An interesting spoiler war
I’ve been swamped with tasks that have prevented me from blogging what I’ve wanted to talk about – the finale of The Wire (which was utterly satisfying, of course), the brief run of Breaking Bad (in which Bryan Cranston becomes the most compelling actor on TV), some post-SCMS thoughts – but I read an interesting exchange I couldn’t resist exploring a bit tonight.
My good friend Michael Newman got into a bit of a scuffle with Vulture, the New York Magazine entertainment blog. Vulture has been blogging with spoiling headlines for TV shows, especially The Wire. Mike ripped them for that. Vulture laid out a manifesto proclaiming that TV shows can be discussed openly shortly after airing, and a chart outlining the statute of limitations for spoiling across media. Mike schooled them further, highlighting how Vulture is not adapting to the realities of TV-as-file, as they’re stuck in TV-as-flow. Vulture responded by mocking Mike and his high-falutingness, which also yielded an interesting debate in the comments thread, mostly among Vulture writers.
I’m not too invested in who is right or wrong in this debate – although I agree with Mike and a number of the Vulture writers in the comments that spoiling in an article headline is simply wrong, with no upside beyond agitating readers. My own interest in spoilers is more of a meta-interest, looking at why people try to consume them (as covered in this essay on Lost spoiler fans), not the ontology of spoilerdom itself.
But what I find particularly interesting in this exchange is the relative perception between the journalists on Vulture and Mike as academic – both seem to see the other side as more of an empowered authority than themselves. The Vulture journalists regard Mike as an elite academic, laying down ‘power-knowledge’ from on high. Mike sees the Vultures as part of a media industrial elite, monetizing eyeballs and fighting for an old-media paradigm. It’s a battle of the underdogs, each claiming less power than their foes.
Being a pop culture academic is an odd hybrid – we are certainly imbued by the power of the academy to profess and pontificate with a degree of authority (and compensated adequately for doing it). Yet we rarely have the ability to connect with either the creators of the works about which we claim expertise or the bulk of viewers who comprise a medium’s audience, especially when compared with entertainment journalists who have broad access and readership. I’ve been reading the coverage of The Wire‘s with both admiration of the many thoughtful and insightful writers covering the TV beat, and jealousy of the access that journalists can get to talk with David Simon and other cast & crew. I want to connect with television creators, but find the gulf between academy and industry too wide to easily cross. And yet these same journalists often call us academics to offer an “expert” quote on the broader historical or social significance of television. So who is the elite here? And what’s the role of the academic who reaches out to a broader audience, not from the lofty heights of the university but via the generic frame of a WordPress or Blogger site? Who has the power-knowledge here?
Filed under: Press, Spoilers, Television | 5 Comments