Comics/Culture #2: The Economics of Spoiler Alerts
By Zak Edwards
August 22, 2014 - 22:27
David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. James Joyce’s Ulysses. Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. Each of these books are long, dense, complicated, and apparently very rewarding. I’ve personally read Ulysses, but the others are still on my “To Read” list, a list that would be a comically long scroll even in 6 point font if it ever manifested in real life.
But these books have another thing in common besides their length and complexity: they assume a certain economic level. It’s a strange thing to think about, but no one can truly read these books without dedicating a large amount of time to them. They require attention, careful thought, and, because of their length, an assumption that you can read them within a certain amount of time to keep all these details straight in your head. In other words, you need to have a certain amount of leisure time that you can dedicate to their consumption. I mean sure, if you work 2 jobs and average 3 hours of transit a day, and have a family, and friends, and other things to do, you could still read these books. But why? Honestly. Why bother? If it was me, I’d flip on Game of Thrones and watch that instead. Hell, I made that decision like 3 months ago.
But Game of Thrones is a good example of where economics clash with the social shaming for not knowing the source material, or being totally up-to-date on popular culture. I don’t think anyone is going to claim that the A Song of Fire and Ice books are as dense or complicated as the books previously mentioned (they certainly don’t contain nearly as many footnotes as Infinite Jest), but George R.R. Martin's series is exceedingly long and, overall, about 5-6 times the length of 1Q84. They take a long time to read. The show, on the other hand, takes roughly 10 hours a year.
Enter Stephen King, author of a few mega-tomes himself, one that has a TV show as well, who ruined the "Purple Wedding" just hours before the episode aired. While plot spoilers may actually help someone read Ulysses, Game of Thrones partly depends on plot twists for its continued appeal. No one seems safe. Anyone could die. It’s honestly thrilling. Especially coming from comics, where death is temporary and everyone is relatively safe. Thor may turn into a woman, but they aren't about to kill him off forever and everyone knows that. Game of Thrones kills characters all the time, and they don't come back because Superboy punched reality really hard. Well, maybe they do later, I don't know. I haven't read the books!
But back to Stephen King, who tweeted how excited he was to watch the episode and subsequently said exactly why, ruining the major plot twist of the episode. The response? An outcry of people who didn’t know what was coming. But rather than apologize, Stephen King got defensive:
Stephen King’s argument is the exact response we hear from people indignant about spoiling things all the time: "it's your fault for not reading it," "it's been out forever." "It's not my fault, it's yours for not doing things the same way I do." In a way, the one spoiling is right. It isn’t their fault. But it isn't the fault of the person complaining either. But the million other factors that can bar someone from digesting the exact same things as the person spoiling aren’t considered either. Just victim blaming. Worst of all, Stephen King’s arguments aren’t far off from the usual stereotypes placed on people in economic hardships: it’s their fault. They’re lazy. They’re apathetic.
The only thing Stephen King asserts through his victim blaming is his own wealth and leisure time. He took away something that makes Game of Thrones so incredible for many people and, rather than considering why some people have not read the books, he assumed his leisure time, afforded by a certain economic status, applies to everyone.
So next time you have a strong desire to say something about a plot twist or exciting moment others may not have gotten around to yet, put up some spoiler alerts. It lets people know and gives them you a chance to keep some of the magic and excitement alive rather than you just asserting privilege for the sake of having it.
Yes, this even applies to Lost.
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