more shows for me than you already have.

Is it my prerogative to reveal that this season’s episode was not like the others? In doing so, I deprive people of the same feelings that impelled me to share the information to begin with.

I could go on and write a long, academic piece on spoilers, but I won’t.

Because let’s be honest.

It’s not rocket science.

Spoiler alert.

I don’t take photographs on vacations. My wife gets very angry. I say “No, move a little, oh. Should we wait? We should wait.” And, I can’t, I can’t; I go “It’s the wrong lens!” “Just take the picture!”

So, I can’t; I have never taken a photo in a family … I’m a terrible … I’m a terrible family man.

Guillermo del Toro (~4 minutes in).

Beyond the ‘right to forget’, what about the possible erosion of the obligation to remember?

When we applaud not having records of our own embarrassing past, a document of how we’ve changed over time as individuals, we are equally celebrating the cultural norm that expects perfection, normalization, and unchanging behavior. What if more people wore past identities more proudly? We could erode the norm of identity consistency, a norm no one lives up to anyways, and embrace change and growth for its own sake. Perhaps the popularity of social media will force more people to confront the reality that identity isn’t and can’t be flawlessly consistent.

Framing data deletion as about hiding from one’s past might actually further the stigma of a little digital dirt, that being human and changing is something to be ashamed of. A healthier attitude towards our documented pasts would be to embrace how different we were before, even if there are significant mistakes. Change could be seen as not a flaw but a positive, as evidence of growth; an identity feature rather than a flaw.

Here are the articles linked in the post:

  1. “Networked Privacy”
  2. “Safe in Our Archives”
  3. “The Right to Be Forgotten”
  4. “Glad I Didn’t Have Facebook in High School!”
  5. “Pics and It Didn’t Happen”
  6. “The Faux-Vintage Photo: Full Essay (Parts I, II and III)”