Culture of Spoilers

A significant portion of content on YouTube is built on so-called fair-use exemption of copyright laws by interjecting commentary over fragments of other works.   Some examples are reaction videos (people commenting on other people’s content), or reviews (often with spoilers) of published content such as movies, TV shows, video-game play-through, comic books, etc.  My observation is that many of these reviews receive more views than the original content.  In many cases, the reviewer’s ad revenue may exceed the profits made by the original content creator.   While I’ve been primarily sampling YouTube videos, I expect there is much more examples in other platforms including blogs.

Whether or not this is fair use of other’s works, there is a more fundamental consequence of defining our present-day culture.   The popularity of these reviews gives evidence that our culture still values original content from creators.   Despite this, we have moved to a culture that transfers rewards for those creations to reviewers of the creations, especially if the reviews give away the more essential uniqueness of the creations.   A substantial portion of the culture values the spoilers more than the original content itself.

I can imagine many reasons for this.  From personal experience, it is like the “Cliff Notes” of literary works that I used when I wanted to get the key points about a story.   I would use them when I had no real interest in spending time to read the actual work, but I wanted to know enough to at least get references others may make to it.   The reaction or review blogs or videos may be a modern version of the same content, but with multiple points of view, often unrelated to artistic merit.

The fact that I’m writing this admits to the fact that I’ve consumed many of these reviews without experiencing the original content.   I like to think that I’m viewing the reviews because I’m more interested in the reactions than I am in the original content, but to be honest if someone asks me what I think about some content, I could see myself giving my opinions when those opinions would only be based on reviews instead of seeing the content directly.   This would only occur when talking with people who don’t know me very well.  People who know me, will know that I don’t watch movies or television, I don’t play video games, I don’t read comics or follow super-heroes, and I don’t listen to contemporary music.   In the events when I do watch something because it is in the background of where I am at, I am not really paying attention to the content, at least not to a level where I can come up with an original opinion about it.

Back in the 1970s, I recall the admonition against relying or even using Cliffs Notes even as a supplement to reading the original, let alone as a substitute.   I agreed with that advice but that didn’t stop me from using it.   Instead, I always try to be honest about the fact that I am relying on an intermediary opinion and what that intermediary is.   In several cases, especially in popular culture since about 1980, I am very comfortable admitting that I haven’t been keeping up.

Even as I say this, I admit that this attitude of not first-hand experiencing this content is a degraded version of being a participant in the times I live in.   I pretend that that first-hand experience doesn’t matter to me.  Maybe I’m right, but I’m probably wrong.   In any case, I’m just one person.   I’m not pretending to be engaged with this culture.   I like to think of myself as observing, and as disinterested as I can be.

As an aside, I keep thinking that there must be many others who are similar to myself, but examples allude me.   I find many who are similarly opting for spoiler reviews of current culture (and current events in general), but their reasons and motivations are different.   From anyone else looking at me, they would be justified in lumping me with others.   Instead of gaining first-hand experience, we are all substituting other people’s interpretations.   I try to avoid giving the impression that I have an opinion on something I haven’t experienced.   That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, though.

A significant part of the modern population consists of this group of people who come to conclusions about some original content (artistic or otherwise) without experiencing the content first-hand.   As a result, any discourse on the topic is confused with a mix of people, some with direct experience and and others with only spoiler-highlight experience.

This is unfair to the artist, especially if the topic of conversation is one that the artist (or other creator) introduced.   Outside of fairness, I think it is proper for people discussing a topic should first experience the content as the originator composed it.   In other words, the topic any of us is addressing is the topic composed by whoever we got the topic from.   In other words, part of agreeing on the topic being discussed should be that everyone received that topic from the same author.   If one person sees some movie first hand is discussing the merits of that movie with someone who has only seen the trailer or the spoiler-reviews, they are not really talking about the same topic.

The social-media Internet phenomena has distorted discussions of almost every topic.  While in the past, we preferred to discuss topics only with people who have experienced directly some author’s composition (often because there was no other option), we now prefer to discuss topics only with familiar people.

It is more important that we know the person we’re discussing a topic with than it is that anyone actually understands the topic.   This is the foundation of social media concepts of friends, followers, or subscribers in sites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Blogs, etc.  The reason why we subscribe is because we want to hear that one person’s opinion about some topic.   The people who have the most subscribers and views are often the people who frequently add new content by commenting on the latest topics, thus making it very likely that they will at some point address the topic.    If one of our subscribed content-commentator discuss the topic, our appetite for that content is satiated by that commentator.   We learn all that we want to learn about the topic, unless the provider says something that provokes our interest in seeking further information.

Curiously, in those cases where we disagree without subscribed provider’s interpretation of some topic, we often follow-up seeking out alternative information (including seeing content for ourselves) with a act to unsubscribe in order to avoid that inconvenience in the future.

It just seems to me that this is an unhealthy form of civil discourse whether the topic is artistic in nature, or if it is more substantive debates.   We replaced kairos, logos, ethos, and pathos of rhetoric.   We rely on authorities to define the topics of the debate and sets the time and place of those debates.   And we filter the authorities to those we agree with the most on a purely emotionally basis.

I recall when social media was presented as a great innovation of the Internet, and where the benefit would be that it would bring the world together into a common consensus based on rational discussions of facts and reasoned arguments.   Instead, social media has exposed its true colors as an instrument to divide us into every smaller groups of tribal loyalties and blind faith in our selected authorities.

Human nature is to seek comfort of company that we find most agreeable to our own perspectives.   Social media makes available a large number of prolific voices who will express their opinions on any topic that comes by their attention.   As a result, we now have the unprecedented ability to find comforting voices who we can rely on to inform us of how to think about anything that may come up.   Given the alternative option of rationally discussion some topic on our own, it is much more appealing to accept the conclusions of authority we selected based on finding them most personally appealing.

This appeal to our most admired authorities defines our spoiler-based culture.   We can save ourselves the time and energy of experiencing and interpreting a first reading of some topic by just getting the spoiler review from our preferred content commentator.

Our descent into this tribalism form of thinking is defining how we address and resolve topics of any form.   As we build stronger bonds with our authorities, we extend their authority to more topics.   Eventually, we’ll defer all but our most personal issues to the pronouncements of our selected authority.   There are countless such authorities.   Eventually there will be countless mutually exclusive tribes.   In my opinion, a very likely eventuality will be that these tribes will no option for conflict resolution outside of violent confrontation.

Social media surprised me by fostering tribalism instead of globalism.   Maybe it will also surprise me by finding some means of peaceful coexistence of competing tribes.   I doubt the latter.   The former was inevitable consequence of human nature.  So too, will be the latter.

Despite that, there is a counter argument.   I think most humans are bored with spoilers.

Part of the rush to be the first to see some show is to see it before they can be exposed to any spoilers.   Hollywood could do a better job of capitalizing on this by making it possible for the largest possible audience for the first day’s viewing of a new picture, for instance.   Perhaps they can offer premium Internet-streaming viewing (perhaps priced higher than cinema ticket prices) for the first weekend.

More generally, I am amazed at the continued if not growing popularity of lotteries.  People buy tickets despite the very poor odds of winning.   I suppose part of the attraction of lotteries (besides the possibility of hitting it big) is that it is inherently spoiler free.   Each week is a new drawing, and there is no guarantee that that drawing will produce any winner.

Similarly, there is the popularity of video gaming including classic games with well known solutions.   These games retain the lack of spoilers at least in terms on whether this particular game play will score higher or conclude quicker than earlier plays.   Spoiler reviews of video game-play does little to satisfy the gamer’s interest in experiencing the game himself.

It has been at least a decade since I have heard of the notion that future theatrical releases will follow the model of video game play with different game-pay variants.  I’m surprised that large movies have not done that yet.   I think that the recent reboot of Star Wars (The Force Awakens, Rogue One, The Last Jedi) each could have been released with different cuts of the same basic material with first-night screens of a number of different cuts leading to different endings or different consequences at the end.  This would result in conflicting spoiler-reviews causing people to return to see the movie again with only a chance probability of seeing a different cut.   The subsequent viewings may even introduce new cuts or new endings.

This would also disrupt the spoiler-review content commentators because their reviews will lack reliability and consistency on second-or-third viewing.  This will increase their likelihood for contradicting themselves or their audience, resulting more more unsubscribes and more churn in general for people to find their reliable tribal voice.

A similar thing can play out in politics.   Where the political messaging changing on a weekly basis, perhaps triggered by nothing more than a new tweet each day.   The resulting reaction to the new information will force the content commentators to express their opinions, and eventually they will also start to contradict themselves or disassociate them from their followers.

If one listens to Scott Adams, one may conclude that our president is doing just that.


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