But Did it Make a Difference?

20170808_201604By now, everyone and their dog is aware of the particular little catchphrase that gets slapped across the title of a video or within the first sentence or two of an article. We call it out to each other during conversations and, lest we not forget that some online forums even have programs in place to protect their reader’s eyes from the unholy machinations of the careless or compassionless. It’s become iconic of our culture and, frankly, an odd component of our modern world.

By now, you’ve probably been able to put two and two together and arrive at a shortlist of such possible phrases. To my mind, based on my own descriptor above, I can think of only two examples: Trigger Warnings, and Spoiler Alerts. And while both relatively recent additions to our modern colloquialisms are the subject of some contentions, I’m choosing to focus my attention to the latter one.

Spoiler Alerts: we read about them in titles, they precede virtually every discussion on any work of fiction and, in ironic cases, any work of non-fiction. They’re found in professional reviews, editorial articles, and quite often even on our own tongues as we discuss things with our friends. In fact, the term gets so thrown around that is rivals even the number of times one Canadian might ask “Hey, how’s it going?” to a complete stranger (as a personal aside, I probably ask that question somewhere around a dozen times per day to people I have never talked to before or since).

headerThis of course raises the question of why? Why do we feel that such a disclaimer before we discuss any piece of fiction, new or otherwise, and feel terrible backlash or verbal abuse should we, writer speaker or otherwise, fail to mention it?

Understanding, of course, that the phrase “Spoiler Alert” to as early as 1982: it’s been circulating around internet-based vocabulary for over thirty years now. As a disclaimer: that’s older than I am. I am being outdone by a concept (yes, I may, perhaps, be a little salty). When a concept has been ingrained into a populace for any prolonged matter of time, it will invariably be an unshakable truth in how we view things and the world around us. For example: the idea that an average work-week is Monday to Friday, eight to five is a dated concept going back over centuries now. And I’d be willing to hazard that most people interviewed would explain that as typical business hours.

This is part of a larger issue at play, but not the focus of today’s dissection. Yes: I wrote dissection there. And then a second time; repetition is key, I’m lead to believe.

I’d read a few articles and listened to a few opinions over different channels over this whole Spoiler Alert issue; and generally I find there are two primary ideas behind the feeling in favour towards it:

  1. That is primes someone’s awareness towards avoiding reading/watching/hearing something if they wish to maintain a degree of ignorance on a topic
  2. That the spoiling of particular plot points or “big reveals” in many fiction pieces can eliminate the enjoyment of a particular story

It’s a little harder to argue against the first mentioned idea since it’s very subjectively minded and, frankly, pretty logical. After all, who am I to determine that someone would or would not enjoy something more if they didn’t know a key story detail? It is, however, closely tied in to the second point, which many might actually include as part of the first point and, by extension, omit all together.

The second point is where I start asking questions. What is the purpose of enjoying a story (regardless of media)? Is a story defined by its plot twists or surprise developments? Does the knowing of a surprise detail automatically reduce or eliminate the impact of a tale’s completion?

Things get muddled in that second idea, I find. Since so much of this seems tied to opinion and to the first idea, it is also very subjective. But I’d like to challenge a few of those points, see if I can’t bring some different light to your way of thinking about it.

For starters, we need to address why, specifically, we read/watch/listen to any sort of fiction. Depending on which particular school of philosophy you subscribe to will drastically change your views on things. The main reasons that I am aware of, however, are distraction, escapism, comprehension and/or enlightenment.

Listed in no particular order; probably should have prefaced with that…

However, these tend to be the primary reasons people partake in fiction in any of its form. Notably, half of those are for purposes of entertainment or stress reduction, the others might be to broaden your mind in either spiritual or mental endeavors. Maybe even physical if you consider it an eyeball workout.

Seeing as my primary experience is as a writer of fiction, it will skew my views on the matter slightly. After all, one thing I always strive towards is that impossible idea of creating the perfect story for people to read. And in doing so, I’ve read many different views and lessons on how to compose a story. What I’ve noticed, however, is that there seems to be a bit of a divide in mentality there.

You’re perhaps of the mind that there is no such thing as a new story and that everything has already been written; sometimes with different skins and to different degrees of quality, but otherwise it has already been done. Of that mindset, would that not negate the need to warn people of spoilers? If everything is already written, then the consumer would, either on a conscious or sub-conscious level, already know of the major plot developments as well as have a good comprehension of what the likely twists and turns will be.

Or, if not for that reason, perhaps then it’s for the simple enjoyment of the story as it’s written. For the pure satisfaction of the prose, of the dialogue or of the descriptions of peoples, places and things. In that regard, there is little to no reason for spoiler warnings considering that the only thing to be ruined for someone to discover is a particularly well-composed sentence (we’ve all read sentences that just hit that sweet spot in us when we read it), and even then the only thing to be ruined is that self-gratifying sense of discovery.

There is, of course, mention of the third component to this and that it is possible to write something in such a way that it truly shocks and surprises your audience with the big reveal or the sudden plot twist. This seems to, in actuality, the common belief of most consumers of fiction; and it’s not a viewpoint I particularly subscribe to. For myself, it has more to do with that previously mentioned point.

The specifics of the “what happens” is significantly less important to me than the way it happens. The inflection in the words of the actor, the particulars of the dialogue or descriptions within the text or even in still images. The enjoyment for me isn’t in the big surprise, so much as it is in the reveal of the surprise. Very seldom am I able to not predict what’s going to happen next, and because of that logic, I should have stopped enjoying fiction quite some time ago.

when-you-see-a-car-with-a-big-spoiler-snape-kills-dumbledoreAnd yet, I can still harken back to when Half-Blood Prince was published and the stories floating around that the “Dumbledore had been killed by Snape” spoiler had been belted out to crowds of people buying the book. There was genuine outrage from patrons. I had heard this story when I was only one chapter into the book, and yet, it did not kill for me the joy of reading the story. When the big scene came along, it was fairly apparent that the death of Dumbledore was eminent, regardless of spoilers.

Though I’m still not entirely convinced that Dumbledore is actually dead in that series; just comatose. But that’s a different article for a different day.

In essence, I can’t help but ask to what purpose do we, as people, need shielding from plot twists and sudden developments. In our exceedingly interconnected digital world, it’s become more and more difficult to “protect” ourselves from being exposed to story-ruining elements. Personally, I feel no inclination towards the inclusion of spoiler warnings and alerts in my works, but I also acknowledge that it is a personal decision that is, by no means, reflective of the mentality of the public on a whole. At the very least, I hope this has given you some different ways to look at the topic at hand.

Writing convention now dictates I should shoe-horn in some cheeky “spoiler warning” joke; but I’m better than that. Instead, I’ll just end it with an unexpected

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Some Thoughts on Education – No Click-bait-y Titles Here

Anyone who has held a prolonged conversation with me can probably tell you there are several topics that will send me into a spiral or rants or musings, depending on the nature of the discussion. Oftentimes, we call this a “heavily-opinionated person”, and I can certainly attest to being someone under such a label (despite my general disdain for labels in general, more on that another time). My reasons for launching into these triads stem from a few different sources: the need to express an opinion, the desire to challenge my own thoughts and critical thinking and a plethora of minor reasons that are a little too tedious for my shockingly presently-focused mind to feel like rationalizing.

Chiefly among those reasons, however, is the need to voice my beliefs and thoughts about topics I have seen or read. My mind is a jumbled mess of thoughts and concepts at the best of times, and vocalizing these thoughts helps form them into concise statements and hypotheses. And one such topic that I find myself launching into rant-realms over is the land of education.

Now, I understand education is something of a hot-button topic (a phrase I didn’t think I’d ever use until now, which means I probably am misquoting or incorrectly using it), and everyone and their dog has an opinion on the matter. Teachers, students, parents, politicians, researchers and board members all have their opinions on what the educational system today is like and what it needs to do to improve, or conversely, what it needs to stop declining in quality.

It should come to no surprise that I, myself, am someone who has very charged and self-important beliefs on the quality of the school system in Canada (or at least in Ontario, as I understand there are minor nuances to the systems not only between countries, but between provinces as well). I mean, I possess all the warning flags of someone who has deep-rooted grievances with the current school system: I did poorly all through school due to a laundry list of personality and motivation flaws, I did not attend post-secondary education due to financial and personality flaws, and am largely against the commercialization of education due to financial and personal beliefs.

You might have noticed something of a trend in there somewhere.

Granted, I’m not so self-important as to believe that I am blameless in my current academic standing, nor do I honestly think that the problems that plagued me are anywhere near similar to those that bother other individuals or organizations. That’s why I make it a point to read up on different studies, articles or coverage of the ever-changing landscape of education. I also keep contact with several friends who are teachers at different levels in the school system (by that, I mean the range from kindergarten to high school, teachers to school board members, and even a couple of politicians) and am very careful to listen to those who have differing opinions on the school system than I (check out my piece on Echo Chambers in social media for more).

I also consider the opinions of those who have personal views on the nature of school because of life experience or spiritual beliefs, as these are both important aspects in understanding how we can better operate as a global community in our exceedingly diverse world. I’ve noticed several trends in these varied beliefs that sometimes I am, at first, inclined to argue against, but often have to sit back and think on until I can properly process what I’ve just learned.

There is one general consensus that I have noticed, however: very nearly everyone thinks the current academic landscape is broken or has gaping holes in operational efficiency/policy. Very seldom do we hear people discussing the accomplishments of a standardized educational system that has made significant leaps and jumps in how our brains have developed over the decades, let alone centuries or millennia of the history of education.

Instead, there seems to be an overwhelming belief that there is little good from our current school system. This generally stems, I have noticed, from small groups picking out an issue and inflating the damaging nature of said defect. This is not to say there are not dangerously broken systems in our schools; one needs only look at the academic disparities between both racially segregated or financially destitute schools to see things, two traits that are oftentimes linked. But some issues are only a part of a greater concern, and that is the need for hard evaluations on the intended direction that education serves as.

Now you start leaving the realm of hard, numerically provable evidence and get into the realm of cultural or philosophical reasoning. What EXACTLY is the purpose of education? This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer as it seems the intended purpose changes based on personal views.

I know it seems that I’ve performed a complete 180 from my original statement, but bear with me: it’ll all tie together in the end. I think.

Note from Self: I can’t help but feel the “bear” that was used in the sentence prior is incorrect. I’m almost completely confident that it should be “bare”, but Microsoft Word is convinced otherwise. I might also just be losing my mind, which is exceedingly possible, as well.

I don’t claim to have the greatest knowledge of educational history, but based on what I do know, it seems that for the better part of western culture and history the drive for better education was a largely social need. In order to develop a more stable and prosperous civilization, better academic reasoning was required. To cultivate this sense of logic, students (or monks, before that) focused on the mathematics and sciences. As anyone who has built a tiny bridge in science class can tell you: understanding weight dispersal and fulcrums are not exactly guess-work when trying to plan for a bridge to navigate a tiny car across two desks.

But with the maths and sciences, so too came the humanities. Poetry and music can help maintain a semblance of order and sanity in large populations; they also further reinforce a sense of cultural identity and stress relief that maintains a higher quota of productivity than otherwise. And as time progresses, so too do these systems improve. Science and learning becomes more precise, and literature and the arts have more to draw upon as human nature and identities change with the times.

Now, I’m not even going to begin to speculate on eastern education, because I know very little about it. Based on academic rankings, though: they seem to be doing pretty well in the past couple decades.

Based on these developments, I’d say the nature of education is to improve upon the human mind in general. We can see this in the varied and diverse fields of study that can be obtained within the higher academic establishments; the only real limits to what you can learn comes down to ethics at that point. Or money.

And in that regard, the education system we have today has achieved that goal with remarkable success. Our brains are sophisticated machines that, as a result of the stimulation and information we’ve received through our developmental years, can process complex questions and scenarios that have built civilization as we recognize it today. The fact that we can even question these ideas on such a massive scale, potentially reaching and hearing millions of voices at a time with universal theories and scales to work with is testament to that accomplishment.

But this begs the question: what is the purpose of education now? Where do we go from here? And this is where everyone splinters into their different groups and beliefs. We’re all asking the same question, frankly, just in different words. And this is good. This is hella good.

I strongly believe that everyone who partakes in these conversations and arguments all have the same base goal: to improve upon such a fundamentally important system that our world relies upon. And if we’re all having that discussion, I genuinely believe that, as far as morals are concerned, there are very few wrong view points to have.

Except for anarchists. I do not like them, or their beliefs at all!

The funny thing is what sprouted this recent mind experiment for me. I was thumbing through a social media feed and happened across a post about the nature of education. It stated that home education was far superior because, as far as human history is concerned, it’s the one that’s been in use the longest and that established education was an experiment.

The implication was that established education was wrong and we should go back to individualized family-based learning instead. I can sympathize with the sentiments behind the post, but I largely disagree with the overall message. As a whole, our society is better for having an educational system in place. And while I, much like many, believe that our system is far from perfect, it is infinity better than having nothing at all.