Television and the Internet usually work in harmony to provide dynamic viewing experiences for their users. The former presents shows on a schedule, while the latter provides a space not only to access television content but publicly judge it.
That ability to post comments for the entire Internet to see is the ultimate double-edged sword. It helps to foster discussions, but it has also created a dangerous element for devoted TV fans that probably will never go away.
Thanks to message boards, social media and comment threads, TV lovers who cannot watch their shows when they air have to be wary of going online. One wrong click, and you can experience the agony and frustration that have come to characterize “spoiler culture.”
By spoiler culture, I'm talking about the state of the viewer's relationship with TV and the Internet at this juncture in the evolution of those mediums. I‘m talking about a huge community that loves its TV and discussing it online. The danger of this level of devotion is spoilers, which has created spoiler culture: a community of people terrified of having things ruined for them and of doing the ruining.
Nothing galls the avid TV watcher more than coming across too much information too soon. The risks come at you in all forms, and some don’t always have a big “SPOILER ALERT” message to warn you away.
For example, I spent a few weeks this spring bingeing “Scandal” from start to finish. The show was in the middle of its third season, but I had been doing well avoiding spoilers (except for learning that Fitzgerald Grant is the worst president in history; I figured that one out by myself).
Then, one day, I took a casual stroll onto BuzzFeed and came across an article headlined “11 Things I Learned Being Killed Off ‘Scandal.’” Right next to the headline was a photo of the major character who had been axed (notice I didn‘t reveal too much).
Needless to say, I was not happy. So learn from my mistakes and get educated about spoiler culture.
Places spoilers lurk
• Articles: If an article includes a spoiler, there usually will be a warning. (Or, in the case of that BuzzFeed article, the spoiler will be front and center, leading you to question why you visit said website so frequently.)
• Comment threads/messages boards: As much as you may want to see other people’s opinions on the episode before you watch, know that some folks have trouble containing their excitement and will not hesitate to go into specifics.
• Social media: The only thing worse than a stranger spoiling something for you is when your friends do it. And in the case of social media, it usually is done recklessly with no regard for anyone who cannot watch live.
• Source material: This has been a big problem for “Game of Thrones” recently. People who read the books have the potential to inadvertently spoil things for those who only watch the show. Threaten to go all Gregor Clegane on them if they ruin anything for you.
• Face-to-face: I have been known to be that guy who gets too excited about something I have just watched and ends up spoiling it for a friend. Do not be like me.
The Netflix problem
Netflix unintentionally helped perpetuate spoiler culture with its decision to release entire seasons of original content all at once. “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black” in particular have created problems for those not willing to binge.
Gone are the days of savoring a show. With all the episodes laid out for everyone, spoilers can start appearing online within minutes of the new season’s release.
This is a different beast from week-to-week viewing, when the most you can have spoiled is a plot point from one episode. In the Netflix format, an entire season can be ruined before you click “play” on the first episode.
Dillydallying is a major risk in the Internet age. It could result in, say, missing out on a fun surprise in Season 2 of “House of Cards” as I did.
As “House of Cards” character Frank Underwood would say: “I have no patience for useless things.” He would not approve of spoilers, and neither should you.
How to Dodge Spoilers
• Know your schedule. Make sure you know what shows you have time to watch live and which ones you will have to watch at a later date. Do your best to avoid certain corners of the Internet on the days shows in the latter category have aired.
• Stay off of social media at all costs — especially Twitter. This goes especially for anyone on the West Coast who will automatically be behind on everything that airs on East Coast time.
• If you think there is even an iota of a chance that clicking on a link will ruin something for you, do not do it. It just is not worth it.
• Read the source material at your own risk. You do not know how the show may deviate from it, so it can either enhance or detract from your viewing experience.
• While bingeing a show, make sure your friends know where you are in the series before discussing it. Otherwise, you may be asking for trouble.
How not to be “that guy”
I have been on both ends of the spoiler spectrum, and neither side feels particularly good when a secret is spilled. There are ways to make sure you never become a spoiler.
• Stay ambiguous with your social media posts. No names, places, events. #RedWedding is as specific as you can get without getting into spoiler territory.
• Place a 48-hour moratorium on discussing big events. At that point, everyone should be caught up, and anyone who has not watched yet cannot complain about having something spoiled.
• Never spoil something in spite. Friendships have ended over less.
• If you have read the source material, shut up. Just for everyone’s sake, shut up.
• Most important, if you think something you are about to say might contain a spoiler, control yourself.
And to those who say the easiest way to avoid spoilers is to get out more, just remember: There is nothing wrong with watching excessive amounts of television as long as it is in addition to (not in place of) having a life.
As Sheldon Cooper of “The Big Bang Theory” once said: “Don’t you think if I were wrong I’d know it?”
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Josh Axelrod (email@example.com) is a former Squirrel Hill resident recently hired as an assistant producer for Gannett Digital in McLean, Virginia.