A spoiler-free look at when a spoiler isn't a spoiler anymore
(Spoiler warning: While this story doesn't contain spoilers, it does disclose, right from the headline, that there are things to be spoiled. Sorry.)
No less than the president of the United States has asked us not to spoil anything about the second season of “House of Cards.”
But it might have helped if he'd set a time limit.
“No spoilers, please,” the commander-in-chief tweeted Friday, as the second season was released all at once. The executive order was necessary because with everyone watching at his or her own pace, only human decency dictates who reveals what to whom.
Some people already know (spoiler alert, kind of?) that something big happens in the first episode. Some people just found out. Sorry.
Or are we sorry? There's a case to be made that anyone who cares about “House of Cards” could have reasonably managed to watch at least the first episode over the long President's Day weekend. It's not up to the entire Internet to protect you. Do spoilers expire after a week? A month? A season?
Some online outlets didn't even wait a few hours.
Hollywood Life ran a headline by 11:29 a.m. ET Friday not only saying what happened generally, but saying in online search terms what happened exactly. Any West Coasters who groggily saw the story at 8:29 PT got a big secret spoiled. And with all due respect to Hollywood Life, the site's description of the event didn't exactly capture the power of the moment on the show.
Slate dropped a big hint in another Friday morning headline. The top of the story said “MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT,” but if you saw the headline, you had a guess what was coming.
Yes, Slate and Hollywood Life will have an advantage in the search term fight when people begin Googling specifics. But is it worth it?
Netflix did a remarkably good job of locking down the big secret until Friday, requiring TV critics to sign extremely detailed waivers. It worked. No one ruined anything.
But now the show is out in the world, be careful who you talk to or follow on Twitter. As Portlandia once illustrated, our watch-what-you-want-when-you-want landscape means everyone is watching everything at different times. To have a conversation about TV, you need to start by having everyone tell you every episode of every show they've ever seen.
I overheard the following too-loud conversation in a coffee shop last night:
Lady: I'm watching “House of Cards.”
Guy: No spoilers!
Lady: I won't. Especially about the first episode.
Guy: But now you've already changed my viewing experience by making me anticipate something big in the first episode.
She also dropped a minor spoiler on anyone within earshot. Is it okay to interrupt a strangers’ conversation to say, “Excuse me — no spoilers!”
Maybe the solution is for all of us to bunker down and watch TV in isolation, not sharing any thoughts with anyone. But that doesn't sound like much fun, does it?
Also, President Obama: Can we talk about the Red Wedding yet?
Watch the “Portlandia” spoilers sketch: