This article contains spoilers for da Vinci’s painting, Mona Lisa.
You may or may not remember the days when you had to watch your TV for the “next week on” portion of your favorite show. You actually had to watch your television for premiere dates, hiatuses, etc. Or, open a TV Guide magazine! When I was a kid, spoilers weren’t really a thing. And if someone told you the end of a movie, it was sort of offensive…if you’re old enough to remember The Sixth Sense, you know what I’m talking about.
In my research for this article, I learned that most people accept a spoiler to be revealing a detail that gives away too much plot, especially about the climax, end or something we aren’t supposed to know before consuming. For some, that means anything. Then there are those of us who read the last page of the book before starting. Most media reviewers these days are kind enough to post spoiler warnings or spoiler-free recaps. And while there are some trolls who delight in ruining Grey’s Anatomy for people on the West Coast or more recently, ruining the ending of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, most people take a certain amount of personal responsibility with regard to spoilers.
What I wonder is if an individual’s reaction to spoilers directly relates to the how and to the why they come to watch TV. And, with roughly 500 programs available to watch, we often turn to reviews to help us choose how to spend our precious viewing time. And, how effective can criticism be without discussing key plot points?
People often go see great paintings in real life after having seen reproductions and read plenty about them; in fact, that’s usually why they see them! When we look at a picture of a painting on the internet or in a book, we take in the basic forms and concepts. Take the Mona Lisa for instance, we understand okay this is a painting of a woman with long brown hair, she is sitting, she has on a dark dress, there’s a landscape behind her and she’s sort of half smiling. But when we see the Mona Lisa in person, we take in its tiny scale, the brush strokes, its muddy colors.
If, perhaps, entertainment media were treated more like fine art than simply a pastime, the world would be less spoiler-phobic. Looking at things from that perspective, knowing what’s going to happen has never bothered me. That being said, it’s just mean to spoil when people ask you not to. I’m just suggesting an alternative outlook to the despair that some feel when they read about the ending of their favorite series.
Further, personally, the stereotype I am, I often choose shows based on hearing that they have queer characters and I like to know whether they’re headed for tragic endings so that I can avoid them. Sometimes spoilers are armor, self-protection. They’re that feeling when you reach the top of the roller coaster and you know you’re gonna fall; they give you time to brace for that deep sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, the catharsis that you know is coming, that you actually enjoy more because you’ve built up that anticipation.
It’s no spoiler to say we’re Tweeters, Instagramers and Tumblrites living in the golden age of binge culture—you’d have to shut yourself off from the internet if you wanted to avoid being spoiled. It’s not necessarily realistic to really really really experience a show fresh. In fact, we watch a lot of shows because we hear why they’re good by word of mouth (word of eye?). We may now come to a show years after it first airs…we’re in a post-spoiler apocalypse.
This article was originally published 1/24/20
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