Hold The Spoilers (Warning: Contains Spoilers)
What happened to our spoiler etiquette people? It seems like this year's Game of Thrones fans can't wait five minutes before blowing the latest shocking twists and turns. Don't just hold the damn door, hold the spoilers!
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR GAME OF THRONES, EASTENDERS, THE USUAL SUSPECTS, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS AND X-MEN: APOCALYPSE
Okay, some context. When I broke up with my last girlfriend I lost access to Sky TV. In fact, I went almost a year with minimal access to broadcast television. As it is, I haven't even seen season 5 yet - I'm saving up for a 3 week trip to America and I don't have the time or money to invest in the blu rays. I also refuse to torrent, or certainly to feel like I'm being forced into torrenting. It's a matter of principal. Does it make me any less of a fan because I'm not desperate enough to get my hands on it however possible? No. No it doesn't. But I concede that I could get access to the show now if I wanted. This isn't just a case of spitting my dummy out because there are Sky watchers who found the episode spoiled for them before they got a chance to watch.
Those watching it on American time were sharing spoilers before UK broadcast which meant those who couldn't afford to wait up until the early hours of that morning or were unable to catch it at broadcast time didn't stand a chance. That's less than 24 hours. Not an unreasonable amount of time to wait. Perhaps, as the show is now ahead of George RR Martin's writing schedule, it's because for the first time Game of Thrones fans who haven't read the books have that position of superiority that their more literary inclined brethren lauded over them for the first 5 seasons.
Weirdly people still seem to keep good spoiler etiquette in person. If during conversation someone pipes up to say they haven't watched yet then people will respectfully change the topic of discussion or continue their talk elsewhere. Online however is just a mine field and Hodor's story isn't an isolated case.
Memes are being shared within minutes of broadcast. Sure, it's great that fans are responding so passionately to the work and immediacy is a key part of the social media experience but there's no consideration for your fellow fans. It's so easy to like and click share on an image on facebook that it just doesn't register with people anymore. But to those of us behind (or just watching on UK time) it feels like being excluded from a club. Just look at the image below. It's like someone explaining the punch line to a joke that you haven't even heard.
There are interesting things to learn from this however (not just "don't be a dick"). First off, despite reports to the contrary there is still a lot of power in broadcast television and watching as live. At a time when timeshift viewing and on demand/catch up services are the norm, there is something quite extraordinary about a programme that demands to be viewed at time of broadcast. It's interesting how quick we've shifted to that new normal and how we balance the contradiction between how we used to watch TV and how we engage with it now. It's actually quite surprising to say "how we used to watch TV" and be referring to only a few years ago.
There are plenty of comic book sites that share spoilers of comics you may not have made it to the store to read yet. I'll hold my hand up and say sometimes I will look at those sites because a) it means I can keep abreast of goings on in titles I just can't afford to have in my pull list any more and b) a last page hook might be enough to convince me to pick up a title, at least for that story arc. The difference here is I ELECTED to view these sites. I only have myself to blame. With comics it can even increase sales (and not just of current issues but of relevant back issues). Case in point, the big reveal of the current DC Comics Rebirth event which completely changed the origin of the Nu52 universe whilst tying in some hitherto unrelated comics properties (back issues of which went on eBay within days for silly money). There is an argument that in this instance a spoiled work can be more enjoyable. If you already know that Kevin Spacey is Keyser Soze, do you enjoy The Usual Suspects more or less knowing that you can play spot the clues? Or do you rob yourself of the joy of getting to watch the film again and having a whole new experience on second viewing?
However, I don't think that argument quite applies to shows like Game of Thrones. Knowing the spoiler doesn't effect the shape of the work as a whole or change our appreciation of how the moment was crafted. What it does is rob us of surprise and, arguably, emotional impact.
Sometimes a production company wants to spoil the twist to get you to watch. Soaps do it most of all. I watched a trailer for last Friday's Eastenders which included the attack by little murder brat Bobby Beale that was in the very end of that episode. There is an entire press industry that revolves around spoilers for soap operas. But they can be avoided. No one is forcing them at you.
Those who cut trailers for films have to walk that line as well. How exciting would it have been for the Wolverine cameo in X-Men: Apocalypse to have been a secret. As it was the sidetrack to Alkali Lake felt like a pointless detour, an unneeded complication, the excitement of the pay off of which was stolen from us by the movies marketing team. I got maybe a minute in to the new 5 minute trailer for Independence Day: Resurgence before switching off. Too much of the narrative was being spoiled. I still don't understand why such a trailer needs to exist.
It's interesting as well that we have a better sense of spoiler etiquette around services such as Netflix. As there is no set time to watch the latest episode all spoiler conversations naturally start with "what episode are you on?" I saw one attempt at a meme for the last season of Daredevil but it just didn't take off because no one was watching at the same pace.
It's the same with films. I was invited into a Star Wars Spoiler Discussion group on Facebook for people who wanted to discuss the film but were wary of spoiling it for those that hadn't. It was considerate of those fans who hadn't yet seen the film and there was no hierarchical argument that those fans were somehow lesser devotees to that galaxy far, far away. It just accepted that sometimes people can't make it to opening weekend. Some people can't make it to broadcast time.
Sure there were plenty of memes about the identity of Kylo Ren and his relationship to Han Solo but it wasn't until Star Wars: The Force Awakens was due to come out on blu ray that memes spoiling the big character death started to be shared with any intensity. Of course not everyone would have seen the film yet but it felt like enough time had passed for it to be fair game.
So what can be done? Why not set up a Facebook group among friends to discuss the show instead of on you public timeline? You should be able to share memes and jokes about your favourite shows and films but maybe just think twice before hitting the share button next time. Finally, watch this video. Sure it's a joke, but it doesn't make it any less true.