Jennie Lamere is a 17-year-old computer coder from Nashua, New Hampshire, and the focus of a fascinating article over at Mother Jones. It seems that late last month, Ms. Lamere was the only woman among the 80 competitors at TVnext Hack 2013 in Boston, where programmers and coders were charged with creating apps and programs to enrich the viewing experience. But Lamere won the whole shebang with her Twivo software, which allows users to block mentions of selected TV shows and their characters until they’ve had a chance to watch that DVR-ed episode of Game of Thrones. The whole thing is sort of awesome, a big thumbs-up for developers of both Lamere’s age and sex. And, of course, it is a decisive victory for the Spoiler-Free Rights movement. But does her app go far enough?
After all, it’s one thing to have a Twitter feed that bends to the will of your schedule and personal peccadillos for mass media consumption. But you can’t live your whole life on Twitter. (Can you? Note to self: investigate this further.) You will have to go out into the real world eventually, and unfortunately, you can’t program other people to mute themselves when discussing a TV show you’re not caught up on, or a film you haven’t seen yet. But here are a few tips for making your way through this spoiler-filled world nonetheless:
Know what’s on the way. There’s a new film version of The Great Gatsby, and wouldn’t you know it, some people are writing and talking about the ending. Um, spoiler alert? But when you raise that concern, they’ll raise their eyebrows in superiority and give you a bunch of poppycock about it being “an 88-year-old book that everybody read in high school.” (Not everybody.) You can’t talk these spoiler-sports out of this stuff, so beat them at their own game: the average movie takes a good year or so minimum to go from production to release. So be aware of the book-to-movie adaptations in the pipeline, and read them in advance. That’ll show ‘em. But aside from those upcoming film notices…
Don’t read entertainment journalism. Or reviews or recaps. Or watch trailers. If you really want to approach every television show or film that strikes your fancy from a totally fresh headspace, then you’re going to have to put down the Entertainment Weekly, click away from Rotten Tomatoes, and steer clear of YouTube. Profiles and reviews love to spill as much of the plot as possible, and we all know trailers give the whole damn movie away. Sure, some entertainment writers take care to drop in those SPOILER WARNINGs, and some keep their plot details brief, but how can you know who to trust? And how many things will you have to have ruined before finding the commentators whose definitions of spoiler-age match up to yours? Better to play it safe, and ignore them all. (Side note: some people might say you can always go back and read this stuff after you’ve seen the movie or show in question, but to hell with that — in looking for a days- or months-old review or recap, you’re bound to accidentally see something that will spoil something else you haven’t seen yet.)
Put your friends On Notice™. Ms. Lamere’s kudos for her inventive Twitter hack are well-earned. But where are the accolades (and funding, as long as we’re talking about it) for my ingenious but as yet unavailable On Notice™ app? Here’s how it works: when you decide you’re going to go see an upcoming movie, you use the in-app Web browser to go to IMDb and “flag” the title. On Notice™ then sends an automated email to all of your contacts, warning them that you’re planning to see that movie and it should thus not be discussed with you, either in person, via email, or on social media, until they receive notification otherwise. Then, once you get around to seeing said movie — be it over opening weekend, later in release, on Netflix, during a Sunday afternoon TNT airing, whatever — you remove the title’s IMDB “flag” and a follow-up email is sent to your contacts, informing them that you have now seen the film in question, and it may be discussed freely in your tangible or virtual presence. The process is similar with the shows you’re watching on a weekly basis: the warning email is sent out after every new episode airs, and you can then clear your On Notice™ queue once you finally get a goddamn Sunday free to catch up on Scandal, for Chrissakes. But wait, you might think, wouldn’t this unending stream of firmly worded emails alienate friends, family, and colleagues? Perhaps. But isn’t that a small price to pay for watching what you want at your pace?
Buy a good set of noise-canceling headphones. As effective as On Notice™ would be (once it’s funded — please email me for PayPal information), its reach is unfortunately limited to people you know personally (for now). What about the people you encounter on the street, in elevators, on the subway, and in restaurants? How are they to know what you’re watching and not watching, and adjust their conversations accordingly? Unfortunately, they can’t (for now). So get yourself a good set of noise-canceling headphones, allowing you to block out any and all possibly spoiler-filled chatter around you and retreat further into your own head. And good news: the On Notice™ app also includes an unlimited stream of white noise, so that in your hours spent listening to things on your phone instead of other human beings, you don’t accidentally listen to a podcast that spoils something you haven’t yet watched. But what if I can’t wear headphones at work, you might ask? Well, here’s where we have to get into some tough love.
Quit your job. Even if you email them, even if you issue uncomfortably loud SPOILER WARNINGs from your desk/wait station/grill/operating table/judge’s chambers, the people you work with can’t be relied upon to refrain from discussion of last night’s Mad Men. So it might be time to really think about how committed you are to avoiding spoilers, and choose to work from home. Not all jobs will let you do so, so this may mean walking away from your work and tightening that belt for a bit. But don’t worry: the unmonitored comments sections of non-entertainment websites say there are all kinds of lucrative work-from-home possibilities out there. And with all that free time, you can work through some of those shows you haven’t made it to yet. That box set of The Shield isn’t gonna watch itself
Move away from well-populated areas. Now that you’re working from home, you will find that, like it or not, you still have to leave it for a few basic necessities, like food and medicine and toilet paper. It’s in moments like this that living in a metropolitan area can get really troublesome — even if you’ve got on your noise-canceling headphones, those split seconds before you put them in, interactions with retail clerks, conversations with your doctor, etc. can bleed into a discussion about who died on this week’s Downton Abbey in a flash. Maybe it’s time to consider that cabin in the woods you’ve always wanted to live in, far from all of these other people and their unsolicited information about popular culture?
Have no conversations, interact with no one, read nothing, just watch your TV and movies in solitude. No, really, it can be done. You can get the Internet out there. Think about it. Sure, you’ll get some Unabomber jokes. But he was a pretty sensible guy, it sounds like — you see, after hearing all those jokes, I picked up a book about him. Fascinating stuff! Not sure how it turns out, though. Don’t spoil it for me!