I got to see Star Trek: Into Darkness a couple of days ago. Finally, a trip to the coast where I wasn’t money or time guilted out of going to the movies. Hooray! And it was a great movie. I have a lot to say about it.
It’s only been out for a week, and all my commentary would be spoiler-heavy indeed. I know we’ve all been looking forward to this movie for a while. I wouldn’t want to ruin it for anybody. Because I love you. You’re welcome. We’ll talk about it soon, though, don’t worry your pretty little heads about that.
But it got me thinking about spoilers in general. This is not a new problem. It’s as old as drama or literature, right? It’s just that now we’re so bombarded by information that it’s become harder for us to hide from spoilers. Unless you’re The Doctor, and then you have to wait for your hot wife to show up and tell you what questions not to ask. But none of us are The Doctor.
Urm. Moving on.
What’s the etiquette? I would say that my personal stance on this is somewhat skewed because I don’t have tv. But is that really true anymore? Between DVR and people watching stuff online, we’re quickly becoming a consume-at-your-own-pace culture. And that’s fine. Good, even, in some ways. I’m just not sure how much it bends the spoiler-etiquette timeline. Because there’s no set rule, you know? No longer any sure way to know if something has been seen or read yet (there was never really a way to tell with books, besides asking, but tv and movies have changed so dramatically since the advent of home video – let’s just take that for granted for the purposes of this discussion). Someone may have to wait a year for the thing to get on Netflix because they don’t buy dvds. Or they’re waiting for a precious weekend off to watch a whole season of something all at once, even though they’ve had it in their possession for two years. Or they think they’re done with the book because they only have two pages left and I inevitably give away the twist ending that happens in the final paragraph. (Thanks for that, George R.R. Martin. Stupid dragons.)
I do feel like I’m more behind the times than is normal, though, despite our having overcome the idea of having to watch things when they’re broadcast. I haven’t seen the new seasons of The Walking Dead or Doctor Who, or any of Game of Thrones or Mad Men. Small nerd confession here: I’ve never even seen E.T. I want to, they’re on my list, but there are only so many hours in the day and I’ve got shit to do. Like work. And sitting in the sun, drinking beer. And reading books. If I watched all the tv and movies I’m behind on, I’d never leave the couch. Which sounds like fun, until someone found me, years later, weighing 700 pounds and with my brain dribbling out of my ears. That’s not a good scene. No one wants that. I hope.
Should we agree to always just ask before we begin a pop culture conversation? That seems like the simplest answer. For actual human interactions anyway. But let me tell you, once again, that those are few and far between in my little world. The harder part of this equation is dealing with the goddamn interwebs. Between Facebook and Twitter and podcasts and all the blogs I read and people posting links everywhere I look, I feel inundated. Lost in a spoiler minefield. One word can fuck something up for me. But there seems to come a point when we all decide “it’s okay to talk about this now,” right? It’s been long enough that I could discuss the twist ending of The Sixth Sense, couldn’t I? That twist, and even the very idea of that kind of twist, have become so much a part of our cultural landscape that if you haven’t seen it you already know what happens (and really, you should watch it anyway – great movie). This sudden agreement that “it’s been long enough” is an interesting cultural quirk, a really fascinating look at the way we think about time, as a group. We do it with comedy, too. A joke about, say, the death of Michael Jackson, right now, would be fine, but one about the tornado in Oklahoma the other day would fall flat. “Too soon!” the audience would scream, and immediately deem the comedian a soulless asshole with no compassion.
I recently read an interesting book about the history of different time systems (Empires of Time by Anthony Aveni – it’s awesome, you should definitely check it out if you’re into sciencey historical stuff at all). It got me thinking about entertainment and time. We, as a species who lives on a planet, by nature of having days and nights, are completely unable to escape the idea of time. Of time “passing.” And we are, on a fundamental, primal level, driven by a need to see what happens next. Movies, books, even sports, are all built on this premise. What’s around the corner? Who lives? Who dies? Who wins? When we get to that moment of finding out, our brains act like we’ve accomplished something. Which I guess is technically true. We have learned a new thing, sort of.
And it’s addictive as all hell. This is why we have reality television and all those “epic fail” videos on YouTube. “Let’s all wait and see what this idiot’s going to do now” is a powerful marketing tool, especially when our intelligence is consistently, systematically underestimated by the people who make tv shows. They’re playing on our baser instincts, on our lizard brains, relying only on the endorphin rush we all get when surprised. It’s the cheap “boo” factor from every shitty horror movie ever made. It’s watching a car race just to see if anyone wrecks. It’s America’s Funniest Home Videos. It’s Survivor and American Idol and all that crap. But surprise and fascination are not good or bad on their own. That reliable, predictable brain reaction that makes all that bad stuff bad is also what makes all the great stuff great. When used correctly, in concert with well-written narrative and great characters, it can be Firefly. It can be Silence of the Lambs. Or Star Wars. Or The Name of the Wind. Or Macbeth. So don’t be a dick. Don’t give away the ending and take that “Aha!” moment away from someone else, if you can help it. Those are delicious moments, and they’re part of what make us human.