Spoiler-alert culture is taking all of the fun out of television

What’s the point of watching TV when you have to wait an age to talk about it? Patrik Theander

Spoiler-alert culture is taking all of the fun out of television

This article doesn’t contain any spoilers whatsoever for Game of Thrones, Season 5, Episode 10, Mother’s Mercy.

By now you probably know that Season Five of Game of Thrones ended with the shocking … no, wait, we can’t talk about that. But it was days ago! Surely we can … No, we can’t. We just can’t.

Perhaps even more traumatic than witnessing the season finale – for those who have – is the inability to talk about it for fear of social recrimination. Spoiler-alert culture is taking all of the fun out of watching and talking about television.

For a long time we all watched TV together. Audiences gathered around the box to consume an appointment-based viewing schedule of programming. They consulted weekly TV guides to see when and where their favourite shows would screen. If they were missed, they simply would not be seen. Plot twists were news because they happened to everyone at the same time.

Now, with popular foreign programs being screened direct from the US on subscription television, and made immediately available via streaming services and (albeit illegitimate) peer-to-peer downloads, content is frequently available concurrently around the world.

For Australians, this means viewing happens at conventionally odd, often inconvenient times. I watched Game of Thrones on Foxtel’s Showcase on Monday at 11am AEST.

For those unable to watch in real-time, trying to make it through the day without having someone ruin the narrative has become a veritable minefield.

If you are consigned to the potential spoiler zone, it seems the only way to protect your naivety is to don a How I Met Your Mother-style Sensory Deprivator and avoid social media – hell, any human contact – at all costs.

Block it all out. How I Met Your Mother, CBS

The pressure to consume new episodes immediately, if you want to enjoy them unsullied by spoilers, is immense.

But what is the statute of limitations on spoilers? When can you comment on what you’ve watched? And at what point is our fear of ruining other people’s television experience hindering our own?

After I watched Game of Thrones on Monday morning I wanted to talk about it. I went on Facebook and crafted a fond farewell to my favourite character. Then I deleted it. I knew it would not only spoil the viewing experience for my oblivious friends, but also engender the kind of hostility I would prefer be directed at the Night’s Watch.

More than 24 hours later, however, despite having ample opportunity to watch the episode, many Facebook “friends” remain adamant that all comments regarding the Game of Thrones season finale are embargoed. Chatty followers have been unceremoniously deleted, disappointments voiced, names called. “Don’t ruin it for me! You’ve been warned!”

It’s one thing for media outlets to tag related reviews and coverage with “SPOILER ALERT: S05E10!!!” to ensure that readers do not unwittingly learn more than they would like.

We wouldn’t complain about spoilers in a political piece if we weren’t up to date with the news, but revealing a fictional story arc in a news headline is just malicious.

There is even merit to fan claims that episode catch-ups – that is, the “Previously on Game of Thrones …” recaps at the beginning of each episode – can serve as spoiler-alerts. With a cast and storyline as complex as that in Game of Thrones, refreshers are often necessary reminders of past events, but they are also unintentionally indicative of plot points in the forthcoming episode.

If you care enough about a television program to be upset about it being spoiled, and yet do not watch it in a timely manner, you cannot be distraught when others discuss it on social media.

Especially if you are likely to turn to Facebook or Twitter with your appraisal when you finally get around to watching it.

As distributive avenues proliferate, and audiences fragment away from the living room, television audiences are increasingly consuming content in a disjointed, isolated manner.

Watching TV, though an increasingly solitary activity, is most enjoyable when shared with others.

If you can’t talk about it, what’s the point?

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