It’s hard, sometimes, being a fan of television on the West Coast and being on Twitter. Perhaps no night is more difficult than Sunday during the hours leading up to a new episode of Mad Men or Breaking Bad. To put it bluntly — my feed becomes a giant scroll of spoilers.
To their credit, many of the people on the East Coast whose accounts I follow tweet rather cryptic spoilers. They don’t reveal the big themes. Instead, they leave me wondering about the little things, like for Don Draper, what could possibly be so painful about a Hershey’s bar? A well-meaning West Coaster, what am I to make of a “Lena Dunham is running … OMG” tweet, hours before I’ve even begun to sit down to watch the finale of Girls?
They’re small spoilers — but they’re still spoilers, nonetheless.
This probably reached its most annoying point during MTV’s Video Music Awards a few weeks ago. Yes, I’m talking about that time Miley made twerking happen. Since the broadcast was tape-delayed on the West Coast, the twerk heard ‘round the world and the arguably more important *NSYNC reunion were both spoiled hours before I could watch them from the comfort of my own couch.
But I’m not complaining — well, I suppose I am. Just a little bit, though.
The truth is that spoilers have always been inevitable. They certainly existed long before the advent of newer tools for communication, such as Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook. Then many of the spoilers took place in verbal conversation (to think such a thing existed!), however, back when one could interrupt another to prevent the spoiler from rolling off the tongue. Though that admittedly is not foolproof, it still allowed for greater proactivity and preemption.
It’s harder to escape spoilers today, when no warning is given that the next tweet on your feed is about Breaking Bad or the next Facebook post is a quick meme revealing a new plot twist from insert-buzzed-about-TV-show-here.
But there is still hope. When researching this column, my friend pointed me to an interesting Internet browser extension called “Tumblr Savior.” It allows users to block out certain keywords from appearing on their feed if they haven’t seen a television show or a sporting event. For example, my friend, who is still catching up with Breaking Bad, has used the extension to eliminate “Breaking Bad,” “Walter White,” “Jesse Pinkman,” “Bryan Cranston” and “Aaron Paul.”
Though Tumblr Savior and similar apps don’t completely eliminate or shield us from the fear of spoilers, they sure go a long way toward alleviating the concern, or at least controlling it.
Since I’m writing about spoilers, I’d be remiss not to mention that the changing ways in which we consume television (and even episodic film) has brought a new type of spoiler to the fray.
No matter how devoted a binge-watcher you might be, it’s difficult to deny that consuming an entire show at once changes the experience of watching. Don’t get me wrong — the ability to stream entire seasons of television is great. It’s just different and brings its own spoilers along with it.
This type of spoil has less to do with revealing an aspect of an episode’s plot but has more to do with the way the show is watched. It’s the spoil of building less of an investment with the show.
To varying degrees, television series require a certain investment from its viewers. Each week, an audience must make the time to watch a show when it airs on television or make alternative plans, such as recording it with a digital video recorder or streaming it on the Internet. But that’s not the case for a series that has been posted online in its entirety. It eliminates the investment a viewer must make to watch the show and the attachment that results.
Not only does this type of spoiler erode the physical investment that once was required for TV watching, it also diminishes the emotional investment that one makes with the journey of the characters.
Not too long ago, I had an interesting conversation about the way in which my views on Walter White had changed with each season of Breaking Bad. I mentioned that I had once looked at Mr. White as someone who was doing a good thing for his family. The person I was talking to never saw the now infamous high school chemistry teacher-turned-meth dealer that way. She’d caught up on the show all at once rather than watching each week.
And it makes a difference. Watching a show that’s not available for an entire week forces the viewer to chew on the information given to them in the previous episode, therefore enhancing the emotional attachment between the audience and a character.
It represents a different type of spoiler than the more referenced type that reveals bits of telling information, but it’s only one of the many new spoils that have resulted from evolving modes of communication and media consumption.
Daniel Rothberg is a junior majoring in political science. His column “Twenty-First Century Fears” runs Thursdays.
Follow Daniel on Twitter @danielrothberg