Friday, March 19, 2010

On Spoilers or: How the Most Sensitive Person In The Room Finally Won (and how that all pertains to season six of Lost)

So, it's been, what, four years? Did ya miss me?

Yeah, me neither.

Anyway, I took a nice long break because I actually thought I had found a job where I could write for a living. Seemed real enough for a while--there were paychecks and everything--but it was more ephemeral than I realized, and then it was gone.

For a while there, I started hijacking other people's blogs, writing voluminous comments at the end of other people's creative works---attempting to get my write-on by glomming onto other people's hard work (well, I guess writing some shit and hitting "publish post" ain't really hard work, but you get my meaning).

Eventually I realized that I should just get off my butt and start hitting "publish post" on my own blog. Maybe no one will read it, but who the hell is reading my comments over at EW, The Huffington Post (which I found out is not a site devoted to legalizing weed, much to my surprise), The Watcher, or Zap2It anyway? It's not like I was going to be able to build my own cult following there. And what is online writing good for anyway if you cannot assemble an army of zealots capable of storming the gates (either physically or metaphysically) of whatever site, corporation, politician, or celebrity who has put the bug up your ass this week?

So, I'm back, and I am talking about spoilers, baby. That is the topic that has put the bug up my ass this week. And is it not fitting that something so trivial is what finally motivated me to post here again? For isn't obsession with the trivial not the Internet Incarnate?

Well, that and selling shit. And porn. Lots and lots of porn (apparently, or so I have heard).

So, I was over on Zap2It, perusing Ryan McGee's most recent Lost blog, which is one of the more civilized and accepting message boards I have thus far found, and I made a boo-boo. In discussing the latest episode of Lost, Recon, I started blathering on and on and on (and on) about Stephen King's The Dark Tower, one of my favorite stories of all time, and one which also just happens to be perhaps the single greatest literary influence on at least the style Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have used to craft Lost. The parallels between their work and Stephen King's run fast and thick, and they are there to be seen in everything from the occasional little detail ("look, the heroin junkie and his preggers---and soon to develop a split personality---girlfriend are pushing a wheelchair across a beach") to the mish-mash of styles with which they tell their tale (action/adventure one week, rom-com the next week, family drama the week after that, spaghetti western whenever they feel like it, and heaping doses of flat out comedy at any time) to the grand themes that are embedded most deeply into the show (uhhhh. . . pride goeth before the fall, anyone?).

Anyway (and if I keep this up regularly, you will find I say "anyway" a whole hell of a lot), in discussing this final season of Lost I turned to the final book of The Dark Tower series. I wanted to use that book to make a point about something I thought Ryan McGee was getting too hung up upon (happy endings) and because I thought it might provide a road map to interpreting whatever-the-fuck is this new Sideways World that Lost has shown us this season. You see, in the final book of The Dark Tower series there is also a Sideways World, and I think that alternate universe, unveiled by Stephen King at the end of The Dark Tower, has a lot of resonance with the alt-verse we are currently seeing on Lost. And, most importantly, when it comes to happy endings, I wanted to point out that in the final Dark Tower book, Stephen King kills fucking everyone.

Well, not everyone. Suze lives, and she gets a fairly happy ending. And Roland lives, sort of, but he gets a decidedly unhappy (albeit slightly hopeful) ending. But everyone else you love dies an ugly, brutal, unfair, heartrending, make-you-close-the-book-and-cry-for-a-fucking-hour-before-you-can-continue-reading-on death from Hell. And then after he kills fucking everyone and sends Suze off to the Sideways World and her semi-happy ending, King even goes so far as to step out from behind the curtain and beg you, the reader, to stop reading now if you don't want to spend the rest of your life cursing his name and hoping he gets plowed over by another douche bag in a minivan (assuming Oy's death didn't already drive you to that mindset already).

There was still a little bit of story to go at that point, but King tried to tell us that, at that point, the real story he'd been spinning for us for over thirty years was essentially finished, and that if you were hoping for a happy ending, this spot right here was now as happy as it was ever gonna be. I'm paraphrasing now, but what he was saying was do not go any farther if you don't want any more heartbreak or despair, because I, Stephen King, am ultimately in the business of semi-hopeful heartbreak and despair. Good may triumph over Evil in the end, but shit don't come free. There is always a price to be paid.

Or, as one Christian Shepherd so aptly put it, "That's why they call it sacrifice."

Basically, Stephen King was showing himself to be a seer. He saw where the world was going, and he knew that people were beginning to take a wholly unrealistic and semi-psychotic ownership in the fiction they consumed. He knew about wrath, as it was his stock in trade, and he didn't want to have to experience any more of it coming his way than was completely unavoidable. So, before moving on to the final chapter of his decades in the making tale, he first took the time to give those certain clueless readers---those who had made it nearly to the end his epic story without still quite understanding it---a far more specific warning of what was to come. He basically said, "Hey, Chuckleheads, stop now or forever hold your fucking peace."

In other words, he was being kind. And he was being kinder than I ever would have thought to be, because I would not have cared a tinker's damn for those who had managed to read that far and yet were still deluding themselves into thinking that Glinda the Good Witch was going to show up at the end and fix everything (in which case, I would have stepped out from behind the curtain to say fuck you for being so naive, and why don't you go play in traffic before you accidentally procreate).

Wait---wasn't this supposed to be about spoilers?

OK, what are spoilers? To me, a spoiler is a detail about a book, a film, or a television show that has not yet been released to the general public. So, advanced word about what happens next week on Lost is a spoiler; while a 10,000-word treatise on what happened on Lost last night is not a spoiler (and Jeff Jensen thanks God for that every single night). Spoilers literally turn into non-spoilers overnight. They are the Cinderella's coach of literature and entertainment; only in reverse. One minute they are this ugly, ungainly, mean spirited, impatient little thing; then the next minute they are as harmless as a human Hufflepuff.

Now, I hate spoilers. And they are usually posted by cretinous little people who are so dissatisfied with their lives that they have a pathological need to stop others from feeling any of the joy or wonder they are unable to feel. These people used to be called "reporters," and, in the pre-Internet world, the very evil and joyless ones would very occasionally pop up in the pages of some magazine or newspaper and spoil things just to draw eyeballs to their publication. It didn't happen often, because at that time being able to write for the masses on any given topic was considered a plum position, and playing with spoilers was playing with fire. The appearance of spoilers back then were so rare in fact that the term "spoiler" hadn't really even been invented yet; or at least had not yet fallen into popular usage.

But in the age of the Super Information Highway to Hell, we are all now able to write for the masses. Me, you and the illiterate ape down the street can put things out for public consumption which can be seen by literally ten billion eyeballs before breakfast. Once this new age became a reality, the apes down the street found themselves in a position they never would have been able to attain previously---back in the world when he or she actually would have had to earn it---and so now if they came across a bit of info that no one else knew (also easier than ever in this age), they could put it out there in boldfaced, 36-point type for all to see, causing us to rue the power of the illiterate ape, and thus allowing the apes to spend their time masturbating less and typing more.

Eventually, the practice of spoiling became more and more regulated. The trolls who did the spoiling were shunned, and the technology became available to ban these people's IP addresses from any site where they had practiced spoilage without permission or conscience. Spoilers were more and more being relegated to specific spoiler sites, where people with no patience or imagination could ruin things for each other while playing in their own feces without stinking up the Internet for the rest of us.

And thus, order was restored. For a little while.

Eventually, however, the other side of the spoiler spectrum begin to feel their balls dropping, and thus the definition of a "spoiler" was changed from "anything that has not yet been released and made available to the general public" to "anything I haven't personally read or watched," with the "I" in question now apparently meaning---to some people---all 7 billion people on the planet.

This new group of spoilerphobes have become so entrenched and belligerent that they are now scaring the bejesus out of anyone who dares to write about anything---no matter how innocuous and/or ancient---without using the most convoluted circumspection, or without posting giant and multiple SPOILER WARNINGS all over their prose.

The simplest of articles must now come with more caveats and cautions than does a pack of cigarettes in Canada.

And so we bring this long, rambling diatribe back to where we started, with me writing about The Dark Tower and Lost on Ryan McGee's Zap2It board. I want to make it clear that I find Ryan McGee's blog to be a refreshing and interesting place to be. His output is both prodigious and clear-eyed, and the decorum on his board is a refreshing change of pace from the troll-laden outposts that now seem to dominate the Internet. Every week someone in the comment section writes something that makes me laugh, makes me think, and makes me glad to be involved in the discussions that follow Ryan's articles. People compliment each others' comments frequently, and they diss each other rarely (if ever, as, while I was writing this piece, I could not recall ever seeing a single instance of real disrespect in Ryan's comments section).

I was unfortunately reminded of the way spoilerphobia has zoomed out of control, however, when I made my attempt to use the final Dark Tower book to illustrate my points in a recent comment. I don't blame Ryan McGee, as he has to do whatever is necessary in order to keep his board civil and well attended, but I do blame all of us. The term "Me Generation" was taken and retired long ago, but I am now thinking that it was a term far ahead of its time, as we seem to be living in an increasingly "Me World" now---one that is fed and watered by the miracle of instant mass communication by and between everyone everywhere---and so Ryan felt it necessary to edit my comment, removing all the Dark Tower references, for fear of offending someone who had not yet read this nearly decade old book that capped off a 40-year old series. Someone, somewhere, some day may want to read that series, and so Ryan did not want to risk that same wrath that Stephen King saw on the horizon by letting my post in his comment section spoil the fact that nearly every-fucking-body dies by the end of the King's story. Ryan was being prudent, and I don't blame him. I apologized to him, although with a fair dose of snark thrown in (because I had no idea that spoilage could now go that far back in time), and I promised that I would never again bring up the Dark Tower, nor any other literary reference that Lost has name checked along the way. I told him it sadden me to have to do so, but that it was his blog, his rules, and I would obviously respect them.

And I will. Zap2It's Lost blog is Ryan McGee's world, and a guest should always mind the rules so long as he wants to stay at his host's party. I will go back, and I will mind my P's and Q's, and I hope that I don't accidentally step out of line again. I have my own forum here to shout whatever I please, so there is no need for me to worry about whether or not I can say whatever I please on someone else's forum.

Nor do I don't intend to shun his blog, as it is far too good to ignore, and the community there is far too open and kind for me to ever want to leave so long as I still want to engage in some fun discussion of what is perhaps my favorite television show of all time.

But it does make me sad to see the "Me World" explosion continue unabated and unchallenged. It does bother me that literary discussion should be stifled anywhere under the guise of spoilerphobia run wild. I wondered where it would stop? I asked Ryan if I should refrain from "spoiling" the endings to Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, Catch-22, The Fountainhead, and any number of the other elderly texts which Lost has encouraged us to check out and discuss over the years. I was being a tad petulant, so Ryan rightly ignored my snarky inquiry, but I do think posing the question here is valid.

At what point anymore is it safe to speak in public about something that happened long ago? Should I keep the final book of The Bible a secret, as Revelations (not to mention The Passion, as Jeff Jensen has so eloquently noted over on clearly is being referenced and paralleled, to some extent, by Lindelof and Cuse in their own epic story? And what about The Odyssey, which is another story that has had a heavy influence on Lost? Homer wrote his epic tale nearly 3000 years ago, so is it now safe for me to reveal that Ulysses' story ended with him doomed to continue wandering for literally God knows how long?

Sort of a like a certain Gunslinger I might mention. If I wanted to spoil things for you, anyway.


  1. Hey, just wanted to say that you make perfect sense with this post. People generally don't peruse these kinds of blogs unless they're looking for deeper conversation about the show. I'm always reading Ryan's stuff, Maureen's stuff, and now your stuff, looking for similar-minded people who enjoy Lost and want to talk about it at a deeper level than your usual Joe Blow. I'm well aware that there may be "spoilers" in the blogs I read. But really? No. Because no one knows how this thing is going to end. So if you want to wax poetic about the similarities between Lost and the Gunslinger, go for it. Just because parts of Lost feel inspired by King's book, doesn't mean it's going to take the exact same narrative path. Anyone who got upset with you for discussing the conclusion of King's epic needs to grow a thicker skin. Or stop reading Lost blogs.

  2. To be fair, Will, no one got upset. That's why I like Ryan's world over there. Not a lot of anger or derision, if any. He just didn't want me spilling the Dark Tower conclusion, and it took me aback since I had always known him to encourage theorizing based on the books that Lost has explicitly told us are major influences. But no one got upset at me in the slightest. I went off on this tear simply because I have my own hot spot when it comes to people who don't want old shit spoiled. If you don't want to be spoiled about something that was written 7-8 years ago, then don't go anywhere it may be discussed.

    A little ironic of me, since I find people who post actual spoilers to be despicable. I'm a little like Goldilocks that way; not too hot, not too cold. I need things just right. But maybe what I just needed was to create and inflame a bug up my butt in order to get me working on the blog again.

    As for DT and Lost, I see Lost blazing it's own narrative path, inspired by others, but it's own unique thing. It's own extremely unique thing. (Wait, can you modify the word "unique"?) I do, however, believe that Dalrton have the same thick skin Stephen King does, and I think they share an identical desire to bring meaning to sacrifice. If you sacrifice and then get off the hook later, then it really isn't sacrifice. And people's inability to deal with a dead John Locke, let alone a dead Sayid and/or Claire, just strikes me as the literary equivalent to the speak no, hear no, see no monkeys. I think those characters are dead until proven otherwise, rather than vice-versa.

    Not saying I am not open to the possibility of a happy ending all around, because I like to have an open mind, but Cuse and Lindelof will need to write long into the night in order to get me to buy it.