The rise of spoof and parody films demonstrate how distinct a template the majority of the genres in the medium are now run by, whether it be the Western's lassoing of the runaway bad guy or horror's scary murderer turning out to be the seemingly friendly neighbour all along.
It’s this kind of genre convention that has lead to the rise of our hatred for spoilers and those who carry them. We all know these templates and what we expect to see in a certain genre, and because of this, the biggest thrills available come not just when a scriptwriter disobeys the rulebook, but when he rams a couple of rulebooks together, chucks out the bits he doesn't like and is left with a mongrel the world has never seen before but is dying to meet.
We're not talking about the villain not being the guy you first expected here. We're talking about a film or a series being flipped on its head, ala The Red Wedding in Game of Thrones or the dramatic ending to Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige.
Before the Naughties, the world of film and television had still been growing, still shifting through a pile of untouched material, but the sequalitis now engrossing Hollywood shows us that the days of original content are coming to a close. Look at recent popular television programming: The BBC’s The Musketeers and Atlantis, Game of Thrones, House of Cards. There is an array of adaptations on offer – not that they are all bad – that have become the favourite shows of the nation.
The big thrill of film from previous generations came in the originality of the story; Ridley Scott’s Alien, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective. Now there have been more sci-fi monster and gangster movies than you can shake a stick at, and the demise of the writer in favour of commercial success – another article for another time – has ensured that the likes of The Singing Detective are no longer commissioned. Where they once were aired, adaptations now live. Whereas they once thrilled through escapism and discovery, modern work is now only able to truly engross the viewer through radical plot twists.
What this all means is that when something original comes along, a truly innovative and brilliant piece of scriptwriting that shocks the audience, those who are watching it receive a wonderful euphoria where they experience something very rare – a moment of media that is an utterly erratic surprise. It is this kind of shock that has seen the rise of unpredictable programming to award status, the likes of Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones; programmes which install through their plotlines the same sort of wonder that was previously achieved through grandeur and fantasy before these two factors became taken for granted by the viewer.
These are the twists that fans pine for, that they’ll use torrents to get a hold of and sneak into cinemas to see, and if the people are denied their chance to experience these twists first hand, they turn into a right old bloodthirsty mob.
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There I was, getting ready to watch the season finale of Downton Abbey - yes, the spoiler piece is using Downton Abbey as an example - when I made the poorly judged decision to quickly nip onto Twitter.
It was roughly an hour since the climax of the third series of Downton - it's a fucking good show right, just drop it - had aired, and so the audience had of course taken to the internet to vent their surprise about the twist that I am, of course, not going to mention directly.
Nevertheless, I was working under the understanding that any spoiler related posts launched on Twitter or Facebook had to carry some sort of capitalised branding ahead of their big reveal; the likes of *SPOILER ALERT*, or *LOOK AWAY, I'M A GIANT TOOL*, but, alas, mingled in amongst all the vague tweets about how shocked and upset people were by said plot twist, one singular 140 character reveal shouted out: "I can't believe ****** just ******ed. Did not see that coming." But there were no stars in that status. Just cold, cold spoilers.
‘You say you didn’t see that coming Twitter friend?’ was my first immediate thought. ‘Well guess what? Neither did I. But now I do. And now there's no point in me watching the fucking episode.’
The bugger even had the audacity to favourite a tweet about spoilers I made shortly after. I still don’t know to this day if he was aware of the irony involved.
Now, I am a firm believer that there are certain time limits in which spoilers can and cannot be unveiled in a public setting. For example, if the show came out over a year ago, or if it's an older movie, then you should be allowed to chat away about the surprises that took place on all the social networking platforms you wish. After all, if Season One of 24 was really that important to the parties involved, they should have watched it in 2001 to find out that it was actually Nina that was the mole the whole time – seriously, you can’t get mad about that, it’s been 13 years.
On the other side of course, there is no way that people should be revealing plot twists on Twitter less than 24 hours after it happened. Give it at least a week. At least. And even then, you've got to put out a feeler post first - give us a warning of your horror to come.
Admittedly, the Downton episode was partly my fault. Just as the learned viewer possessing all knowledge of the plot twist must abide by a gentleman’s code of honour, the modern unspoiled viewer can certainly help their chances by avoiding all social media.
Don’t go on Twitter for a start. People shouldn’t post immediate spoilers, but they do. And almost always it comes with 140 characters and a hashtag.
Don’t type characters names into Google search bars either – Google will predict the rest of the sentence, and if that character has been involved in a plot twist, it’s more than likely to be given away.
Finally, do not be a spoiler yourself. You will only succeed in striking up an army of soldiers dedicated to avenging your shocking ignorance. One day, for instance, I will find out which other programmes my Downton-spoiling fiend is friendly with, and ruin them all. One by one. Spoiler by spoiler.
So, world, what you need to do is to stick to these rules from now on. If you don't, it may just put an end to the idiom ‘don't shoot the messenger’, because there are so few truly shocking film and TV shows out there anymore that the public needs those rare plot twists to keep the thrill factor going and stop the whole medium falling slave to expectations.
If any messenger ruins that for us, he deserves to be shot.
Oh, and by the way, Bruce Willis is dead the whole time in The Sixth Sense. Come on now. It’s been 15 years.