Saturday, December 3, 2011

What Should Be Considered A Spoiler? Musings From A Spoiler-Sensitive Blogger.

Cross-posted on and commissioned by


What sensation just went through your body reading that word? For me 12 years ago, it was a sensation of excitement. Now, it's a sensation much closer to terror.

In my youth, I loved television and film just as much as I did now, but I wasn't concerned in the slightest with the element of surprise. Knowing what was coming never bothered me. I eagerly awaited the next installment of Watch with Wanda (now Watch with Kristin, on Eonline), would read plot summaries of episodes of Buffy and Felicity well ahead of when they aired, and would religiously check soap spoilers to see if this would finally be the week that Mike and Carrie on Days of our Lives would make love. (What? I was 13.) To me, spoilers were just an elongated version of "Next time on____" that prepped me for what was to come and filled me with anticipation.

Now, however? Completely different story.

Maybe it's because television has changed and Buffy was certainly a part of that (when I hit high school, I started skipping over the Buffy spoilers in Watch with Wanda), with mystery and development of story becoming a more integral part of television than simply being entertained. Maybe it has to do with the internet being so willing to reveal twist endings at the drop of a hat. But something has shifted. Over the span of 12 years, I've gone from a 13 year old who lives for spoilers to a 25 year old who lists "spoilers" as a legitimate fear when pressed. But maybe the difference is that spoiler means something different nowadays. With endless avenues of communication, constant advance screenings and screeners, and the weight that is now put on experiencing something fresh in order to have an honest opinion, the tiniest bit of information can now affect us as much as reading an entire, multi-page plot summary of a film we haven't seen.

Very often I get into arguments on Twitter about spoilers. Bloggers have gotten better about not straight up revealing plot points, but I, and bear with me here, happen to consider pre-release discussion of themes and lengthy, detailed opinions spoilers too.

Whaaaaat? I know. This is a little extreme. But listen.

The rest after the jump

It used to be a given that when you saw a movie, it was with relatively fresh eyes. Maybe you read a review in the paper. Maybe. Maybe you've seen the trailer, but trailers used to, you know, not reveal everything about the whole movie. But it was your choice. No one was bombarded with opinions, no one accidentally caught an entire online exchange on the themes and hidden meaning of a film weeks before its release, no one knew already going in the third act stumbles, but the twist ending sort of makes up for it.

In this increasingly technology based community of movie bloggers and movie fans,  so much information is thrown our way, often completely unsolicited, that it becomes a hazard to even USE the internet if you wish to experience something fresh. And because now, analysis and discussion of a film happens so regularly before its release, I believe they have become as detrimental to the viewing experience as spoilers in the form of opinion free plot points. Controversial maybe, but I'm not the only one in this boat, and perhaps this is a good standard to consider.

Recently, there has been a lot of hubbub over folks who got to see The Muppets early spoiling cameos. Some argue "How can naming an actor who is in the movie, whose name is on IMDB as in the movie, be a spoiler?", but this disregards where the Muppets come from (a world with no IMDB, a world where every cameo was a surprise and was *meant* to be a surprise) and disrespects anyone who wished to preserve the experience. Sure, you personally may think reading the last line of a book makes reading the whole thing more exciting, but does that give you the right to tell everyone else what the last line is?

Thanks to carefree spoiling like this, I now feel like it's pointless to watch Dexter because so many twists have been accidentally revealed to me over the years. What's the point if some of the things that make the show so great (the shocks) have already been ruined for me?

I've heard "Oh, she dies in the first five minutes of the movie" so many times in regard to one movie released this year, I haven't seen yet. My question is this - did the first people who saw this movie know this person died in the first five minutes? No. So why is it okay that I know?

In line for an AFI screening a couple weeks ago, a woman I didn't know said to me "I bet he commits suicide in the end" - Not a typical spoiler, no, but putting thoughts in your head about what you think is going to happen puts those thoughts in your head, and when it actually ends up coming true (it did), you feel like your experience was spoiled.

Long story short, I think nowadays in this climate, anything about a movie can be considered a spoiler - it's a personal thing, and better to be safe than sorry. At least check with the group you are chatting with before diving into talk about a movie someone present hasn't seen yet, and for the love of god, just adhere to the standard internet spoiler rules if nothing else. Quickly - a week for television shows, a day for competitive reality shows and until the DVD comes out for movies. Gawker's manifesto nails it for the most part, as at least a place to start, although be warned, there is a season one spoiler for Treme in there, one that the author thinks shouldn't be considered a spoiler anymore because it aired so long ago.

Of course, we all stumble from time to time, sure. Earlier this year in a coffee shop, a friend asked me to explain why Rise of the Planet of the Apes was so awesome. She was never gonna see it and wanted to know. So I explained the whole movie. Unfortunately, there were some people near us in the coffee shop who hadn't seen the movie yet and were visible upset that I had just divulged the entire plot, and I kicked myself for being so blind and inconsiderate. It may help to think that being a part of Twitter is like being in a coffee shop. With 10 million people. If someone has their feed open, it's like someone walking in to take an order in a coffee shop. If you're standing right there, wouldn't you stop for a second and lower your voice, making the conversation more private aka taking it to DM?

Am I a lot more sensitive than your average blogger when it comes to spoilers? Abso-freaking-lutely. But hey, I know some people that consider running time a spoiler. Do I think that's lunacy? Yes. But I've learned when seeing movies with this person to keep the running time to myself. One gal's basic facts are another gal's spoilers, and when you really think about it, isn't our responsibility to preserve the experience for movie goers as much as possible? In a review, all bets are off, throw in a spoiler alert if you're worried, someone can choose whether or not to read a review, but on Twitter, Global Filter only works so well, so like in life, try to be careful and conduct yourself with respect towards your followers.

How that ultimately manifests is up to you, and my sensitive standards may go too far, but you know, waiting until, say, the week of release at least before openly analyzing a film and generally refraining from openly spoiling plot points and surprises aren't going to hurt anybody.

How about you, readers? Where is the spoiler line drawn for you? Without revealing the spoiler itself, has any important movie, tv show or book ever been unwittingly ruined by someone else? Very interested in your thoughts on this one.


Gilly said...

I had The Others spoiled by a Roger Ebert review in the newspaper. This was, I think, before the explosion of blogs. At least I wasn't reading any at the time, so my main source of info about movies was tv and newspapers. I remember reading his review and realizing, "I now knew something I should have found out by watching the movie." I felt robbed of the experience of discovering the spoiler. This was the start of my refusal to read about movies I wanted to see in theaters. Anything else is a free for all since it will be months to years before I see it on dvd or tv.

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