8/3/16: litigation-free spoilers for the walking dead, season seven

I find it absurd that, according to Entertainment Weekly, AMC has “threatened litigation” against a fan site that was seeking to post spoilers about the cliffhanger. If we’re talking screenshots from a leaked episode, excerpts from a stolen script, or images from the closed set, then I can understand the need to protect their intellectual property. But if we’re simply talking about speculating–whether it’s informed by on-set leaks or not–then there seems, to me, to be no harm in it. Let’s not forget that AMC is the network responsible for popularizing post-show talkback shows, and while theirs might be “official,” they don’t have a right to dictate how fans of the show go about discussing what may have happened. The showrunner, Scott Gimple, suggests that this is to “preserve the audience’s experience,” and yet there are plenty of people who watch things despite having had them spoiled–take, for instance, anybody who watches the film adaptation of a popular book. Creators don’t get to determine what the audience experience is, and the more they seek to reduce our participation, the likelier they are to face blowback or rebellion–the water-cooler chatter is what made Lost popular, not the other way around.

So, out of fear, respect, and defiance, here’s a list of spoilers for the upcoming season that I’d just like to see them try to sue me for.

  1. We learn that Negan’s barbed-wire-wrapped bat is nicknamed Rosebud, after a childhood sled that his mother gave him, and which represents the more innocent time that he longs for, even though it cuts into him the harder he grasps at it.

  2. It is revealed that Daryl sees dead people. The twist is that he’s actually not the only person who can see them.
  3. Glenn doesn’t really exist; it’s just been Maggie the whole time. She made him up so that she could better cope with the zombified commercial world around her.
  4. Rick discovers the severed head of the Statue of Liberty and realizes they’re actually on Earth. But in an autistic child’s snowglobe. On an island. And he’s Carl’s father.
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Lightning Round! Or, The Pitch Meeting I Never Had

It’s been a busy week, and rather than let these story scraps mummify my computer in post-it notes, here are some quick takes on things I’ve been reading about:

First off, I had no idea what the “Steven Tyler Act” was, but it’s already dying. According to the Associated Press’s reporting on the subject, this was a “celebrity privacy bill in Hawaii.” Just shooting from the gut here, but even though I find paparazzi fairly distasteful, this proposed legislation seems inane. The idea of using public funds (and time) to protect just a small percentage of the public seems ridiculous to me; while it’s true that they’re more likely to be surreptitiously shot than your average Joe, I see no need for the distinction here. You get an act like this passed by making it a general privacy bill, in which we’re all protected from nosy long-range cameras. (In the Facebook age, it’s not unreasonable to expect that there are pictures we wouldn’t want leaked of us, say, stumbling out of a bar.) And sure enough, AP reports that the bill is failing on those grounds, with people like Rep. Angus McKelvey noting that “there are enough legal avenues available to them [celebrities], including taking the issue to court because privacy is protected in the Hawaii constitution.” Sure enough, Lifehacker’s got a fairly comprehensive report on your rights to take and sell photographs: in general, public spaces are fair game, unless you’re shooting a private space from a public space, or if the photographs you’re taking are compromising someone’s basic privacy — for instance, zooming in to capture phone numbers on their cell phones or account numbers in a checkbook. Celebrities, if you really want to go after the paparazzi, you ought to be suing over someone’s right to sell (and profit) off of your image — which for some reason is illegal in a commercial sense (e.g., I can’t shoot a candid picture of Ryan Gosling and sell it to Pepsi) but not in a tabloid sense. Continue reading

Response: Tanner Stransky’s “Pretty Little Phenom”

A few weeks back, I wrote an opinion piece for CNN.com about the pleasures of binge-watching, but I realize that I may have neglected a different type of viewing experience, the weekly adrenaline-shot, water-cooler-fodder programming that runs heavy on plot and light on character. I don’t know that I can necessarily wait until the end of a season to watch something like Scandal or The Vampire Diaries, and that’s certainly true of Pretty Little Liars: in fact, in an attempt to impress a girl who’d recommended it, I caught up on the whole first season before realizing that I’d essentially watched the same episode twenty-two times in a row. The endless cliffhangers, one after another, dissolved into a diminishing series of thrills; the bubbly dialogue, left out in the open for nearly sixteen hours straight, quickly went flat. A plausible, richly detailed framework like David Simon’s Treme or David Milch’s Deadwood not only held up to marathon sessions, but benefited from it. The exaggerated emotions and tangled plotting of Revenge weren’t nearly as effective when taken in bulk, although by favoring relatively brief arcs as opposed to season-long narratives, the show managed to avoid feeling overly repetitive.

Pretty Little Liars seems to understand its own ephemeral nature; Stranksy compares its Twitter-heavy presence largely to reality competitors like Jersey Shore and The X Factor, programming that holds little appeal in syndication and is more of a cultural “experience it alongside the rest of us, then forget about it” — the one-night-stand of television programming, or, if you’re feeling more forgiving, a predictable event, like the dropping of the ball in Times Square that nonetheless gets millions of eyes to tune in to each yearly “episode.” ABC Family’s vice president of marketing, Danielle Mullin, goes on record as calling this an appointment-television strategy that plays to the insecurities of a younger, more insecure, and always-connected Internet generation: “FOMO, or fear of missing out.” She attempts to course correct by saying that it’s a “collective conversation, which our viewers really love to be a part of,” but how much of this is actually a conversation as opposed to a peer-pressuring lecture, in which failure to tune in will result in your friends dropping you from their conversation. I recently quoted an article by Jennifer Senior about high-school students in search of identity, and this sort of programming feels somewhat predatory. Every network obviously wants people to watch, since that justifies their advertising rates, or promotes their DVD sales and syndication deals, but you don’t see Justified attempting to strong-arm viewers into watching live. It trusts that you’ll get there at your own pace. Even The CW, whose slogan is “TV Now,” and which runs properties similar to the pretty little trash on ABC Family (like The Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl which are also based on Alloy Entertainment series), doesn’t appear to stoop so low — yes, it panders with programming like Arrow by having lead actor Stephen Amell so often go shirtless, but it doesn’t insist that you’ll be missing out if you don’t watch immediately. You can let those abs accumulate on your DVR: they’re not going anywhere.

Don’t get me wrong: I think a more interactive form of watching television is brilliant, and the recent promises for, say, the PS4 show that the future is aiming for a more communal experience, even out of the isolation of your studio apartment. If watching Pretty Little Liars helps you connect with people, or get a second date, great. If voting for a competitor on The Voice or seeing your tweet get reposted at the bottom of the screen makes you feel more invested in the experience, terrific. The majority of friends I made at my first job out of college were people who liked to discuss last night’s episode of Lost. Hell, I literally write essays/rants/blogs on things that I watched/experienced and would like to share with others on a regular basis. I just don’t like feeling as if I need to watch something — at least, not so blatantly, so neatly packaged in a FOMO shell. After all, when I was in high school, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was tacitly understood to be necessary viewing, unless you liked having everything spoiled for you the next day. Then again, the difference may be as subjectively simple as the levels of quality: Buffy was surprisingly experimental in narrative formats and tonal quality, whereas Pretty Little Liars is a meticulously packaged Big Mac, resorting to trickery and artificial flavor-enhancers to retain its viewers. “We’re breaking through the clutter of television and standing out,” boasts Mullin. Sure, but as we all know, you can dress a pig in lipstick (and allow it to tweet): it’s still just a goddamn pig.

(Stransky’s article, which I’ve quoted from above, can be found in Entertainment Weekly, March 1, 2013.)

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