Spoiler Alert: Implications on Entertainment in a World Sans Surprises

I have a very serious problem. A crippling addiction in fact. One that takes up hours of my time and has begun to strain my relationships with loved ones. The affliction I am speaking of is my need for spoilers regarding my favorite television shows. I jump at any opportunity to be the first to know "who dies next?" or "what's his big secret?" I scour the web for any set reports or insider tidbits that can reveal more about what is to come. I am not alone in this matter, far from it in fact. The trend of spoilers is one that currently has an immense affect on television viewing. While some champion the amount of information available and its potential benefits to viewing, others feel that this influx of insider information is ruining the essence and "liveness" of television. Facing my addiction head on, here is a closer look at this phenomena and its affect on the television experience.

First, let's step back to analyze just what is considered a spoiler in today's media. This is not an easy question to answer however, as the term is multifaceted both in what it is and what it is not. Evident of the scope this term has in our times, "spoiler" has entered the lexicon of Merriam Webster Dictionary, a highly regarded publication. The entry reads: "information about the plot of a motion picture or TV program that can spoil a viewer's sense of surprise or suspense." While this definition shows that the term has clearly reached a certain official status, it fails to give a glimpse into usages and types. Spoiler information can come in many different shapes in sizes, from officially released promotional videos to fan set reports to facts leaked from those involved in the production. Many issues regarding what a spoiler is are caused by this broad range of types. Most would agree that any information not provided on air during the program is a spoiler, but everyone views and experiences their favorite programs differently, which is why the ongoing discussion is so engaging.

The expansion of the internet has made spoilers universal and available to all, but is this a good thing? There are many benefits, first and foremost the increased attention and ratings that a network can generate. As Isabelle Carreau, a contributor for TVSquad.com writes, "Networks know the power of spoilers. They attract viewers. They create a buzz. They sell." This is true, and an issue that did not immediately stand out to me when approaching the topic. While it might seem like a studio would want to avoid having their shows secrets spread on the web, it is possible that this leads to more viewers. If a casual viewer of a program hears that a big character is dying soon, it may compel them to focus more or catch up on episodes they have missed, as Carreau discusses with th
e season 2 example of ABC's Lost. The power of spoilers is apparent to anyone who reads about television on the internet. The sheer number of sites available to those interested, from SpoilersNews.com and StillSpoiled.com, to Spoiler TV and SpoilerFix.com, is a testament to the demand for this type of information. These sites cater to a large number of popular shows, and feature many of the previously mentioned features, such as information from casting sheets or set reports and fan-taken photographs. Clearly something so popular cannot possibly be negative, right?

There are still many, however, who feel that information being released prior to broadcast can be damaging to the viewing experience. For some, like those who share my addiction to spoilers, extra knowledge can enhance the show. Others however, disagree, believing that too much information can take away from a viewing. This issue is perhaps best exemplified by the "Lostfan108" incident that occurred before Lost's season three finale. Just weeks before the finale aired, a synopsis of the final two episodes of the season was placed on AintItCoolNews.com. The poster responsible, known only as Lostfan108, provided not only hints as to what was to come, but rather every major plot twist and reveal. As the blog TV-Spoilers follows: "Within hours, the culmination of a Herculean production and creative effort was being judged by thousands of fans on the basis of a few paragraphs of sloppy exposition." The blogger goes on to explain how much of the issues that arose were based on personal "conduct." The issue was that people who read this information, felt the need to spread it and make it public. I personally, despite my spoiler addiction, attempted to avoid the information at all cost, only to accidentally come across it on a message board. In this case, spoilers clearly had a negative effect because people lacked a choice as to whether or not to avoid them. It is within this sense of connection between fans that I believe the answer to spoiler issue lies.

Watching a favorite show is a very personal experience. People like to be entertained by their favorite characters at particular times, in particular settings and with particular circumstances. I believe the issue of spoilers is really no different. Viewing spoilers should be the decision of the viewer, and this should not be compromised simply because the information is available. In the case of Lostfan108, information became publicly known, and in many cases, was not marked as "SPOILER" to warn those who did not want to be spoiled. However this is not the norm. In most cases, spoilers are available on select, well marked websites. For example, the aforementioned SpoilersNews.com's home page is accompanied by a warning that states: "Do not click on any of these links if you do not want to find TV show spoilers containing hints, rumors, speculation or clues concerning upcoming TV series episodes or seasons." In a perfect internet world, every site and every bit of information would be as well delineated as this. If this were the case, the onus of being spoiled would lie solely in the hands of the viewer.

This issue is far from black and white; spoilers are not inherently "good" or "bad." Rather I believe spoilers provide a viewer the ability to create their own experience while watching their favorite shows. Some like to go in completely blind, knowing only what they have seen from previous episodes. I, on the other hand, like so many, enjoy receiving hints or peeks as to what may lie ahead for a particular show. Knowing how an episode might play out does not ruin the experience for me. Rather, it enhances it, allowing me to focus on what some may see as secondary aspects of the program. Ultimately, it does not seem like there is any real answer or cure to my addiction to all things spoiler related. Instead it seems I am on my own to self-medicate, seeking out only the spoilers I think will enhance my viewing, while avoiding viruses like the one released by Lostfan108.

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