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It's All Geek To Me: [SPOILER ALERT] Why Pop Culture Has A Time Limit

03/20/2014 05:33 EDT | Updated 05/20/2014 05:59 EDT

The marketing departments of various television networks have worked for years to sell the idea of "Must-See TV." The phrase has had many iterations, from Watercooler Television to Appointment TV. But it all boils down to the same sentiment: "If you miss this show, it is increasingly unlikely that anyone will love you. Also, watch out for spoilers, chump!"

Spoilers. That's the real social punishment for lagging behind on the hottest bits of pop culture. Are you a slow reader? Don't worry; Dumbledore's killer is barely a plot point anyway. Did you wait for Game of Thrones on DVD? It's cool; I'm sure nobody has mentioned the #RedWedding to you in any way, shape, or form (and certainly not in HBO's own damn commercials for the thing).

It can't have always been this bad, right? We must be living in a perfect storm of wide-reaching social technology that allows millions of people to stream their consciousness across the world. I have yet to finish True Detective, but thanks to my decision to check Twitter on a Sunday night, I'm well-versed in hundreds of theories about who the Yellow King was. But, for having the temerity to 1) Not watch a show at the same time as everyone else and 2) Go about my normal Internet life after not watching the show, I am apparently just asking to have the world spoiled for me. But at the same time, I've spoiled a thing or two. Sometimes by accident, sometimes on purpose; because if you don't know King Kong dies at the end of King Kong by now, then I can't be held responsible for telling you.

When it comes to spoilers, it's the wild west out there. Wildly different rules of the game smash against each other in a complex mix of ideology and personal politics that would make for a riveting program on any leading cable TV network. There are different types of spoilers, and they exist across all media, from literature (you know some loose-lipped chimneysweep was ruining the twists endings of Sherlock Holmes books before it was cool) to video games (ask any gamer if the cake is a lie -- or better yet, don't). So, let's find out: What kind of spoiler are you?

Points For Enthusiasm (Excitement)

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So you just witnessed something amazing. Life-changing, even. You're so excited; but also, you're so scared. You are full of, as the Internet would say, the feels. So you do what comes naturally and vent through your preferred medium of choice. A Facebook post, a rapid cavalcade of tweets, a heated discussion at work, or even screaming as loud as you possibly can in a random alleyway. You do you. Go for it.

But your free-spirited expression has some casualties; namely any friend/co-worker/confused bystander that had yet to see what you had seen. You just couldn't keep it in your pants, could you? Now you've gone and spoiled it, but you did it with love. It's not the worst way to do it, and as always, The Simpsons got there first.

Spoiled Past The Expiry Date (Time Limit)

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Time is a fixed construct, not a flat circle. Everything has a time limit, an expiry date, a statute of limitations. Basically, you believe that some things are simply too old to be considered spoil-able anymore. So if you happen to mention at a dinner party how shocked you were that Bruce Willis was both a good actor and a ghost in The Sixth Sense, then it's really not your fault if someone cries foul and says you've spoiled it for them. They've had over a decade, so you can't be held responsible.

But everyone has a different cutoff date. A year? That could be reasonable for a show; it even allows time for a DVD release of the whole season. But some people are slow readers, and some games take dozens of hours to beat. A month? I guess that's also fair, given how easy individual episodes are to find online. A week? A day? The time it takes to tweet your thoughts once the credits roll? Well, now you're losing the high ground. If your idea of a fair time limit is "However long it took me to see it and then talk about it," you may be part of the grand problem, kid.

Loose Lips Spoil Ships (Accidental)

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We've all met someone like this. A person who cannot describe or recognize the plot of a show or movie without saying the entire twist. One moment you're discussing the amount of onscreen penises in Fight Club (there's just one, but they make it count), and the next they're saying "Isn't that the movie where it's the same guy all along?!"

OK, fresh example: Let's say you're talking about your favourite Best Original Screenplay Oscar winners, and once again, this person will barge in and scream: "The Usual Suspects? Isn't that the movie where it's the same guy all along?!"

Outside of the fact that every celebrated psycho-thriller of the past couple of decades had the same plot twist, there's a bigger problem at play here. There are so many ways to describe something you like, and the central plot twist should never be your opening statement. You're trying to express yourself (that's good!), but you're spoiling the hell out of whatever you describe (that's bad). And while your earnestness is admirable (that's good!), you're ultimately going to drive people away from having any pop culture chats with you whatsoever.

And, you know, that's bad.

The Technical Foul (Denial)

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The world was recently knocked on its collective ass by the quality, humour, and surprising amount of heartfelt sentiment in The Lego Movie. When one of the most popular brands in the world ostensibly releases a two-hour commercial for itself, there's no real reason to believe that the finished product will even attempt to have artistic merit. (The exception, as always, is Space Jam.)

Of course, most people didn't know that the movie's directors were also responsible for Clone High, so a few of us knew to expect a level of quality comparable to their previous work.

But what I found interesting about The Lego Movie is that it actually contains what I would consider a pretty major plot twist in its back half. Yet I read multiple reviews that openly state this plot development as if it's nothing; this review even opens with an anecdote about the plot twist. It got so bad that post-release commercials for the film even told viewers to not spoil the ending for their friends. I found it all to be pretty unprecedented, and I had to wonder how it had happened.

In the mind of this type of spoiler, they're not spoiling anything at all.

It's not their fault if you couldn't see the obvious foreshadowing signalling this character's death in the sequel, so it's not a spoiler. It's not a spoiler because it's really not that important to the overall plot. It's not a spoiler because they don't really die. It's not a spoiler because they were dead the whole time anyway. #ItsNotASpoiler #YOLO

Rather than take accountability for upsetting someone else and infringing on their future enjoyment of something, they blame you for feeling spoiled in the first place. They're a superstitious, cowardly lot, and they need to be put in their place. But there are worse kinds of spoilers out there.

The Spoiler Of Monte Cristo (Revenge)

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You can still remember when they spoiled something for you. It tastes like spoiled food upon your tongue. It haunts you, constantly. And now, after years of playing nice, years of waiting for something big enough or meaningful enough to them, you can pull it off; your vengeful counter-spoiler. You just casually drop it into a conversation, as if by accident, but you'll know. As they protest and lament what you've spoiled, you'll know.

And you'll love it.

If this is you, congratulations! You're probably a sociopath. You're perpetuating an endless cycle of spoiler-on-spoiler violence that will only end when there's nothing good enough left to spoil. If you want to doom us to that world of Michael Bay movies and Dan Brown books, then go ahead and continue your campaign of meaningless hate-spoiling. But at least you have a code. At least you're not... the worst.

The Worst (You're the worst.)

You're so bad, you don't even get an introductory gif. Do you gleefully post huge plot spoilers after you speed-read the final Harry Potter book? Did you post an obituary after the Breaking Bad finale? Do you regularly wear this T-shirt and believe it makes you the absolute height of modern wit? I reiterate: you're the worst.

The mentality that there's joy to be had in getting somewhere first makes sense; it's why we have milestones like the Moon Landing and the Double Down sandwich. But the desire to then ruin it for anyone who would dare get there after you is just toxic. It's what makes kids tell their classmates that Santa Claus isn't real. It's the ability to take pleasure in being the bad guy, Tony Montana style.

If you're The Worst, there's nothing to be done; you're too far gone. Up is down, grief is joy, and the basic human impulses of compassion and decency will always fail to make an impression on your cold, nihilistic brain. As with most things, this can be explained with a rambling story by Michael Caine.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with spoilers, but their very existence creates a fascinating sort of societal pressure. A general consensus is that if you haven't read/watched/played something within a set amount of time, you lose the right to have it go unspoiled. It's kind of brutal, but it also keeps us all rushing to consume more pop culture before someone can ruin it for us.

On the flip side, spoilers can become so old that they almost become safe again. I don't think anyone is running around ruining the big twist ending of 24's fifth (and greatest) season, and the same goes for The Shield and even The Wire. So if you can go a few years without encountering a spoiler, your chances of dodging it for good increase exponentially.

What I find most interesting are experiences that are unspoilable. Can you really spoil an album for someone? (SPOILERS: This one song sounds really good, but not as good as the other songs! Also, the lyrics are good.) With some notable exceptions, pop culture that needs to be experienced is really hard to spoil for someone. You can spoil the plot of a game for me, but if the biggest emotional moments come from non-narrative gameplay and atmosphere, it's hard to take that away from me.

Try as you might, you can't spoil a sunset for someone by telling them the sun goes down. And that's probably for the best.

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After all, there could be some serious repercussions.

It's All Geek To Me is a weekly column about geek culture, and how it's secretly all around you, influencing everything you do, forever. Mike Sholars is a writer, editor, Twitter guy, and has always yearned to destroy the sun.