The Usual Suspects

Source: MGM Studios

Ever since I got a DVR… wait, scratch that… ever since my girlfriend’s roommate got a DVR (which first introduced me to the joy of pre-recorded television), I completely stopped watching live TV.

One exception: sports games, though there are a few I’ve recorded and saved for later, or at least tried to. I’m a Redskins fan, which means I’m a Cowboys anti-fan. So when Washington plays Dallas, it’s always a big deal to me and to most of my friends back on the East Coast. But nobody cares about the Skins where I live now, so I watch these games by myself these days. Now, I don’t know about you, but I infinitely prefer watching any sports games in a social setting. It’s the only way to ignore the endless loop of five or six truck, phone, and beer commercials that I’ll have to see all season. So when I’m watching by myself, I tend to absentmindedly fill the commercial breaks by playing around on my phone or iPad. Sooner or later, that means I’ll stupidly check Facebook without thinking. That’s when I see comments that look something like this:

“ANOTHER interception?!”

“Geez Skins. What happened during halftime? Did you all get drunk?”

“Holding out hope. If we can just score three touchdowns and a field goal in the next 4 minutes… (sobs)”

“Well, there’s always next team owner.”

I’ve only made it through one quarter and I already know that I have nothing to look forward to but an embarrassing loss. Sometimes I’ll continue anyway, but usually I don’t feel that it’s worth it.

This is an ever-increasing problem for me in the digital age. I’m a person who generally likes to stay up-to-date and I’m also a person who likes to stay connected to my interests. But I’m also a person who wants to watch movies, TV shows, and sports games whenever I feel like it, which very rarely means live. That’s a tough combination.

The internet’s catch-all protection for people like me are the words “spoiler alert.” That pair of words is thrown around in articles to immediately justify sharing any information. The idea is that if you ever read past the magic words, you are responsible for whatever secrets are ruined.

Problem is, most people don’t read content online that way. Unless we’re very engaged in a specific article, our eyes dart around the page and grab little bits of information in a scattershot pattern. It’s very easy to read below the magic words before we’ve even reached “spoiler alert.” Worse still, but very frequent, is immediately following the warning words with the spoiler, as in: SPOILER ALERT! ­­­________ dies in the next episode. (A death of a major character on The Wire was spoiled for me this way.)

Now, I’m not complaining too much. To some degree, spoilers eventually become a natural part of the culture. I knew how Citizen Kane and Spartacus ended by the time I was ten because it was impossible to avoid pop-culture’s fleeting references to “Rosebud” and “I’m Spartacus!” I remember my older brother telling me, when I was too young to see it, the grim plot twist at the very end of Night of the Living Dead. I never felt like that was a “spoiler,” just a way of letting me know that it was a legitimately good film, not just some cheap scares. It didn’t diminish my enjoyment when, years later, I finally saw it.

A psychological study not too long ago concluded that knowing the ending of a book in advance actually enhances enjoyment. The researchers involved posited that this might be because a spoiled story is “easier” to read, that the burden of the reader is no longer on following plot but in enjoying language. Take Shakespeare for example. Even in his day, the plot lines of his stories were explicitly laid out. Comedies ended in weddings. Tragedies ended in death. People aren’t shocked by Juliet stabbing herself, but they can be shocked by a good performance that wrings anguish and pain out of her suicide.

There are a lot of films, mostly ones with some kind of twist, that I appreciated more on second viewing. But even if I liked Fight Club better on round two, the confusion of my first time is still a singular experience. Hearing a story the first time will never be like hearing it a second time, or third, or fourth, etc.

So even if science has officially decided that spoilers are helpful, I still hate knowing too much. It robs me of a potentially unique experience, even if it leads to a supposedly more enjoyable one.

So my one request to the blogging and commenting world is to be a tiny bit more cognizant of people like me. I understand that you all want to discuss what shocking thing just happened on Breaking Bad, but I feel like I have a right to not quarantine myself from the internet until I’m all caught up on all my interests.