Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Spoiled Rotten

Thanks for all the feedback on spoilers. Now I have some good topics for discussion for my panel this weekend.

As in much of the rest of my life, when it comes to spoilers, I guess you could say I'm a moderate. I don't frantically avoid all information, but I also don't seek it out. I'll look at officially released stuff like the TV Guide listings, interviews with people involved with the show and the "coming next week" promos, but I usually don't go to spoiler sites. Generally, I guess you could say that I like knowing what could happen as opposed to what will happen. I like just enough little bits of info to give my imagination something to play with but not enough to actually know for sure what will happen. Unfortunately, the people doing promo don't always grasp the concept, as often the major twist or surprise in an episode is in the TV Guide listing. Or there's the Sci Fi Channel (whose marketing division is a bunch of mindless jerks who'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes) that puts the major spoiler in the promo. "You won't believe what happens in the last five minutes! And we're so sure you won't believe that we're showing it to you RIGHT NOW!" The first couple of times, I assumed that the big surprise they showed us in the promos was a red herring and that there would be another, bigger twist. But no. They really did put the big, shocking moment for the episode, the part that was supposed to be a major surprise, in the promos.

I think my major reason for avoiding spoilers is that I like surprises. As a kid, I never searched the house for hidden Christmas presents or shook packages to figure out what they were. I didn't want to know. I'm the same way with entertainment. I love that big moment of surprise with new revelations or plot twists. One of the occupational hazards of writing is that you can start to see patterns in the way others write, and it gets harder and harder to be surprised. The more spoiler information I have up front, the more likely I am to be able to piece together precisely what will happen. And then I start running into "favorite book made into a movie" syndrome, where I have such a clear mental movie that I'm bound to be disappointed in the reality, even if it turns out to be well done, just because it's different than I imagined, and I have to get used to the difference.

I do re-watch and re-read things (I even re-read mystery novels), so I'm capable of enjoying the journey as well as the destination. But there's just one first time to experience something, one time for it to be fresh and surprising, and I don't want to waste that experience by cheating ahead of time. I think the less spoiled I am in the first go-round, the more likely I am to be able to enjoy something repeatedly. Then the first time is for surprises, and I can dig into the layers and details on subsequent times.

I'm more of a stickler on movies and TV than on books because books are more "journey" and visual media are more "destination" for me. There's also the visualization aspect -- in books, even if I've already imagined it before reading it, when I get to actually reading it, I'm still imagining it, so there's less of a disconnect. There's also more immediacy in a TV show or movie. For big, ongoing series with lots of plot twists, I will avoid book spoilers, but then, it's generally a lot easier to avoid book spoilers unless it's something huge like Harry Potter, simply because book talk isn't so pervasive.

I had one particular experience that made me spoiler-averse. I was living in Germany when The Empire Strikes Back came out, and that meant that the already long three-year wait for the Star Wars sequel was even longer for me because we didn't get the movie until November. It was nearly impossible to avoid spoilers, since the soundtrack album and novelization were in wide release, and plenty of kids had moved from the States during the summer, so a lot of my classmates had already seen it by the time we got it. They'd run a condensed version of the novelization in one of my mom's magazines (yeah, a magazine in the Ladies Home Journal genre ran the novelization from a Star Wars movie), so I knew the plot. I had the soundtrack album, so I'd pretty much memorized the music and had seen all the pictures in the album fold-out. Then one of my friends had an extra copy of the novelization that she sold me, and I'd practically memorized the book.

Then I finally saw the movie on its first showing in our area. And I was terribly disappointed. It felt flat to me. I knew all the lines, so I was conscious of the fact that it was actors speaking lines. My brain has an unlimited special effects budget, so the effects on the screen were cheesy compared to the way I'd pictured things, and there were no surprises. It wasn't until they did the special edition re-release and I went with some friends from work that I realized that this was actually a truly awesome movie and probably the best movie of the entire series. It took a nearly twenty-year gap to be able to appreciate what was on the screen for what it was.

And, thus, I learned to avoid spoilers.

My spoiler policy here is that I try to avoid giving away major plot twists for books and movies, since there's no set time to read/see them. If something is so pervasive that anyone who cared much would have already read/seen it, then I feel safer using that. That's why Star Wars makes such a good example. If I am going to spoil, I will warn. For TV series, I'm aware that I have a global readership and not everyone sees things at the same time. I try to avoid talking in specifics about the current season. I generally try to stick to shows that have been out on DVD for a while as examples, and I try to remember to warn even then about which season I'm referring to.

I kind of figure that if you didn't watch something when it was on the air, if you're watching on DVD after the series ends, you're on your own when it comes to the Internet, and it's up to you when you're in conversations to make it clear you haven't seen the whole series. I remember talking to someone once at a convention who said he was a huge fan of Buffy and Angel, and since both series had been off the air for years, I assumed that meant he'd actually seen all of both series, so I proceeded to discuss the whole thing, only to have him then complain that I'd spoiled the last couple of seasons of both series, as he was watching them on DVD and hadn't finished. So, if you're catching up on something older, it's a good idea to make that clear from the start. Declare yourself a huge fan of something that's finished, and people will assume you know how it ends. On the flip side, if you're talking to someone who says they don't get cable, so they can only follow something like Battlestar Galactica as it's released on DVD, that means you shouldn't immediately start talking about all the major plot twists in the currently airing season, as I saw happen at a recent convention.

I do have a few exceptions to my spoiler aversion. There are some series where I'm not that emotionally invested, and it's more fun to watch the fans have total meltdowns over every little tidbit of spoiler info than to have any freshness or surprise when watching the show myself.

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