Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Literacy, Practical Jokes and Mischief
Spoiling: Just Mean Jackassery or Brilliant Culture Jamming?
by Mark Pepper
As the contestants were running onto the stage with visions of overstuffing themselves for glory, one of them quickly flashed a sign to the camera that read: “On July 21st, _______ Dies.” I have omitted the name, of course, cause I’m not going to even get myself into that business. But the name, is the identity of a major character who is being widely reported to kick the bucket in the final Harry Potter novel. Not too many people in the world know at this point if the name on that sign is going to be right; however, it matches the information given out on many spoiler websites right now.
Spoiling is an interesting and somewhat complex phenomenon. If there’s a show or series I’m incredibly into, then I avoid spoilers like the plague. I’ve managed to stay unspoiled for every major event on Lost and am glad to have done so. I got spoiled on a major death in the Runaways comic and I’m still pissed off about that. However, I’ve never gotten too firmly on the Potter bus. I’ve seen the movies and I enjoy them, but I’ve never read a word of the novels. So, with my lackluster love for the series, getting spoiled is not a problem and actually kinda fun to see if they’re going to be right (and to taunt my Potter friends with).
Usually one has to go looking for spoilers. However, there are blogs and other sites that will mention spoilery material that you might not be intentionally looking for. Usually, there’s an unspoken ethical responsibility for the author to announce, hide, or set off the spoiler information in some manner. The Nathan’s Hot Dog Contest is a whole nother can of worms. In many ways, it’s the postmodern update of the good ol fashion naked dude running out on the football field. Nobody watching iron-stomached freaks cram meat products into their mouths would expect to have to guard themselves from spoiler information on Harry Potter. Which, of course, is why the guy did it. He took advantage of national broadcast television and delivered a potentially deadly message to Potter fans.
Before thinking more about the event itself, it’s worth mentioning that Harry Potter is an incredibly unique phenomenon in its own right. In a time of niche markets, diverse tastes, and personalized entertainment, Potter is one of those few “mass” appeal offerings out there. There are very few other things that someone would even bother to try and spoil on national television anymore… perhaps the upcoming winner of an American Idol, but as its popularity wanes, even that gets increasingly hard to imagine. Potter is huge and popular in ways that just don’t make sense in the new media paradigm. Credit to Henry Jenkins for initially discussing this insight and you can read his extended post about it here.
So, jackassery? Of course, there’s a bit of that here. Why seek to potentially spoil something for people (in an unavoidable manner) that is obviously so important to them. Listen, if I was a Potter fan, I’d be pissed. Good ol fashioned mean-spiritedness writ large on national airwaves. On the most base level, there are certainly and simply people who just love throwing a wrench in things for a laugh. Maybe his buddies dared him twenty bucks or something.
Then there’s a far more interesting option… very interesting protest. Though I couldn’t tell you exactly what’s being protested. Maybe the notion of people caring so much about this fictional world and the protester thinking that’s ridiculous. This is possible, but I, of course, could not disagree more with this line of thinking. Maybe it’s something to do with media itself… if not, I’m going to make it so.
New media has obviously given people an access to distribution, relevance, and popularity that has never been available. As great as these conditions are, I’d say that a large majority of people still depend on the networks and traditional televison for their news, entertainment, etc (and part of this is definitely issues of access). So maybe, just maybe, this is a warning to those people. A showing of the cracks in the machine if you will. Anyone who spends a considerable amount of time on the net, anyone who frequents sites of news and entertainment, knows to be on the outlook for this type of thing (hey, we don’t always remain safe and unspoiled, but we’re careful). New media is training a generation of media users who seem more savy, more crafty, more suspicious, and less passive. If it’s still relatively hard to get an original message or creation out on the television airways, these aforementioned traits are still a good way to position oneself towards media itself. So, in some small way, a guy successfully sneaking a huge, culture spoiler onto television brings a new media sentiment to the old. At the same time, it sounds another death knoll for passive and heavily-controlled media outlets, exposing them as potentially porous and capable of punishing you for not changing with the times (whether you really deserve to be or not).
Or . . . the dude was just being a jackass.
Btw, I took the quiz… I’m a Hufflepuff.