I don't know what you're doing this evening, but as a tried-and-true, theory-spouting Harry Potter fan, I plan on spending some quality time with my laptop and several hundred digital scans of Deathly Hallows tonight. Ever since some schmuck posted the contents of J.K. Rowling's final Potter novel online earlier in the week (probably courtesy of gun-jumping online retailer DeepDiscount.com and distributor Levy Home Entertainment), I have been treading lightly on the internet lest I inadvertently stumble upon the ending. Rowling herself, in a note on her official website, is asking fans to behave, writing:
"As launch night looms, let's all, please, ignore the misinformation popping up on the web and in the press on the plot of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." I'd like to ask everyone who calls themselves a Potter fan to help preserve the secrecy of the plot for all those who are looking forward to reading the book at the same time on publication day. In a very short time you will know EVERYTHING!"
However, seeing as tens of thousands of internet users (and, apparently, several prominent critics, including the New York Times' Michiko Kakutani) have already downloaded the title and with seemingly every news organization oh-so-helpfully repeating the offending spoiler sites in their never-ending Potter mania coverage, the simple task of trying to stay a reasonably-informed human being has become a bit like navigating a narrative land mine. But no more. I, for one, would much rather lose my eyesight squinting over a blurry but real -- and there's little doubt the copies online are real -- version of DH than click onto CNN tomorrow morning and read about the surprise ending in a "scoop." For sadly, in their attempt to keep up with the hyperpace of the internet, traditional news outlets have become almost as bad as specialized spoiler sites in regards to the plot twists and turns they reveal. I pity the poor soul who missed the Sopranos finale last month and was hoping to catch up on the episode later in the week. From the daily tabloids to NPR, headlines about David Chase's (non)ending were ubiquitous the next morning; even luddites who wouldn't know James Galdolfini from Chef Boyardee found themselves humming Journey lyrics. It's trend that has been escalating for years.
Not that spoilers themselves are new. Movie studios have been asking audiences not to reveal endings since Orson Welles nuttered on about Rosebud in 1941 and Charlton Heston bellowed about those damn dirty apes and eating soylent green decades later. For the small screen, sites such as spoilerfix.com and columnists like Michael Ausiello at TV Guide and Kristin Veitch at E! Online happily give up plot nuggets (as well as showrunner-supplied "foilers"), but very carefully tag sensitive material with a warning, usually of the obnoxious "spoiler alert" or blackened lines variety. The difference now is that legit news organizations, in their attempts to appear comprehensive and "in the know," have exited the spoiler-free zone and freely contribute to the online free-for-all. Meanwhile, more and more bloggers have taken the desire to always be the first -- to break a story, to respond to a post, or to respond with a video - to the next level. There's also an increasing need to trumpet one's quickness and superiority to the world, be it ironically, maliciously, sincerely. And now, poor Harry is now caught in the middle.
My advice to true fans: Just suck it up and read the book if you can. That way, you still get the experience of watching the plot fall into place; plus, no paper cuts! Media blackouts, while fantastic in theory, are simply not feasible anymore. Plus, even if one manages to stay unspoiled until midnight at Friday, who's to say the schmuck (or over-excited kid) in line in front of you at Barnes & Noble doesn't immediately flip to the final page and gaspingly shriek out the finale? Devoted fans are already doing their part and reporting spoilers to Scholastic and Bloomsbury, and popular HP community sites such as The Leaky Cauldron, Mugglenet, and Veritaserum have promised to keep their message boards dark for the first forty-eight hours (and scan for revealing avatar and screen names a la VoldyKillzHarry, HermyDies, or some such.) But the ever pervasive "me first" mentality has already hit overdrive. Fight the power!