Seán Moncrieff: Talking about television is a social minefield

Spoilers are a triple mortal sin, most people would prefer you gave them gonorrhoea

Seán Moncrieff: ‘You can go online to declare your emotions about Game of Thrones or Line of Duty or The Good Place to others who really understand what you’re feeling.’

Seán Moncrieff: ‘You can go online to declare your emotions about Game of Thrones or Line of Duty or The Good Place to others who really understand what you’re feeling.’

 

Before the time when people said vinyl, meaning records, people would say records, meaning vinyl. Records were important then, not just for the music they contained, but what they would say about their owner.

A person’s record collection identified them with a tribe or reflected their fabulous taste. Or lack of.

That’s all gone now. Not that music today is any worse, but it’s no longer a symbol of rebellion or individuality. The “generation gap” (look it up, kids) evaporated years ago. Parents and children can like the same bands and it’s not a big deal.

The internet got rid of the notion of heading to a record shop to spot people with the same hairstyle as you; or one you’d like to have. And given that it’s still pretty easy to download music for free, the idea of “investing” in a record is also gone. Instead, you press a button.

These days, the tribes gather around television series instead.

There’s a generation who can’t watch television without a phone in their hand

With a multitude of streaming services and media players and download sites offering an endless number of television programmes, both new and old, there is an awful lot of it available to us. It’s impossible not to feel you’re missing out on the hot new show everyone is talking about. Because there’s always a hot new show everyone is talking about.

So, like records of old, people do have to put thought into what shows they are going to invest their time and money into, and we have to be mindful of these efforts. But it’s tricky to get right. It’s almost inevitable that sooner or later, you’ll shoot off at the mouth and criticise a programme someone else adores. In the cuckflake era, there are few offenses as serious.

Past redemption

Oh, they won’t come right out and say it. Instead there might be a tilt of the head, a slightly hurt look. “Really?” they’ll say, deliberately failing to keep the disappointment out of their tone. It’s when your back is turned that they’ll declare you a snob, or that you’re trying to be cool or are too irretrievably dense to appreciate the majesty of whatever show they have devoted all their evenings to.

I could give examples here, but frankly I’m too scared. It’s a social minefield, and near-impossible to avoid. When speaking of the plots of these shows, you have to assume that your interlocuters know nothing, for fear of giving them a – gasp – spoiler. A spoiler is a triple mortal sin, beyond any forgiveness. Most people would prefer if you’d given them gonorrhoea.

None of this applies to films particularly, with perhaps the exception of all the superhero franchises, where die-hard fans often present themselves as an oppressed minority, their beloved art form dismissed by the critic-industrial complex as long-form nerdgasms for men who still live with their mothers.

That bickering aside, it’s arguable that television has superseded cinema as the pre-eminent form of visual entertainment, often presenting long and complex views of the world that you don’t get as often at the movies. Which is perhaps why people get so exercised about the TV they love and hate.

And there’s the social media element too. Watching television is not a shared experience, like going to a music gig would be. Yet it is a shared experience. You can go online to declare your emotions about Game of Thrones or Line of Duty or The Good Place to others who really understand what you’re feeling. There’s a generation who can’t watch television without a phone in their hand.

You’d think all these screens would have a distancing effect. But it seems to be the opposite. Rather push people away from reality, it seems to create a different sort. It creates tribes, because the internet, and social media particularly, is where the tribes live now.

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