The Death of Surprises

We’ve all seen it in the movies. A castle under siege, the invading forces erecting ladders to breach the walls, as the first wave scrambles up the rungs, knives between their teeth, facing certain death by sword, arrow, or boiling oil. The brave doomed, destined for nameless immortality. I pat them on the back and say, “Go get ’em!”

Me, I’m not a first adopter. And I’m pretty okay with that.

You won’t catch me lining up at the cinema on the first weekend, fighting the crowd and settling for crap seats, even to see a “Wild Things” remake starring Gemma Arterton and Marion Cottilard. I would wait a week until the theater was half-empty (and eventually buy the Blu-Ray).

When it comes to television serials, part of the reason I don’t download them (besides being illegal) is I like the option of watching a complete season at anytime I want. Also, I like to have a notion whether it is worth investing the time I could be productive (which is why I don’t own a PS3) and time has become even more precious now that we have three young boys to take care of.

Mad Men is one series that has garnered rave reviews from reliable sources. Now that Ugly Betty was cancelled after season 4 (unjustly, it was a great show that didn’t find enough of its audience) and Chuck season 3 is still on hold, we had room for another series in the coveted “before bed DVD” time slot.

I’ve only watched two episodes so far, but the hype is completely justified. I love watching a series with well-realized characters that feels like an epic unfolding before your eyes (like The Wire or Lost) rather than bite-sized drivel bloated with time-filling contrivances (i.e. Heroes, 24, every Thai soap opera), and I am sure I will be using this space for future gushing about the genius of Mad Men and its instantly iconic anti-hero Don Draper.

I bring up Mad Men because it illustrates a conflict between the first-adopters and the wait-and-seers. The fourth season has just started in the USA, and because of all the buzz online, I already knew an important plot point before I even started season 1. You could argue “It’s your own fault for not keeping up” or “Maybe you should spend less time online” and I would have to agree with you to some extent, but it doesn’t dismiss what I believe: that our society is becoming less able to keep secrets from itself.

Think about this. Have you seen The Sixth Sense? No? Are you planning on it? Yes? Then skip the next paragraph. It’s a spoiler.

This movie came out in 1999 when the internet was still in its comic sans adolescence. How much of the success of this movie do you think would have been dampened by our TMI society if it had been released today? “Bruce Willis is a ghost” probably would have been a trending topic on Twitter, and you would see parody mash-up videos on YouTube (such as Hitler yelling at his lackeys how angry he was someone already told him “Bruce Willis died in the first scene”).

(If you’ve skipped this paragraph, spoiler ends here. I congratulate you on your restraint and implore you, go see the movie already, will ya?)

In the end, a quality movie or series is entertaining on first sight or after repeat viewings. Shakespeare’s audiences then and now thrive without the element of surprise. I went to see the Matrix in the theater with very low expectations (thanks, Johnny Mnemonic) and was blown away by the reveal at the end of the first act. I doubt I would be able to avoid knowing it now, but it doesn’t hamper my ability to enjoy rewatching it (or The Big Lebowski or Pulp Fiction) dozens of times.

What’s my point? That I like surprises but don’t prefer being the first in line to get them? Look, I don’t call it blabber for nothing. Complaints accepted below in the comments section.


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