The butler did it! She dies at the end!
With this summer's glut of blockbuster movies, the danger of "spoilers" has never been higher. Particularly if you live in a town like Silver City that is bereft of movie theaters, and must trek to Deming or Las Cruces or even Tucson to catch X-Men vs. Godzilla, it's almost impossible not to see some spoiler-laden story about a film before you can see the actual film.
Add to this movie madness the surge of cult TV series, like "Game of Thrones," "Fargo" and "The Americans," all of which even the staid New York Times now recaps online almost before the electrons have settled. If you "tape" any of these shows (without, of course, any actual videotape or other historical artifacts being involved) for later viewing, you must be constantly on guard against spoilers. Casual water-cooler conversation must be avoided until your viewing is complete, and social media is an absolute no-no. (Our daughter was traveling recently and didn't reach her TV until two full days after "Game of Thrones" had originally aired; she had to virtually wrap herself in a cocoon. Every time she called us from the road, her conversation was prefaced with "Don't tell me about 'Game of Thrones'!")
The more time passes, the greater the risk. If you work at home as we do and assiduously avert your eyes from any article or blog post containing the title of a favorite show or eagerly anticipated movie, you might make it through a day. Then you need cumin or something at Albertsons and there in the spice aisle, as you squint between "coriander seed" and "curry powder," somebody looking for semolina flour (good luck with that) says to her significant other, "I just can't believe that Count Whoositz turned out to be a vampire on last night's 'Throne of Blood.'" Or some innocent over in sundries who just got back from a weekend in Tucson spills the beans: "Yeah, Avenging Spider-Man was great, especially the end where Aunt May turns into the Rhino and goes off the Brooklyn Bridge. That Sally Field is some actress! D'ya think she'll be back in the sequel?"
You can't un-hear that sort of thing. Cover your ears and go "la-la-la" all you want — getting some pretty strange looks from fellow spice shoppers, by the way — but it's too late. The TV show or movie has been ruined for you.
I wonder, though, what the statute of limitations is on spoilers. How about those classics of literature you were supposed to read in high school or college but somehow skipped by taking "Fundamentals of Kinesiology" instead? Spoiler alert! Madame Bovary swallows arsenic and dies. Spoiler alert! Anna Karenina throws herself under a train. (For future reference, it might be safe to assume that all female title characters in literature kill themselves near the end of the book.)
Sorry, did I just spoil those stories for you?
What about old movies? If you still haven't seen Citizen Kane, it's a huge spoiler to learn that "Rosebud" is his childhood sled, which the departing staff of Kane's Xanadu mansion burns in a basement furnace, thinking it junk, in the final scene. Oops. Sorry about that. Well, that's two hours of your life you just got back — think of it that way!
But Citizen Kane was released in 1941. Surely the statute of limitations for spoilers has expired by now?
What about movies from the 1960s and 1970s? I think if they've already done a remake or reboot, all bets are off. So, yes, the titular planet in Planet of the Apes (1968) turns out to be Earth. There, I said it! Now doesn't the recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes make more sense to you? Same for movies long enough in the tooth to have spawned prequels and/or sequels. In the original "Star Wars" trilogy, Darth Vader turns out to be Luke Skywalker's father, and Luke and Princess Leia are brother and sister, OK? If you didn't know that by now, it really won't matter that much to you, will it? Catch up already!
Even movies from the 1990s and early 2000s, I think, are fair game at this point. The Sixth Sense (1999), with the kid (Haley Joel Osment) who says, "I see dead people"? The child psychologist (Bruce Willis) who's been trying to help him has been dead himself the whole time! What a shocker, huh? Oh, sorry, you recorded that on AMC the other day and were planning to watch it tonight? Maybe you should binge-watch "Breaking Bad" instead, because in the final episode…
Spoilers don't have to spoil a shocking "reveal" to suck the joy and/or suspense out of a story for you. Nobody wants to know in advance whether the romantic couple in a movie will wind up together or not. (In Sleepless in Seattle, yes, Sam and Annie get together. In Anna Karenina, obviously, Anna and Vronsky do not. Love Story, again no.) Does good triumph over evil? (In Star Wars: Episode VI–Return of the Jedi, the answer is yes.) Does the beloved dog or horse die at the end? (Old Yeller, yes. The Black Stallion, no — and the horse wins the race, by the way.)
But we love to talk about these movies and TV shows after we've seen them, and the more surprising or beloved, the more we want to share or compare notes.
So let's agree that after a week from the original airing (which of course usually isn't over the "air" at all any more), any TV show is fair game. You put off catching up with those programs on your DVR at your own risk.
Movies, if you live in Silver City at least, ought to have a much larger "cone of silence." Keep in mind that the Silver City post office has a mail slot devoted just to returning Netflix rentals. Let's agree to keep conversations spoiler-free — unless you're certain both parties have already seen the movie — until one month after the film has come out on Netflix, OK? The rest of you who can go to actual movie theaters without driving an hour or more, just talk among yourselves.
Pondering this Truly Important Question of spoilers in the entertainment world, it occurs to me that it's probably a good thing life, unlike art, doesn't come with spoilers. Would you really want to know the twists and turns life is going to take — especially if you couldn't fix or avoid the bad stuff?
Imagine if you've just had a bouncing baby addition to the family, and then words appear out of nowhere on the maternity-ward wall: "Spoiler alert! Little Jason is going to grow up to be a real handful and one day he's going to crash your beloved 2031 Tesla Elegante. (Oh, and minor spoiler alert: You're going to buy a 2031 Tesla Elegante. It will leak battery fluid onto your garage floor, making a stain you'll never get out.)"
Or you might be merely strolling down the street when the traffic light changes from "Don't Walk" to: "Spoiler alert! Your wife is having an affair with her trainer at the gym and will leave you next Tuesday."
Sure, some things would be nice to know in advance ("Spoiler alert: The stock market is going to plunge on Friday"), but only if you could do something with that knowledge. If the future is as set as the plot of Anna Karenina, you could only watch helplessly as she throws herself in front of the train or your investment portfolio evaporates.
Maybe ignorance is bliss, whether about the ending of that old horror movie you're planning to see tonight or your own future.
By the way, Mrs. Bates is long dead and Norman keeps her corpse in a cellar at the Bates Motel in Psycho. But you knew that already, right? No?
Spoiler alert! It turns out that David A. Fryxell is editor of Desert Exposure.