Thursday, July 26, 2012

Spoiler Alert: The Great 'Spoilers' Debate

In this modern age of repeat airings, DVR, internet streaming, fan-sites, message boards, and all-around enhanced awareness, plot reveals commonly known as 'spoilers' are bound to happen. In terms of 'first-world problems', this issue is a hotly debated one. Beyond anything extreme, it's difficult to think of an easier way to piss a friend off than to blurt out an important plot point for a television show, film, or novel. Of course, it's tough to lay down a concrete definition of what constitutes a 'spoiler' and when it is actually okay (if ever) to reveal the ending. If you want to all-out ruin a friendship, try spoiling a character's death. People hate that. But for every spoiler-speaker out there, there's a group of minds coming together to try and establish set rules so that the public remains safe from knowing all-important plot twists until it's the right time. And we've also invented the 'spoiler alert' warning, which can be helpful and annoying at the same time. Sometimes, it's unavoidable, one wrong click on a link and *bam*, you got the whole ending when you just wanted to know a character's last name.

My inspiration for this post is the last two film reviews that I wrote, for The Dark Knight Rises and Savages. In these reviews, like all others that I've written and will write, I let the spoilers fly without warning. Sure, I could post the much-appreciated 'spoiler alert', but I'd be writing that for every review I do and it'd just get old. Plus, people are so terrified of having the tiniest plot point revealed that they'd avoid my blog altogether, which is not ideal. When I write a review, I don't want to scare people off, and I don't want to only speak about half the movie is vague generalisms. I like getting my hands dirty in the material, studying the choices of the writers, directors, and actors, and often talking about my impressions of the ending. I fully understand that this attitude is not a popular one and that people will call me inconsiderate (or probably worse). Let me make this clear: I never out-right attempt to spoil the ending for someone, but I also don't tip-toe around plot points when I'm trying to discuss a show or film. I think people get way too sensitive about spoilers and place way too much importance on the surprise factor, the twist ending, and plot reveals.

In my opinion, the term 'spoiler' is incorrect and misleading. To call it a 'spoiler' implies that some aspect of the piece of art in question is being ruined for the audience. I don't see it this way at all. I feel like the term should be 'revealer'. That doesn't mean to go ahead and purposely reveal the ending for me, I appreciate a shocker as much as anyone, but when it comes down to it, the twist at the end of the movie doesn't make or break the movie, I look at it as a whole experience from beginning to end. Some people act as if an entire film can be destroyed because they know the hero dies at the end. Well, whether you know it beforehand or not, he's still going to die at the end. As much as I hate that moment when I'm trying to express love (or hate) about a tv show or movie and someone shouts out 'don't spoil it!', I also respect the feelings of others enough to stop. Though it's always tempting to drop hints anyway. The way I see it, if the story is good, it's always going to be good. The worst is if someone comes across a spoiler and gives up on the film or tv show, saying 'what's the point, I know how it ends.' The point is, it's entertaining, and you choose whether or not knowing who the killer is at the end is going to ruin it for you. Surprise endings are over-used and over-rated anyways.

I'm about to ask a lot of questions, and maybe provide a few answers along the way. The point is to try and work out what makes a spoiler and what's safe to reveal. When it comes to telelvision, spoilers are very tricky to determine. With all the options we have for watching television shows, from good old live television, to PVR/DVR, to Netflix, internet streaming, DVDs, etc., we're all watching shows on different schedules.  So if I watch, say, Walking Dead while it's airing brand new, is it my responsibility to wait until everyone catches up before I post a review or try to discuss it on message boards or with fellow fans? Like I said, I do try to be considerate. My friend Merv Quantas is without cable or internet, so he watches Breaking Bad on DVD. Some shows, it wouldn't matter. But I totally respect the fact that a lot of the tension of BrBa comes from the fact that it is really difficult to predict what happens next. Since Merv's only caught up to the end of Season 3, I make a point to avoid discussing the events of Season 4 and, now, Season 5. But the whole process is quite annoying.

Furthermore, do spoilers only count for crime shows and dramas? Could I spoil an episode of, for instance, The Simpsons, by telling my friend how Homer gets out of the jam he's in? Or do spoilers only count for plot twists and character deaths? If an episode aired five years ago, but you haven't seen it yet, is it my responsibilty to keep my mouth shut, or should you accept the fact that it's an old episode to most fans and we should be allowed to freely discuss? Every fan of television and film has a different opinion on this. I feel like comedies shouldn't count when it comes to spoilers, let's keep spoiler alerts to serialized dramas where tension and unpredictability play a big part. But for me, knowing about plot twists (if they're well written) only enhances my enjoyment. Before watching shows like BrBa, The Shield, and Dexter, I did my research, which did involve coming across spoilers. I still enjoyed all three of these shows very much, though I knew where certain storylines were going. So I guess everyone has a different attitude and level of concern when it comes to the spoiler issue.

Then there's movies. This is the major red zone for spoilers, people go absolutely insane if you let a twist ending or death slip. But I'm wondering where exactly the line gets crossed? Does simply saying that something is good, or that the ending was sad, or that I liked a certain performance, constitute a spoiler? What if you reveal how a movie begins, or a scene you liked in the middle, does that count as a spoiler, or does it only pertain to endings? Some people do want to go in completely fresh. I can't stress this enough: Knowing the story before you see the movie should NOT ruin the film, if it's well executed to begin with. How about classics, can you still spoil classics? Everyone knows that Verbal Kint is Keyser Soze in Usual Suspects, that Bruce Willis IS dead in The Sixth Sense, and that The Narrator and Tyler Durden are the same person in Fight Club, right? What if the twist itself is embedded in our pop culture? Is 'Luke, I am your Father', a spoiler? When is a film no longer considered spoiler worthy? When it leaves theatres? When it's out on Netflix? When it's been a decade since its release? Or does it really just depend on people's individual experiences? If you haven't seen Fight Club, I'm sorry I just 'ruined' it for you. It's an amazing film whether you know the 'twist' or not. So calm down.

How about other forms of entertainment? Books are another major candidate for spoilers. People still read, right? Growing up, I used to skip ahead and read the ending first, so I could enjoy the journey to the end all the more. As an adult reader, I try and avoid this urge out of respect for the writer, since I could see how that'd really bother some of them. I figure, if the story is worth reading, knowing what the final page says won't change that. There's this commercial on TV that just kills me, where a mother takes a break from cleaning to read a novel. The daughter comes along and blurts out that 'the twin did it'. Kind of a bitch move, considering the mom is clearly in the middle of the book, but what does the mom do? She throws the book away like there's no point reading it. As a writer, reader, and all around lover of the arts, this bugs me to no end. What about music? Can you spoil a new album by telling a fellow fan which direction the artist takes with their sound? Or the lyrics to a song they haven't heard? Can you spoil a live performance? Can you spoil a painting?

For the official record, here's what I do consider a spoiler: If the television show/film/novel in question has not been released to the public yet (either worldwide or in a specific region), and someone with insider information reveals the twist or character death, then that is officially a spoiler. I figure, as soon as one non-related audience member has seen it, it's open for discussion. What this entire post has really proven to me is that we, as a society, take this issue much too seriously. There's crime, poverty, death, all those hot button topics, but we get all riled up because we found out that an old character returned in last night's episode. Are we too obsessed with being surprised by our entertainment, or are we just too obsessed with entertainment?

Since I couldn't find a fitting quote for today's post, I'll post a video created by College Humour a couple months ago, featuring television actors outlining specific rules for spoilers. As amusing as this video is, the message of the piece takes the whole spoiler issue way too far. Like I'm really going to wait a year after a series finale before I start openly discussing how the series ended. So, in closing, I encourage my fellow nerds to calm down a bit about the whole spoiler issue and I'll do my best to be respectful about revealing plot points. We don't need official rules, we don't need spoiler alerts, we just need some perspective about the true nature of entertainment and what's really important.

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