By the time you read this Walter White will be dead. Then again, maybe not. To be honest I don’t know – I don’t want to know, yet, and that’s the point. But some dolt, most likely in the US, does. And right now, he or she is mashing a 140-character brain-fart torpedo with his or her pudgy digits and pointing it squarely at your Twitter feed.
Spoilers are hardly a new phenomenon. Ever since the invention of the moving picture, people have been seeing the film, wearing the T-shirt and blabbing about the plot twists – just ask the multiplex patrons unfortunate enough to be stuck behind Homer Simpson in a queue to see The Empire Strikes Back. Before, even – since history was first recorded, there was always someone who had got their hands on a preview copy. Like, have you read The Bible? Crazy ending.
However, things have got out of hand. And it’s not just technology that’s to blame – ask any commuters on the Tube earlier this year who had a crucial episode of Game of Thrones, a series whose raison d'être is out-of-nowhere dismemberment, ruined by the grubby old-school printed press. (I would link to this, but if you know the spoiler you’ll know what I’m talking about and if you don’t, trust me, you’ll want to keep it that way.)
But in an age where we can connect with more people than ever at the greasy smear of a smartphone, and TV especially is something that you can dip into when is convenient for you – often several years later – rather than at the original time of broadcast (or, as with Breaking Bad, is shown a day after other territories), the danger of stumbling on a clunker increase exponentially.
There are still communal TV experiences that warrant a hashtag – The X Factor and The Great British Bake Off if you must, but for the more high-minded amongst us, Question Time provides an outlet: the opportunity to besmirch politicians and disregard their policies based purely on that state of their hair.
But there’s a yawning chasm between MasterChef and the likes of The Wire and The Sopranos. The latter is an investment of time in great storytelling, the Dickensian epic of its day – obviously you’ll want to share your thoughts and dissect minute plot details with someone, but it makes sense for that someone to have also seen it and therefore to be able to contribute to the conversation, presuming a conversation is what you want. With a cultural artefact of that magnitude, it can take a while to get around to picking it up.
Until we’ve reached the point when the ending of a show has become common cultural currency, story threads in box sets should be discussed in the manner of conspiracies involving microfilms in Cold War espionage films.
(On a personal note, I still hold it against the guy who told me how Twin Peaks concludes, or doesn’t, some decade-plus on when I was chugging through an imported VHS box set. Yes, that's how old I am.)
The former is something to distract you in the brief window between a day in the office and the grim inevitability of the following day in the office. Fill your boots with Facebook updates about the former. (Although if you’ve chosen to watch MasterChef from its inception and you’re still in the Loyd Grossman years, I won’t tell you how it turns out, but wow! Just wow.)
The trick is knowing the difference.
So there is a grey area – football. As a general rule, international games in tournaments not held in the Far East are fair game, but otherwise results should be kept to yourself – some of us have other things to do in the day at the weekend. Tweets about Alan Shearer’s shirt are fine, though. Shearer’s shirt has already ruined football for everyone.
Like most things in life, it comes down to thinking of others. Just because you know what happens next it doesn’t mean that everyone else does, or wants to right now thank you very much.
Always remember the power that modern technology bestows upon you. And as any-old friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man can tell you, with great power comes great responsibility. You should listen to that guy – he ends up with Mary Jane. Oops.