Spoiler Unfriendly

(begins at 1:21)

The debate, or rather polarizing backlash, over spoilers is one of the most divisive issues in fandom. I understand the basic desire to not have the mystery or magic of entertainment removed before the experience is over, but the extreme to which some people take the notion of having something prematurely exposed is baffling.

I personally love spoilers. I find the wondering a distraction from the experience of the story, but maybe that is a convenient excuse and I’ve simply inherited my father’s impatience and my mother’s obsessive-compulsiveness. In either case, I am often found to be flipping through the pages of a book to find out how it ends or what is and where will come the big reveal, so I can go back and enjoy the full read without the constant anxiety over what could possibly be ahead. I scour internet reviews, Wikipedia articles and summary websites looking for everything I can find out about a new movie or TV show, so I can decide, after knowing the plot and what people thought of it, whether or not I want to devote my limited financial resources and free time to consuming it.

But other people don’t feel the same way I do, and nor do I believe they should. There is nothing wrong with appreciating magic for its wonder, or not wanting that magic ruined by having the underlying trick exposed. Escape from the harshness in reality is a common desire for people, and media culture has created a safe place to explore such flights of fancy. Spoilers are an extension of this sense of wonder. People want to have the experience in the order it is presented to them, learning and devising each new piece of information as it becomes available in the work itself.

However, the problem lies with the expectation that everyone is somehow required to be complicit in the desire to remain within illusion to the very end. “Spoiler Free” reviews now require that anything more than a restatement of the premise or blurb from the publisher’s PR or Marketing departments with a letter grade tacked onto the end be deemed fatal to the fan experience. There seem to be three kinds of readers of reviews on the internet these days: the ones who haven’t consumed a property and want to know what others thought of it before they consume it themselves, the ones who have consumed a property and want to know what others thought of it after they have consumed it, and the ones who don’t want anyone to know anything about what happens until everyone has consumed it. Setting aside debate about an inclination in the second group to troll reviews for having differing opinions from their own, what the last group is even doing reading reviews in the first place is what I find confusing. It is frankly insulting for reviewers to be asked to wait for everyone to know about something before talking about it in detail when an obvious alternative is available.

If you are going to be that sensitive to information about something that piques your interest, it’s probably better that you simply not read reviews on sites you know will probably reveal more of the plot than you are comfortable knowing. Just go to Rotten Tomatoes or Amazon and look at the average viewer/customer rating and decide from there. If you want to be a part of the conversation, as many do, of the newest big thing, either consume it first, or be prepared to be spoiled to at least some degree. It is the price to be paid for participation in the conversation.

But not all the backlash about spoilers comes from the newest properties. The line between something that is too new versus something that everyone has had ample time to consume before it is acceptable to talk about it, all plot reveals included, is a subject of great debate. Is it in years, decades, or is it as some on the extreme side believe, never? It is this “never” category, a vocal minority one can only hope, that seems to be causing much of the current issues we have with conversations about spoilers. I won’t supplant my own opinion of where this line should fall, but in an internet age where the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones is Tweeted about even before the episode’s initial airing, if you don’t want to be spoiled, you should probably stay off the internet until you watch it yourself. It is wholly selfish to sit back and expect everyone else to curb their enthusiasm to suit a desire to be surprised at a self-chosen time.

When I write my reviews, I give little regard to spoilers. In fact, I find a sub-genre like BL, which I review almost exclusively, to be the kind of trope-filled content that requires knowing exactly how much of the same you are in for when you pick up a book or put in a DVD (or click on an online reader, player or download). How well something is executed and not what combination of well-worn premise, characterization and plotting is the important thing to take away from a review of BL, or at least that is how I feel about it. If you don’t like that, please feel free to not read my reviews. The great thing about the internet is that there are plenty of other places you can go for information about things you might want to consume, some more spoiler-friendly than others.

To bookend this entry, I leave you with this.

Videos embedded from YouTube, not uploaded by me.


5 comments on “Spoiler Unfriendly

  1. Amonduul says:

    I’m one of the people that prefers to go into a story pretty much blind, but I agree with a lot of your points. The whole argument around spoilers in reviews, while understandable, always struck me as a little silly. It’s a review: talking about anything with a certain amount of depth is going to involve talking about what happens in the movie/book/comic/show/etc. overall, so spoiling things is usually necessary. Unless they’re deliberately doing something trollish, like claiming the review is going to be spoiler-free when it isn’t, spoilers in reviews seem like enough of a given that one should probably assume they’re going to be there unless stated otherwise.

    The only time that spoilers really annoy me is when people live-tweet new things on twitter, since twitter seems like too much of a public place to be discussing stuff that new. If you’re live-tweeting a 30 year old movie, that seems reasonable. Tweeting about a show immediately after it comes out, when not everyone has the opportunity to watch it then and there, seems a kind of unfair. Outside of that, though, talking about any piece of media is a conversation and not allowing that because not everyone has seen that piece of media seems unreasonable.

    • cmbranford says:

      I do sometimes wish Twitter had a Spoiler option (like the Crunchyroll video comments). I’ve live-tweeted about Free! a few times, and while it isn’t the sort of show that would actually be ruined by knowing the (limited) plot, I do think some details of things are better left for within the communities of their fans/others watching it at the same time. That being said, it’s actually pretty easy to avoid spoilers on Twitter given the limited nature of 140 characters and appropriate use of hashtags. In the extreme, unfollowing people who annoy you with spoilers is an option.

      I actually brought this topic up originally after re-watching The Abyss with some co-workers. I’d made some comment during the viewing about the drowning rat foreshadowing bit and got 2 or 3 people yelling at me about spoiling it. Seriously? That movie is over 20 years old, and even if it wasn’t, obvious foreshadowing is obvious. XD

      • Amonduul says:

        Yeah, I have to agree. I haven’t seen The Abyss myself and can’t comment on that particular example, but if it’s clearly obvious foreshadowing that your SUPPOSED to pick up on, I don’t think commenting on it is really out of line.

  2. I never spoil for the fun of it, but I do think plot spoilers should be discussed in reviews. I like to get to brass-tacks on just why certain decisions are good for a series, and that point is hard to make unless people have some general background.

    In general, I have a 3-years-young or currently watching policy; if I’m not currently watching and it’s more than 3 years old, fire away. More often than not, good spoilers just bring me on board series I would otherwise skip.

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