Mad Men Spoilers as Class Warfare?

4 Jun

I wrote this several weeks ago now (when the new seasons of everyone’s favorite Quality TV shows were just premiering) and shelved it. But now that it’s season finale time, it feels apt enough to toss out into the world. Admittedly, the title (and perhaps the premise of the post itself) is a bit incendiary, but whatever, spoilers make me cranky.



With the long-awaited premiere of Mad Men’s fifth season on Sunday, we saw the return of a series that, in certain circles at least, has become a major cultural touchstone. For me, the return of Mad Men signaled a surge in one of my social media pet peeves – the TV spoiler. My Twitter stream is now full of plot details that I wish I could un-see.

I noticed a few other people griping about the spoiler phenomenon too – mostly people who don’t subscribe to cable, and thus aren’t able to see Mad Men “live” on Sunday nights. They have to wait until they can see it on a friend’s DVR, or worse, wait months for the series to be released on DVD. The whole social media spoiler phenomenon will likely intensify next weekend, when Game of Thrones begins its second season on HBO. Only those who can afford a premium cable subscription – or who move in the social circles of people who do – will be able to beat the spoilers that are sure to overrun the social media sphere.

Spoilers are a form of conspicuous consumption. They’re a way of showing the world, “Look what I watch.” The underlying message is, of course, “Don’t I have great taste?” A hundred years ago, going to the symphony differentiated you from the masses who filled the vaudeville halls. Now, “quality television” occupies that high-class cultural space. The refined Downton Abbey watchers get to float above the riff-raff who’d rather watch the brutish spectacle of Sunday Night Football. As for those people whose three minimum wage jobs don’t leave them much time for TV or Twitter, well they’re not even on the cultural map. Just like the aristocrats and domestic laborers on Downton, the details of our everyday lives and the conversations in which we can participate are still powerfully shaped by our economic circumstances.

You’ve probably heard of white privilege, and maybe male privilege, but what about media privilege? Privilege is about the tiny, almost unnoticeable advantages that you get in your everyday life, which can be traced back to the social groups in which you belong. A familiar example is a white person having no trouble hailing a cab in New York City. Sure, it’s hard to work up too much sympathy for someone who has the plot of a niche TV show spoiled for them, when, across our country, children of color are regularly being shot and brutalized. But it’s worth pausing to think before you tweet that spoiler – whose experience am I ruining, and is my privilege showing?


2 Responses to “Mad Men Spoilers as Class Warfare?”

  1. Jennifer Lynn Jones June 5, 2012 at 12:05 am #

    Thanks so much for your thought-provoking post. Seems like it got a lot of circulation, and I’ve thought about it off and on throughout the day. One thing that came to mind in terms of my own tweeting practices is that I’m more likely to live tweet a major live event I presume lots of people (especially in my feed) are watching, like the Oscars, as well as those that are less likely to fall into the “quality tv” rubric or ones that I don’t particularly like. Realizing those last two aspects gave me pause, thinking about the class and taste presumptions that are still part of that practice and how I seem to be able to justify spoiling “bad” objects but not “good” ones. I still like the communal nature of live-tweeting, but you’ve definitely given me more to consider about the practice in the future. Thanks again!

    • lauraportwoodstacer June 5, 2012 at 12:26 am #

      Thanks for the comment! I like live-tweeting as well, and I actually like that people are able to connect with each other socially about TV (that’s why I’m a media scholar!). So you’re right, there’s a lot to consider, and it’s surely not as simple as this little provocation sort of made it out to be. But I’m glad it gave you something to think about! I’m going to keep thinking on it too…

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