You may have noticed that the much anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out this week, and the internet promptly went nuts. The movie has unsurprisingly been smashing box office records, and has also succeeded in not being a piece of garbage ala the prequel trilogy. Suffice it to say, fans seem pleased.
But a release of this magnitude, and with its marketing being so closely geared towards not giving away the specifics of the plot, has brought up another dreaded side of pop culture: rampant spoilers. And with rampant spoilers comes people complaining about seeing spoilers posted everywhere, and with those complaints come the people who pipe up and tell people to not be so upset and that it was their own damn fault that the film/TV show/book/game got spoiled for them. And THEN comes the debate as to when it is OK to drop spoilers, either verbally or in a social media post, without any kind of pre-warning for those who may not have seen/read/played the thing that is about to be spoiled?
I’m going to answer that question right now so we can just stop having this argument: it is pretty much never OK.
Before you all lunge into your computer monitors to try and smack me around the head for making such a statement, I want to tackle a few common counter arguments I’ve encountered when having this discussion:
“You should have seen it ASAP if you didn’t want it spoiled for you”
I’m sorry, but some of us aren’t available at 11am on a Monday to watch a Game of Thrones episode air for the first time, we plan to watch it later that night or perhaps the next evening because our Monday nights are pretty busy. Maybe we don’t want to go to see The Force Awakens at some ungodly hour like 2:30am and would rather have a relaxing viewing on the weekend. Not seeing things immediately doesn’t mean we’ve lost the right to eventually see them with fresh eyes, to not know what is going to happen.
We’re also fans of these films/shows etc, so maybe let us experience it just how you did instead of plastering photos of characters as they die or expressing your shock at certain revelations.
“You should have stayed off social media/away from anyone talking about it”
I find this problematic for two reasons. One, much to some people’s indignation, social media is now a part of our day-to-day lives and is not something the average person can be expected to just avoid. I use social media for my job, as do a lot of other people in a lot of other various jobs. We use social media to communicate long distance, to keep up with actual news and for so much more. Everyone is different in their ability to stay away from the internet, I could probably ditch Twitter for a while but probably not Facebook, but the reality is that it is now ingrained in our lives for better or for worse.
Avoiding articles, reviews and forums devoted specifically to discussing the particular form of entertainment is easy, but when everyone seems to have a crazy impulse where they must post “OMG, can’t believe X just died!” or something they perceive as vague like “yeah, they had it coming #gameofthrones”, then just going anywhere near this tool we all use everyday is tempting running into spoiler jerks. No matter how vague you think you’re being, it isn’t vague enough so perhaps just don’t post it? It isn’t hard.
Or at the very least, include some kind of warning at the beginning of the post, because despite my obvious hatred of spoilers, I’m not against people posting or having discussions about spoiler-ey material on the likes of Facebook. Everyone just needs to keep in mind that what they post as a status is essentially placed on a giant notice board, and will be placed in front of the eyes of hundreds, if not thousands of others, and you can’t possibly expect them all to be up to date with your viewing habits. You’re essentially shouting your spoilers into the most crowded room in the world, so maybe preface them with “hey, going to talk about the latest ep of The Walking Dead, anyone not up-to-date should probably move along.”
Hmm, that does seem a bit wordy, if only there was a shorter way of alerting people to incoming spoilers…
Otherwise, just like when it comes to in-real-life conversations involving spoilers, how will anyone know to avoid your conversation if they haven’t been warned a spoiler is coming? Whenever I know I’m about to mention something big (and clearly meant to be a surprise on first viewing) I make sure to ask all the people involved in the conversation: “are we all up to date?” If someone isn’t, I can either not say what I was going to say (shock horror) or they can excuse themselves and remain unspoiled.
Seriously, why is this so hard for some people? I’ve been told my stance on this would be like placing “a gag order on the internet”, like I was some kind of totalitarian dictator, devoted to ruining their memes and hashtags and twists-filled tomfoolery. I found that notion ridiculous because, as I said just a second ago, I’m not against people posting or having discussions about spoiler-ey material on the likes of Facebook. Just preface it with a warning so it can be avoided by those who wish to, go on with your discussion and crazily overreact to someone else’s opinion.
Side note: I often hear fiction spoilers being compared to the spoiling of sports events as they are often covered in the media live and are then the subject of many hours of analysis in the hours and day that follows. Personally, I consider sport to be a different beast to fictional entertainment as it is a live event and its results are “news” so of course it is covered in the press as it happens. I understand many people record sporting events to watch later and wish to not know the results until they can see it, but if you want to avoid genuine news then yeah, a total media blackout is your only option. I go through the same thing regarding The Oscars. I find the issue isn’t the spoiling of sport, more that what happens in Game of Thrones on a Monday isn’t as immediate as actual news and shouldn’t be live covered as such.
“Come on, after X amount of time it is totally OK to drop spoilers. You should have seen it by then”
This is a really tricky one, but I still find myself in the “nope, still not OK, don’t care how long it’s been.” Some people say when a film is out of the cinemas it is OK to openly ruin the ending for people. I had Rosemary’s Baby ruined for me and I wasn’t even alive when that was released so does my year of birth, a fact I have no control over, mean I’m not allowed to watch classic films unspoiled? Or what about a series I just haven’t gotten around to watching yet in favour of others?
The part I find so tricky is when a spoiler has become part of our culture, such as a certain twist in the original Star Wars trilogy that is often revealed through other mediums as gags. Think Homer Simpson walking out of the cinema after watching The Empire Strikes Back but that’s a rare example of a blatant spoiler, usually they’re more subtle than that. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of this sort of thing in principle, but by now that moment has become the worst kept secret in movie history, along with Soylent Green, The Sixth Sense and The Usual Suspects, and for the right gag then perhaps I can allow it. But that’s spoilers coming from professional writers, and I guarantee your Game of Thrones meme is nowhere near as clever as what they’ve cooked up.
Basically, my approach when it comes to discussing the plot points of something is: don’t, not until everyone who is going to listen is on the same page. In person this is easy to discover, just ask. On social media, this is nigh on impossible so just label things appropriately, it isn’t hard.
I don’t care if it’s been a week, a month or 100 years; just don’t be a dick.