Too much, too soon

ADAM ROBERTS
Last updated 14:20 08/01/2013

When Seinfeld first aired, Jerry only had to fear the phone. In the pilot episode of the "show about nothing", he answers his phone in a way familiar to anyone passionate about sport or culture.

"If you know what happened in the Mets game, don't say anything, I taped it, hello ... " he yells into his phone receiver.

Of course, in the next minute Kramer storms in and announces that, "Boy, the Mets blew it tonight." But Jerry would be in much deeper trouble these days.

With so much discussion of TV and sports taking place on social media, and with TV recaps becoming its own writing genre, you take your life in your hands every time you open a browser tab.

A recent Portlandia sketch pokes fun at this, with the 2 -minute sketch including spoilers for everything from The Usual Suspects to The Empire Strikes Back (I'm told, I haven't watched it for fear it will spoil something I want to watch).

One day, your devices and apps will remember what media you've consumed and make sure you don't venture into dangerous waters, spoiler-wise.

Anyone who can figure out how to do that first in a non-creepy way will make a bundle.

But until then, we only have the two-word phrase "spoiler alert", and the hope that our fellow man will have mercy.

The phrase is supposed to be used to indicate to readers that they should stop reading to avoid references to content of a TV show or film they may not have seen.

But not everyone finds it useful.

The phrase joined "double down", "superfood" and "job creators" to make Michigan's Lake Superior State University's 38th annual List of Words to be Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness last year.

Joseph Foly of California argued in his submission the phrase is "used as an obnoxious way to show one has trivial information and is about to use it, no matter what," according to a report in London's The Telegraph.

I thought the inclusion was a little harsh - at least "spoiler alert" actually has a purpose, unlike the meaningless ‘fiscal cliff', a favourite of lazy economic and political journalists.

Personally, I appreciate the warning, particularly since the Breaking Bad Incident of 2012.

Like the rest of the world, I am in awe of AMC drama Breaking Bad. Unlike the rest of the world, I have not caught up with the fifth season, just finished airing in the US. This is not due to some moral qualms with downloading media illegally (that's something for another column).

Rather, the intensity of the show's content - particularly season two - means my girlfriend and I need to gather our strength before we watch another episode.

Each episode is also incredibly well-crafted, so it almost seems a waste to binge on a whole season in a weekend.

But my happy, delayed existence all came unstuck a month or so ago.

While messing around on Twitter while I waited for my takeaway coffee to arrive, I spotted an interesting looking link from the New York Times, titled the "Mad Men economic miracle.

Now I have seen Mad Men, another hit series from AMC, so I thought nothing of tapping on the link. Without so much as a by your leave, the first sentence of the article revealed exactly what happened in the finale of Breaking Bad.

Now, I have some class, so I won't repeat it here, but suffice it to say the reveal undercut a lot of the dramatic tension of show.

I nearly dropped the phone trying to close the browser, but the damage was done.

Now, that season finished in September, and the article was published in December - so it's arguable that most of the readers of the article would have seen it.

However, for the small number (ie anyone in New Zealand who hasn't downloaded the show illegally, as far as I can tell) of people who hadn't caught up, that sentence was like a dagger to their heart. There was nothing in the tweet or the headline to suggest Breaking Bad would even enter the conversation.

Of course, the counter-argument to the Haven't Seen It Yets is simple: if you really cared about the show, you would be caught up by now. People like me who lag behind the rest of the world with a show like Breaking Bad - just serve to ruin enjoyable post-show conversations.

My attitude is that I'll try with all my energy to avoid having the plot spoiled, but I won't insist that those around me are spoiler-free: it's my own cross to bear.

But when I catch a minor spoiler when browsing Twitter, or accidentally read details from the next episode when reading Wikipedia, the revelations hurt.

TV3 and Four have begun airing episodes only a few hours after they air in the United States. Hopefully this practice becomes more common, meaning even those who don't illegally obtain the episodes can keep up to date.

My advice: follow Seinfeld's example - avoid spoilers at all costs. Stay off any sites that may bring you spoilers.

If you use a Twitter client that can "mute" keywords, keeping them from appearing in your stream, consider putting the name of the show on your mute list.

But don't leave watching the shows too late - after about a week you cannot blame others for assuming you've seen episodes of Homeland or the Walking Dead.

Finally, now that you know how far behind Breaking Bad I am, if you decide to reveal more of the plot as a hilarious joke, then - spoiler alert - I will never speak to you again.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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