How We Spoil Pop Culture

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The one thing most television viewers can agree on is that if you’re going to watch Game of Thrones, you need to make sure you watch it when it airs. Failing that, you’d best not go online or leave your house until you’ve seen it. That sentiment especially holds true now that the show has surpassed the books; everyone is on edge.

This is all because we don’t want this story to be spoiled. We don’t want to know who is suddenly murdered, who is resurrected, and what the dragons will do next until the series shows us. The fact that so many of us crave GoT, and don’t want anyone else to ruin the singular experience, isn’t that staggering. Of course we don’t want to know what’s going to happen –– the series does so many things so well, and we should let them tell the story they want to tell.

What’s staggering is that for so many others shows and films, we are content or indifferent in letting the story be spoiled. I sense that we don’t do this deliberately; we are conditioned to accept that watching “on the next episode” commercials, and somehow we trust those responsible for showing them that it’s all part of the experience.

It’s not. And we can do so much better. We are robbing ourselves of the unique experience in consuming a story entirely blind. We only have one chance to watch it from a position of ignorance and purity. In turn, we can better properly judge a story, holding it up against what it is trying to do instead of criticizing it in respect to what our expectations are ­­— or how we are told by critics and society we should feel.

So here is what to avoid and how to make consuming TV and film so much enjoyable. Let the story unfold as it wants to be told. Let it come to you. Allow yourself to be surprised, be defenseless, and be engaged purely without influence.

Trailers

Avoid trailers at all costs. This is pretty obvious, and for a long time I’ve railed against watching them. But I used to love trailers: I used to crave them ahead of watching big blockbuster releases in the theatre so as to get a tease for what I knew I wanted to see months ahead. I remember watching one for The Dark Knight Rises over and over because I was so excited for the film. But then I realized something: it spoiled the film for me. By watching a trailer once (or twenty times), you mentally collect images and hold on to them when you watch a film. Then you wait. You’re not surprised by an encounter on a plane, a car chase, a character coming back from the dead, or whatever happens in the finale. Because you’ve already seen at least part of it.

The easiest thing to do is to forgo trailers for major films. At this point, how can you be unsure whether you want to watch War for the Planet of the Apes, or Fate of the Furious, or Transformers 5, or Guardians of the Galaxy Part 2? By now, you know what you’re getting.

Things get trickier when trailers are for smaller films, but even then, there are things that you can do to still make a good choice on what to watch. Trust a director, trust a writer or actor, trust a friend who recommends the film. Failing that, just gamble and go for it.

Summaries

This is a more subtle form of spoiling: a seemingly innocuous bit of information that you don’t realize at the moment could have wide-ranging effects. Whether you read a summary about what you’re going to watch should rest, in part, with the provider. Do you trust that they won’t tell you what’s going to happen?

For movies, reading the summary doesn’t often hurt the experience, though I would argue that it’s not at all necessary. Again, this is an opportunity to trust the director, the writer, or the actor. If you’re watching at home on the streaming service of your choice, you don’t need to read that much as you’ve the time and opportunity to simply turn it off and change to something else.

Summaries often tell of something that is happening in the first act. It’s the plot pivot on which the movie is based something like, she’s pregnant, or he’s fired, or we just discovered a new superpower. It’s a piece of information you’re likely to have before you go in, but still isn’t really required. It’s a rare thing to watch a film and have absolutely no idea where it’s going right from the start.

As for TV, just forget it. If you’ve watched one episode of something, and you plan on continuing, blow off the sneak peak and the summary and dive right in. Don’t be scared.

Reviews

As someone who writes film reviews regularly, I try to write something informative and insightful while also being slightly vague when it comes to the plot. I want people to read what I have to say to make an informed decision on whether to see a film, but I don’t want to tell them too much. At the same time, I want people who have seen it to engage with, and perhaps relate to, my thoughts.

Generally, I think we should avoid reviews until we have seen the film in question. Alternatively, if we do not plan on seeing a film, read as many reviews as you like about it. If anything, you can look at numbers and aggregates, using IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes as a sort of numerical standard, seeing what the general consensus is without knowing what happens. It’s still a judgment with which you’re entering the film, but at least you don’t know the plot.

Hype

Sadly, this is almost utterly unavoidable, and it will, for better or worse, and often worse, influence your decision. If you could never get around to seeing La La Land when it was first released and all you heard for months was how great it was and watched as it earned nominations and won awards, your expectations were likely mighty high. Probably the highest they could be. Your mind may have swirled with the possibilities: whatever is this movie doing that is so life-changing?

So if you saw it under those circumstances, it likely was a letdown. It’s a beautifully well-made movie with plenty of entertaining moments, but nothing especially visceral and surely not a story that is all that compelling.

At best, you just have to temper expectations if you can’t help but hear about it. And don’t let others influence your decision.

So don’t be scared. Venture into new stories with an open mind and heart, ready to take on whatever comes your way. You can only watch a story for the first time once. Until, you know, Total Recall becomes a reality. Then do whatever you want.