Spoiled Rotten

In their recent discussion of “Argo” on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, the crew of my favorite podcast hit upon how I have longed to describe spoilers but could never find the words to explain.

Linda Holmes, whom my friend Jeff is still convinced is me in a disguise, explained that just because we know something is going to happen doesn’t mean that a movie is spoiled.  Take “Titanic”. We know the boat is gonna sink. Me telling you “hey, the boat sinks” isn’t spoiling anything for you.  Even though we know the outcome, how the action unfolds is where the suspense lies.

I am the weird breed that could care less if I know the surprise twist of a movie.  In fact, I frequently self-spoil on purpose, reading the last ten pages of a book when I am only halfway through it, looking up plot summaries on Wikipedia thirty minutes into a movie, and checking twitter to find out who gets kicked off “So You Think You Can Dance”.

If a movie or TV show is worth its salt, it is going to be good whether I know what happens or not.  If it needs the surprise of the twist ending to redeem an otherwise boring 90 minutes (I’m looking at you, The Sixth Sense) then the problem isn’t that someone spoiled the movie for you.  The problem is that the movie just isn’t very good.

So, I am often baffled at how people can be so riled up at perceived “spoilers” on the internet for several reasons.  First, unless I am calling or texting you as you are walking into a movie to specifically tell you “He dies in the first act”, I am not the one spoiling. You are. Don’t go on the internet if you don’t want to know how something people are currently watching and discussing turns out.  You only have yourself to blame.

Chuck Klosterman (my hero) already hit on another problem of the “no spoilers” phenomenon sweeping the internet.  If I tell you Rosebud is a sled, have I ruined Citizen Kane for you?  This movie was made in 1941. You may not have seen it, but is it really fair to assume that people can’t make Rosebud jokes 71 years later in case someone hasn’t seen it yet?  The question becomes–how long is a reasonable amount of time to wait between a text being released and people feeling hey can speak freely about the plot points?

Most people wouldn’t care if I reveal this pivotal plot point of Citizen Kane, but would tell me I am being insensitive if I were to Tweet plot points of Argo or Paranormal Activity 4 or some other movie that has only been in theaters two weeks.

We face the same conundrum in poker.  During the summer, no one seems to care that our Twitter feeds, posts, live updates, and recaps are “spoiling” the TV coverage.  When livestreams aren’t involved, only delayed TV coverage, few people tweet about reporters “spoiling” the TV show.  However, once a near livestream is introduced into the equation, we the poker media seem to be unclear on what is the best way to cover the event.

I understand that with the near-liveness of the final table, the discussion of how to cover it on Twitter is going to come up. It is still funny nonetheless to think about the fact that we don’t bat an eyelash before tweeting who went out in 13th even though it won’t air on TV for nearly three months, but if we tweet about someone busting at a final table 12 minutes before it happens on TV, some would charge we have ruined the TV coverage.

In fact, the Facebook comments I see on the WSOP.com preview stories always mock the fact that we try to write “spoiler-free” previews of the upcoming episodes.  Each time Elisabeth Hille or Gaelle Baumann came up, fans would be quick to comment “you know they don’t make the final table, right?”

Yet, each week people still seemed to enjoy the coverage on ESPN even though we knew Ivey didn’t make it, the girls missed out on the final table, and we knew who the final nine were.  I return to Holmes’ point–it was not what happened that mattered in these shows, it was how it happened that made the program entertaining.

I am not trying to deny that people’s enjoyment of these live events seems to be more marred by these “spoilers”, but I just can’t pinpoint the explanation why. Why is it that knowing something for two months doesn’t affect our ability to watch these packaged shows, but knowing something 12 minutes in advance can effectively “ruin” the telecast?

I assume it has something to do with different expectations when dealing with something near-live vs obviously not live at all.  That perhaps us breaking the illusion of liveness is more offensive the sensibilities than breaking the news that will be shared on a packaged show.  I’ll have to mull on it some more.  Unfortunately, in this instance, I can’t flip ahead to the end and find the answer.

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