4 Reasons the Spoiler Alert Is Going Away Forever
If there's one thing we've learned from the new J.J. Walker-directed Space Battles movie (I think that's what it's called -- I'm not really a Spielberg fan), it's that the discussion around spoilers is reaching its tipping point. Although there have been plenty of hoaxes, there was at least one legitimate threat of violence toward somebody who revealed plot details during a conversation on Facebook. They had to lock down the guy's high school. An entire school shut down for an entire day.
It was in Montana, though, so that probably didn't take a ton of work.
Guys, we have got to calm down. I'm sure you've heard by now that, according to science, you actually enjoy stories more when you know what's going to happen. But I'm not here to convince you that you secretly like things you don't think you like. That said, regardless of how you feel about spoilers, there are a few things we need to take a step back and consider before someone gets hurt. Such as ...
The Entire Concept Of Spoilers Was Invented As A Marketing Ploy
So how did we get here? After all, this is not exactly the natural state of things. Do you really think people standing in line to see Shakespeare's latest joint would go medieval on anyone who rolled by screaming "Brutus killed Caesar"? Of course not. They were too busy trying to replace all the people who vanished during the Black Death. As film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum pointed out in 2006, novels and plays would historically put spoilers right in their titles and chapter headings. You had to if you wanted to get anyone to read them, what with all that plague business occupying everyone's minds. And they say modern people have no attention spans.
Maybe another plague would do us all some good.
According to AMC, the idea of the spoiler as we know it today dates to 1960 with the release of Psycho, when Hitchcock warned viewers not to reveal the big plot twists to anyone who hadn't seen the film. Of course, the idea of the twist ending goes back much further than that. Probably the most famous one ever occurred 20 years earlier, in a little movie you might have heard of called Citizen Kane -- and people apparently had zero qualms about revealing it to anyone willing to listen. One review from 1941 (the year the movie was released) spells it right out.
The sled is the killer!
Hitchcock invented the spoiler for the same reason those earlier novelists and playwrights shot them all over your face: to get people interested in his movies. Future blockbusters used the same gimmick. But it didn't really pick up steam until the Internet allowed people to have the kind of enormous, anonymous group discussion we'd never been able to have before -- for better or disgustingly, dick-pic-ly worse. We'll come back to that, but now that we're up to speed, we have to realize that ...
It Puts Creators In An Impossible Position
Hey, remember when Cristin Milioti bald-face fucking lied about the terrible, terrible ending of How I Met Your Mother, and you hated and distrusted her forever? She's clearly the devil, but just as an exercise, let's try really hard to sympathize with her position. See, we're in this weird place where we're desperate to know what's going to happen, but we'll execute people if they tell us. So what was she supposed to say? Obviously people were going ask her about it, and obviously she couldn't say, "Yep, you got it. I'm going to die. Good job." The fans would have put her head on a spike.
Which, weirdly, is exactly how the show ended anyway.
Speaking of lying assholes and heads on spikes: Jon Snow is not dead, you guys, regardless of what Kit Harington says. He lays it on even thicker than Milioti, insisting "I'm not coming back next season" and dismissing the contract it took fans approximately two seconds to dig up which clearly suggests otherwise. Oh really, Kit? Then why have so many people spotted you hanging around Ireland, where the show is filmed, and even on the set in full costume? Why are you and Carice van Houten, the actress who plays the characters everyone thinks/knows is going to resurrect you, suddenly being such prick teases about it? Why don't you tell your co-workers to shut the fuck up, and then shut the fuck up?
The better question is: Why are we asking? Why are we hunting the man down if we don't want to know? Why is Entertainment Tonight running this story when, two weeks earlier, they ran this headline?
But you just ...
I don't know, man. Probably? But there would be no question if you motherfuckers would stop asking him about it. It's weird that it's even a question, though, right? Wouldn't you know if someone did something as terrible as spoil Game Of Thrones to you? That's where it starts getting really absurd, because ...
The Rules Are Complicated, And No One Agrees On Them
Let's say you're trying to be a good person according to the often-arbitrary rules of polite society, and you want to know when it's okay to engage the public in a discussion about the awesome/terrible thing some creative person just did. Luckily for you, there are multiple guides readily available on this here Internet machine to tell you exactly that. A quick Google tells me that I should wait to discuss the plot of a movie until either two weeks after the release, the next Monday, the next next Monday, after one month, or two months after it's released on DVD.
If you're confused so far, here's a picture of a dog with people hands to help make sense of it all.
TV episodes can be discussed after 24 hours, 72 hours, or the next season. Books can be discussed after two weeks, three months, or never. You get the idea. A well-meaning person can never be sure if they're about to be hanged.
We can't even agree on what counts as a spoiler. I've seen people get mad about people saying "Oh my god, I'm traumatized by that thing that happened, which I'm not going to say, because I am a thoughtful person who knows that some people don't know about it yet." They were specifically trying to be respectful, but apparently, just knowing that something bad happens is enough to ruin something for someone. The other day, I saw a dude get mad that a trailer showed a character he didn't know was in a superhero movie.
"Why not just list the names of the actors on the movie poster while you're at it?!?!?!"
If that's how you feel, then maybe trailers aren't for you, friend. You know, I'm starting to wonder if, for some people, this isn't just an excuse to get mad about something. If you're sensitive to spoilers, you might argue that if we can't decide what a spoiler is and when it's okay to unleash its terror upon an unsuspecting populace, then we should just never publicly discuss art at all. That's certainly a common position. Here's why it won't work:
Our Culture Can't Sustain It, So It's Moving Away From It
We're not talking about one-on-one conversation in any of this. If you're talking to someone whom you know hasn't seen something and doesn't want to know about it, it's plainly rude to tie them up and force them to listen to your excruciatingly detailed synopsis because you have really weird fetishes. We're not talking about long-form media, in which you have the ability to say "We're about to talk about a thing, so go away now if you don't want to hear about the thing. But out of curiosity, why did you even click on that headline?" We're talking about someone unwittingly stumbling across a public conversation, usually via some kind of social media.
You know, the same way we communicate everything these days.
Like a lot of people these days, almost none of my friends live within 1,000 miles of me. I can't throw a We Saw The Walking Dead Last Night Party and discuss it only with the people who show up, and implementing spoiler text is not high on Facebook or Twitter's priority lists. I can't find out if all 4,000+ of my Twitter followers watched the last Game Of Thrones without asking them all individually. (I tried, and after the third week, I had restraining orders in 107 different counties.) People should either A) do that, it's a really good show, B) stay off social media until they can, or C) accept that if they can't do A or B, it's just not a high enough priority for them to demand that everyone else tiptoe around them. Suggesting that the solution is to not discuss art at all is to violently misunderstand the entire point of art.
And most people have accepted that. According to a Netflix survey, 76 percent of Americans have accepted that spoilers happen, 94 percent will keep watching despite them, and 13 percent admit that they make them more interested. (Note: This does not apply to the British, who are dead fucking serious about their spoilers. In other words, all British about it.) In response, Netflix has created a service that shows Vine-like loops of major TV and movie spoilers.
It's like CliffsNotes for movies!
On the other hand, 37 percent of us feel guilty if we spoil something for someone else. I'm no mathologist, but I'm pretty sure that means like four percent of us are feeling bad for no reason. We still agree, just because Hitchcock told us so, that it's a crime worthy of violent retribution, with varying degrees of jokingliness and zero degrees of self-awareness. Because the blame always lies with the offending party, doesn't it? It's the fault of Lucifer Milioti or the people who made the trailer, instead of us for not taking responsibility for our own viewing experience and assuming that everyone's preferences regarding spoilers are the same as our own.
But that's starting to change. I'm seeing more and more people saying "Alright, tonight is the premiere of Galaxy Skirmishes, so I'm getting off social media until I can see it tomorrow!" and those people deserve goddamn medals. Soon, you'll be one lone voice throwing a fit about something everyone else has stopped caring about, like gays in the military or the act of terrorism that was the ending of How I Met Your Mother. Don't be that guy.
Manna has the utmost faith that no one will misunderstand what she's saying, and she awaits your praise on Twitter.
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Spoilers spread rampant through the Internet like the virus that created the Planet of the Apes. (Whoops.) But you can protect yourself by reading 4 Tactics For Preventing Spoilers Before They Happen. And see how American Beauty spoiled itself with 5 Movies Plots Given Away by the Characters' Names.
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