Get your spoilers out of my face, internet

The last line of defence against spoilers. ‘La la la can’t see you can’t hear you, la la la la la’.

I saw a Star Wars spoiler today. Well, some Star Wars conjecture at the least, but in a way that’s still a spoiler.

I never seek out spoilers. The clue is in the name. They spoil the narrative, and a lot of hard work on behalf of the writers, filmmakers and editors in crafting a story that is fresh and exciting until the end is wasted.

For the same reason, I don’t go in for the whole wildly speculating about a story thing that many fans do. For instance, if you look on YouTube, you can find videos half an hour long dissecting the latest movie trailers to explain all the Easter eggs, references, and the potential significance of certain aspects.

I like to go into the cinema, or watch an episode of a TV show, or open a book, without preconceptions. Sometimes I even find the blurbs on the back of books and Blu-Ray cases to be too much of a primer.

So, naturally, I was very annoyed to have unwittingly stumbled upon what may or may not turn out to be a spoiler for the new, new, Star Wars trilogy.

And how did this happen, I hear you ask. Had I typed ‘really big Star Wars spoilers’ into Google? Was I attending the Day 3 Frustrating Know-It-All panel at StaWaSpoilCon17? Had I snuck into the scriptwriter’s house disguised as a watercooler? No.

My only mistake was to be on a newspaper website. Yep, they put the spoiler right in the article headline. I wasn’t even looking at an article related to film, entertainment or culture, so spoiling a Star Wars film I won’t get to watch for another nine months was very far from being at the fore of my mind. In fact, it was behind ‘disprove Bigfoot’.

The spoiler was right in the article headline. It was just sat there in plain sight, as comfortable and confident as a flasher at a nudist beach.

It was hard enough to avoid spoilers when article headlines only hinted at the information they contained. I’ve long since given up trying to avoid prematurely learning of plot points in Game of Thrones: partly because I realised I’m just not that into it, but largely because it was getting impossible to do so.

Assuming for a minute that you were friends with decent, reasonable people, who knew not to post anything explicit about the latest developments on their social media, you still had to navigate a maze of news and blog headlines that became less vague and coy with every season.

Articles accompanying the first couple of seasons would usually have headlines like: ‘GoT fans are distraught after last night’s episode’.

But now they often run along the lines of: ‘From X to Y – we run down the most brutal deaths on Game of Thrones so far’.

At the beginning I said that the spoiler I saw was actually just conjecture. I didn’t read the article, because I don’t want to know what the evidence was either way. At least this way it remains unproven, but the problem is it put an idea in my head that I didn’t have there before (StarWarsCeption).

Regardless of whether or not it turns out to be true, I’m going to watch Episode VIII (say what you like about the franchise – the Star Wars films have done a fantastic job of keeping our Roman numeral game tight) with preconceived notions.

I’m going to be looking for clues either way, and if they start point towards the thing I’ve read being true, that’s going to change the way I experience the rest of the film.

It seems like we are rapidly losing respect for the sanctity of the stories we consume. People give little thought nowadays to pasting the latest film and television spoilers all over the internet.

For instance, I never went to see the film Passengers in the cinema because somebody posted a major spoiler of it on Facebook. They hadn’t intended to – it was just that they had shared a link to a review of it and explained in a status why they disagreed, mentioning their different take on the plot twist.

What particularly annoyed me about this instance was that this person wasn’t even a friend of mine. I’m not connected to them at all on Facebook but, due to the pushy, parent-of-an-introverted-child urging them to ‘go out and play with others’ mentality of social networks, their status appeared in my feed because one of my friends had commented on it – ironically – calling them out for giving away the spoiler.

I want to be a blank slate when consuming stories. Apparently that’s too much to ask.

Clearly I’m being unreasonable, demanding to go on the internet between the release of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. Who the hell do I think I am, using newspaper websites to do my job; reading around my interests in my free time; finding tips and ideas to better myself?

Giving away spoilers seems to have become something of an art form these days. It’s like reverse clickbait. Unlike the tired practice of making something pedestrian and planned seem intriguing with the use of a few dire clichés (‘You’ll Never Believe What Rewan Did After Writing This’ – spoiler; went to bed), the art of slapping people in the face with information they don’t want to know is quickly gaining followers.

Sometimes people are going to type things without thinking, and that’s sort of okay. But when you’re writing the headline of an article about a spoiler, it’s bloody hard to not be aware that you are giving away a spoiler.

Is it really so difficult to keep the key information hidden? Would you really harm your rate of engagement if people had to actually read the article to find out what the spoiler was?

Surely not: the type of people you are aiming to attract to an article on Star Wars spoilers are people who are mad for Star Wars spoilers.

People who don’t want spoilers aren’t going to read articles about spoilers, because the information contained within is useless to them. Ergo, why put it in the headline at all?

People who want to know will read; people who don’t will not – nothing changes to the downside, and there are fewer pissed off Star Wars fans floating around the internet.

These sites need the clicks to pay for advertising, but they aren’t going to get clicks from the people who aren’t interested in the article content. So why are they giving that information away in the headline as though it’s a present? Of all the times to be philanthropic…

It’s like offering a lifetime supply of free bacon to vegans, kayaking lessons to a desert tribe, or great literature to fans of [insert author you hate here]*.

 

*Yeah, that’s right. We did a joke together. Squad goals.

Do you try to keep spoiler-free? Is it getting more difficult, or am I just imagining it? Let me know in the comments section.

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What could committing a crime lose you? The right to read, apparently

While it’s hard to imagine criminals quaking in terror at this, a part of the judicial system’s prison reforms has caused a lot of outrage on social media. In order to be able to enforce its new rewards scheme, prisoners have now been banned from receiving books that have been posted to them from the outside world.

Books Banned

It’s hardly likely to redefine the courtroom, or cause a paradigm shift in crime dramas. ‘You’re looking at 25 year’s no reading, pal,’ detectives won’t hiss as they snap a pair of handcuffs onto a murderer. Wrongfully imprisoned women and men won’t be depicted sobbing in therapy, wailing ‘They took away my Poirot’.

Reward scheme

The ban on receiving books is part of a larger series of minor reforms to try and reinforce the prison system’s rehabilitation and rewards scheme. Prisoners earn money and certain rights for good behaviour and participating in their rehabilitation programmes, which they can then spend on items such as books. Therefore, it is worth noting that this is not an outright ban on prisoners having books, or reading (they are allowed 12 in their room at any one time), but simply on how and when prisoners can receive their books.

Outraged

This move has caused a bit of a furore (if you can have a bit of one), with several notable authors voicing their disgust. There’s a petition going around, although that’s a moot fact really, as when is there not a petition going around? ‘We’ve got 5 signatures in support of changing the pudding in the canteen back from mousse to custard, but we need your support!’

I suppose as a writer and reader, I should be strongly against the move. To be honest, however, I can see both sides of the argument. I’m a little on the fence.

I suppose the thing to ask is which is better for rehabilitating prisoners – certain freedoms, or certain incentives?

On the one hand

As many people on Twitter have pointed out, prisoners need rehabilitation, not retribution. There’s no point sending someone to prison simply with the aim of punishing them (although that should be partly it, shouldn’t it?). If someone goes into prison, has a miserable time, and comes out again the same person, then the system has failed. Nobody has been helped.

Which is why I don’t think this issue of banning books is actually about the books. It’s about how prisoners are going to react to their time in prison. The whole aim of the prison system is to inspire that epiphany that every prisoner needs to have – the realisation that they did something wrong, they made a mistake, and that their current situation is the result of their own actions, no one else’s.

Earning your books

I can see how having to earn your rewards, such as books, could have a positive effect on prisoners. The idea of earning the right to have something, and the notion of needing to deserve something before they get it is surely a vital concept for prisoners to develop if they don’t already have it.

Earning what we have is a vital part of our society and culture. It’s something everyone learns as they grow up, and without grasping that central idea, it’s not hard to imagine a person clashing against the rules. A prisoner being able to read a book because they have earned it – and deserve to have it – surely creates a feeling of satisfaction. It shows the pleasure in working hard to achieve something, and makes everyone appreciate their possessions and situations more deeply.

Getting your books

I can imagine, however, that prison can be a tad boring. In my experience boredom usually creates resentment. If you take away too many ways for a prisoner to pass the time, you risk them ending up sitting in their cell, bored out of their skull, angry at the system for making their lives a misery. Cutting off access to gifts from their family and friends is only going to heighten this resentment.

I doubt that frame of mind is one that promotes the humility required for one to accept his or her actions and come to realisation that the blame for their current situation lies entirely upon themselves.

It is of course worth pointing out again that these new reforms aren’t banning books entirely. Prisoners also have access to the prison library, and will be able to order books from a catalogue using the money that they have earned for good behaviour or carrying out other tasks. Some of the opposition have instantly jumped on this believing that it is a ban on reading in prison is entirely. The only thing that changes is how prisoners can get their books, as well a supposedly limiting the choice that is on offer.

I suppose when it comes down to it, what you want in prison is good prisoners. A man or woman who spends all day lying on their bunk reading isn’t going to be any trouble at all. In fact the idea of being locked in a room with a load of books, without work or other responsibilities to worry about, is one that probably appeals to most readers. The pleasure of reading could lessen the pain of having other liberties taken away, which again works against the development of hatred for the system and people responsible for putting prisoners in their current position.

I have trouble agreeing with the people who described the move as barbaric. Yet while I think that having to earn the books they read could do prisoners a lot of good, the risks of limiting access to a resource that is vital for personal, intellectual, and moral development can’t be anything but a mistake.

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Bartender refuses to serve pregnant woman wine to keep conscience clean

Here’s an interesting one. I’ve just read a story on the Daily Mail website (believe me, I only went near it because of the story) about a pregnant woman who was refused alcohol in a bar. She wanted to order a 125ml glass of red wine – which, according to the NHS, is a safe amount for a pregnant woman to drink once a week – at which point the bartender, a man in his early twenties, told her he would not serve her, because he didn’t want it on his conscience.

The woman feels angry and humiliated, the bar is now apologising, The Mail is reporting the story. Meanwhile I’m not entirely sure what to think.

Respect a pregnant woman’s right

We all should be the ones in control of our own bodies, unless we start doing something stupid with them, like using a kidney to replace the tennis balls on our broken swing-ball sets. Pregnant women should be in charge of the decisions they make regarding their bodies. When it comes to pregnancy, women are the authority.

So I respect Jane Hampson’s right to choose what she eats and drinks, and what she does, while pregnant. I’d be annoyed if someone in a music shop refused to sell me some drumsticks because my arms sometimes hurt after all the typing I do, and drumming might make that worse. I also understand why she is angry; she feels the bartender made a judgement about her, and assumed she was abusing her body and her baby. Women have to give up a lot when pregnant, so having some man assume he knows more than her is probably more than a little offensive.

On the other hand…

I’ll admit that my first reaction, however, was ‘That’s a nice bartender’. It’s not really about Hampson as a person, but pregnancy as a whole. As a general rule, most of us know not to drink while we’re pregnant (drinking while your partner is pregnant is probably fine, if a little unfair, like nurses playing hopscotch in an amputee ward). We don’t really know how much we could drink while pregnant unless we need to (as a non-drinking ((I hate the word teetotal; it sounds too high and mighty)) man, I think I’m in the clear on this one), and I think the NHS is happy for us to all assume pregnant women shouldn’t drink at all. It’s like how it’s probably OK to hit yourself gently with a brick, but it’s easier to say that all hitting yourself with a brick is bad (for god’s sake, don’t go and hit yourself with a brick).

However, what does this actually boil down to? The core of this issue isn’t about being judgemental, discrimination, or company policy. It’s about a man caring for an unborn child. If Hampson had been abusing alcohol, and the bartender had a role in that, which in turn damaged the baby, he would feel incredibly guilty. It was that scenario he wanted to avoid. Is that such a bad thing?

It’s everyone’s baby

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear; a child is not just the responsibility of their parents. Every child born into this world is the responsibility of each of us. It’s why we don’t (or at least, shouldn’t) continue swearing if a parent with young children is sat within ear shot. It’s why we make it hard for children to access things that might upset them, like violent television programmes and themes they’re not old enough to handle. The rest of us have to wait until later, because otherwise they might see them.

If we see a child doing something dangerous, we intervene. We don’t watch them getting seriously hurt whilst thinking, ‘Well, that child has irresponsible parents’. Wouldn’t we be aghast if we saw a heavily pregnant woman puffing on a cigarette?

So is it really that surprising that the bartender felt some responsibility for this unborn child? He had no reason to. He could have just thought ‘Why should I care?’ I can’t help but see this as an intrinsically good gesture, not a negative one. Strangely, when the company released an apologetic statement, they tried to distance themselves from this particular bartender’s actions, saying ‘’I would like to state that we have no company policy on the serving or not serving of alcohol to pregnant people. Why would we? It’s none of our business’. I find this rather an odd assertion to make as a way of clearing up your public image.

Sympathy where sympathy is due

I do feel sorry for Hampson. She was humiliated in front of a bar full of people. She was treated as though she was an irresponsible mother-to-be, she became the centre of attention, and the others in the bar probably thought she was refused service because she was demonstrably drunk, or causing trouble.

At the end of the day, I can see both points of view. The mother who is doing everything she can to protect her child, and the man who wants to keep his conscience clean. Ultimately, whoever is in the right here, I can’t bring myself to believe that someone overstepping the mark slightly to care about your unborn child is something that any expectant mother should really take offense to.

So who was in the wrong here – Hampson, or the bartender? Is there actually a ‘wrong’? How far should others go to keep a woman’s unborn child safe and healthy? Comment, or let me know on Facebook.

Don’t call the police, you’ll get sued

Policewoman sues garage owner after tripping on a kerb during a 999 callout

Kerbs are evil. We all know this; it’s why being a kerb carries a 10 year jail sentence. Kerbs across the country are regularly found hiding in shipping containers or in meth labs, and are subsequently rounded up and imprisoned. Being a kerb is almost as bad as being a murderer.

Associating with a kerb is also a very serious crime. Kerbs are evil because they are so dangerous. Therefore associating with a kerb is kind of like buying sweets for a mugger, or hugging a Tory.

So it’s no wonder that petrol station owner Steve Jones has found himself in trouble with the police for having a kerb on the premises. To be more specific, he called 999 because he thought he’d been robbed, and when the police turned up, one of them tripped on the kerb and injured herself. She’s now suing Mr Jones, under the pretence of…what’s the legal term?… greed.

‘Fire brigade? My house is on fire. Oh, and be careful. It’s on fire.’

Apparently, according to PC Kelly Jones’ lawyers, the petrol station owner failed to warn her of the dangers of the badly lit garage forecourt. How could he have been so stupid? He’s going to be so embarrassed to realise that, when he phoned the emergency services, he only said*;

Hello, police? I think I’ve been burgled.

When what he meant to say, was;

Hello, police? I think I’ve been burgled. Also, mind out I own a kerb.

*I don’t know what he actually said on his 999 call, I’ve just made something up.

That changes the face of 999 calls forever. ‘Police, help! There’s a killer in my house. Come quick! Also, just so you know, I was warming a bagel, so the toaster is still a little bit warm.

Being innocent costs a whole lot of money

But get your pipes out, people, it’s time to get serious about this. Apparently £20million per year is received by members of the police force in compensation claims for accidents they have at work. While I’m sure some of that is justifiable, PC Jones’ claim could have big implications if it actually goes through (although it seems as though she might now try to withdraw the claim).

The whole point of compensation is that you get recompense for something that happens to you that isn’t your fault. The idea being that if a tree surgeon came along and hacked your leg off because he hadn’t been trained by his employer to tell the difference between humans and trees, you’d probably need some financial help to adapt to your new circumstances.

Of course, unsurprisingly, the idea of compensation has just become some big money pot that people see as an easy way to sort out a few financial problems.

Does anyone remember common sense?

No one’s allowed common sense anymore, and we’re all treated as though we’re in preschool. It’s too much to expect an adult (who deals with work, taxes, driving a car, marriage, raising kids, etc) to have the mental faculties to know that the coffee they just bought is hot. Where we used to have accidents, we now have ‘oversights’ and ‘policy failures’. No one is allowed to be in the wrong anymore, because that’s mean, so people tripping over is no longer the result of fluke, clumsiness or stupidity. There has to be someone to blame, and we’re all too narcissistic to ever blame ourselves for stabbing that fork into our ear. No, it must have been someone else’s fault; there wasn’t a sign telling us not to do it.

When your job is dangerous, what do you do about health & safety?

When you introduce this kind of culture to law enforcement, it creates a big problem. If PC Jones’ claim was to be successful, it would create a very worrying precedent. We’ll be in a country where people have to weigh up the risk factors involved in calling the police. They are meant to protect the innocent, not steal their money. People will soon be debating calling 999, on the principal that ‘Well, thieves have just stolen my £20,000 car, but if the police turn up and one of them falls into my hedge, they could sue me for a lot more’. It’ll come to something when it’s cheaper and easier to let criminals get away with breaking the law than it is to call out the people whose sole purpose is to keep you safe.

Luckily, PC Jones’ Chief Constable has criticised the move, saying that he is disappointed this course of action has been taken. However, in one of those typical speeches designed to mitigate public anger, he said that officers who join the police force ‘understand and accept the risks’.

And there I was thinking that the risks involved in policing were things such as high speed car chases, crazed drug dealers, murderers and gangs.

Next you’ll be telling us that before soldiers are sent to Afghanistan, they’re sat down by a superior and told ‘Right then; safety briefing. You’ll be going to Afghanistan, so make sure you’re ready. It does get a bit hot.