The Truth About Spoiler Alerts

Published 1 year ago by , Updated April 2nd, 2014 at 9:12 am,

Spoiler Alert Discussion The Truth About Spoiler Alerts

[The following article represents the views of Kofi Outlaw. Not Screen Rant, its other writers, editors, owners or subsidiaries. All angry responses may be directed @ppnkof. Thank You – “Management”]

Today we live in a world where our options for consuming TV and Movies are as extensive as ever. We can do it the traditional way (catching things on live broadcast or when they first premiere in theaters) or we can save that experience for later – either in the near or not so near future – via DVRs, streaming services, digital downloads, and everything in between.

As is always the case, though, advancement in technology brings with it new challenges to our culture. With the advent of more personalized and customizable systems of media consumption, came a new and uncertain terrain of proper cultural etiquette, when it comes to the discourse about the TV shows and movies that capture widespread attention. No bigger evidence of that brave new cultural world exists than the term “SPOILERS.” Born of the digital era, the word exists for no other purpose besides regulating our discourse on TV and movies, in a world where one can never be sure what the next person has seen or not seen.

Memento Ending SPOILER The Truth About Spoiler Alerts

2000 SPOILER: He IS Sammy Jenkins!

However, like so many cultural practices of the new technological era, the issue of SPOILERS has veered somewhat off course, which is why I am here with some friendly course-correction: I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, ladies and gents, but not dropping SPOILERS – in public conversation, on the Internet, WHEREVER – is a courtesy that a person (or Website) chooses to give; it is not one of your unalienable rights or entitlements.

I’m honest enough to admit that I was once guilty of the exact thing I’m about to criticize: I thought that I was entitled to an existence in which the movies and TV shows I had not watched yet were never ruined by those who discussed plot details and twists without discretion. My hardline stance on the subject wasn’t just ideological: back in high school, I suffered the great trauma of having David Fincher’s Se7en – which has one of the biggest surprise twists in ’90s movies – SPOILED for me by a fellow JV soccer player with a chip on his shoulder. I know about the crushing disappointment of having something spoiled for you, and for years and years I called “SPOILERS!” on anyone in earshot who was about to (or just had) ruined something I wanted to watch for myself. And I didn’t feel bad for doing so.

The Sixth Sense SPOILERS Bruce Willis Dead The Truth About Spoiler Alerts

1999 SPOILER: Bruce Willis is dead the whole time!

The turning point came when, this past summer, I was confronted with a situation I could not justify. I was out in public, when a group of young men nearby began a conversation about Sons of Anarchy, which was about to return to the airwaves. The show was about to hit season 6, however seasons 4 & 5 were still sitting in my Netflix que, awaiting my attention. So there I was, ready to tell these young men – excited about the potential developments in the new season of their favorite show – that they couldn’t discuss said show because I had not caught up with it yet.

….And in that moment, as I was about to cry foul, it hit me: I was on the wrong side of this SPOILERS thing. I had no right to do anything but shut up and suffer my penance for not keeping up, or simply remove myself from earshot. The burden of censorship rested on me, the lazy viewer – not them, the dedicated viewers. I was using the word SPOILERS as a coercive tool – and so many others are doing the same, these days.

The closest comparison I can make is cell phones. If you can believe this, kids, there used to be a time when phone calls tended to be held in private – in a particular room or booth that was designated as space for the purpose of phone conversations. Then came the advent of mobile phones (cordless, then cellular, now “smart”) and suddenly it was as if technology had magically granted people new social entitlement: to talk as loud as they want, wherever they want, whenever they want. These days, with bluetooth headsets and such, they can actually talk as loud as they want, wherever they want, whenever they want, looking as crazy as they want  - and woe be to anyone who would try to object. If you’ve been to a movie theater in the last half decade, you’ve surely dealt with this issue.

Terminator SPOILERS Kyle Reese Sarah Connor The Truth About Spoiler Alerts

1984 SPOILER: The Savior was fathered by the same guy he sent back in time!

…Which brings us back to SPOILERS. Like cellphones, the new, singularly-occupied bubble technology now allots to each individual has fostered a belief in some (okay, many…) that life should move at the pace set within their personal bubble. This specious notion has progressed to a ridiculous point: You can’t talk in public without some random screaming “SPOILERS!” like you just spit in his/her face; want to discuss a big TV/movie event on your own personal social media page, with other interested parties? See how many complaints show up on YOUR PAGE from others chastising you for a SPOILER violation. Happen to write for a website or blog? If your headline about a major event in TV/Movies is anything but a vague and bland head-nod to the subject at hand, you might as well make your own effigy for the mob to burn. Nowadays, people treat their respective bubble-worlds like they are holy shrines to be worshipped, and TV shows/Movies don’t actually exist until they finally shine their divine light of attention upon them.

The reality of matter is that cinema (and even more so TV) were created to be communal experiences. Whether in a movie house, or via broadcasts airing simultaneously in millions of homes, we were meant to watch these stories unfold together (a practice now reserved solely for sporting events and awards shows, its seems). Subsequently, the various lanes of discourse that these screen stories engender were meant to be discussed together, often in specifically allotted frames of time. While people are indeed using the new options technology offers them to break from the traditional communal viewership pattern, it still currently remains the trend (by and large) that the discourse about what is viewed takes place in a more traditional, communal (and timely) fashion.

Soylent Green SPOILERS ending The Truth About Spoiler Alerts

1973 SPOILER: It’s Made of People!

In other words: when a movie is finally out, or a show finally airs, many people want to discuss what they saw immediately following the experience; they don’t want to wait a week until everyone on planet earth is caught up (a month, a year, depending on the viewer’s habits). There has been no “on demand” option created for the pop-culture zeitgeist; it moves when and how it moves, and if you follow your trending topics on social media, you know by now the pattern of just how quickly it does move – wholly independent of the habits, preferences and whims of a single individual. That fact alone makes any claim of anti-SPOILER rights not only invalid, but utterly delusional. Live in your bubble, watch things in your own time, fine, but the world outside of your world still moves according to its own rhythm and pace, and claiming that you have some kind of right or entitlement to be shielded from that reality is simply incorrect.

The worst part is that there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to SPOILER qualifications anymore; doesn’t matter if 10 million people are discussing Breaking Bad the morning after it ended – someone is crying SPOILER as if 10 million other people should whisper around them. Doesn’t matter if I’m discussing a movie that’s a couple months, a year, several years, or even several decades old – some nut is crying SPOILERS if I happen to mention what Dil (Jaye Davidson) is concealing under that bath robe in The Crying GameCatching up on The Wire or Lost a decade late? Whoops! Nobody better SPOIL them for you! Ten years let is never too late! You’re entitled! Except that…. you’re not. At all. Nobody owes you any secrets at this point.

Planet of the Apes Ending SPOILER The Truth About Spoiler Alerts

1968 SPOILER: It was Earth All Along!

Yet, everyday people censor themselves in conversation (verbal or web-based) about the pantheon of TV and movies – and some websites (like even risk traffic and revenue to keep big SPOILERS safely hidden away from the casual observer – lest he/she opt to look for themselves. But let us all be clear: This practice is not done because of what is owed or what is required when it comes to the listener, the reader; it is done as a simple courtesy, because one person (or website team) is empathetic enough to know how bad it can be when the developments or surprises of a good show or film are SPOILED, and we want to preserve that experience for others, as hopefully it was preserved for us. It is a choice kindness – not a hardline duty.

This needs to be remembered, going forward, as we continue to revise our culture to suit the needs of a new era – and it’s only going to get messier, before it gets better. As more big movies open overseas before they do domestically (see: Marvel); as streaming and subscription services offer more alternatives to traditional broadcast television; as social media continues to help the cultural zeitgeist (and all the discourse that comes with it) develop and spread at a rapid pace, the issue of who knows what, when, and how much about a given show or movie is only going to get harder to separate.

Jack LOST series finale The Truth About Spoiler Alerts

2010 SPOILER: Oh, too soon?

….But before you’re so quick to call “SPOILERS!” from now on, maybe take a second for self-reflection, or maybe just fire up that Netflix que and catch up to the rest of us. I’m sure you’ll be happy when your two cents can finally be added to the discussion at hand.

[REMINDER: The following article represents the views of Kofi Outlaw. Not Screen Rant, its other writers, editors, owners or subsidiaries. All angry responses may be directed @ppnkof. Thank You – “Management”]

Follow Kofi Outlaw on Twitter @ppnkof
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  1. Sorry but I don’t agree with that. If you want to talk about a recently released TV Show or movie you should at least do it in a special board or article (as screenrant does it) so everyone who has seen the film/TV Show/Game can talk spoilers without ruining it for everyone else.

    Who honestly has the time to watch every piece of new media AS it comes out? Also you’re forgetting that the US gets TV Shows a lot sooner then other people. When this basically comes down to is just having a little bit of respect for others. It’s like opening a door for someone, you don’t have to do it but a lot of people will think bad of you especially those who spoil things on purpose. The way I see it:

    Article headlines shouldn’t reveal any information for people glancing over there’s a way of getting people to read you’re article beyond “BOOKER DEWITT WAS A GHOST THE WHOLE TIME – BIOSHOCK INFINITE DISCUSSION” You can draw people into you’re article without giving away spoilers, on the other hand if someone then goes and reads the article and the context of the article spoils Bioshock Infinite then it’s their own fault.

    The same thing applies to overhearing spoilers, if you want to go around telling people not to talk about certain aspects of pop culture you’re going to be doing that till your own funeral (Which won’t be very long considering you’re also being an annoying dick).

    Also not putting spoilers into you’re article titles is NOT going to cause Screenrant to have to close down. Ok it’s perhaps annoying when a film has been out for a few years but I mean current stuff it’s just common courtesy again to not spoil it.

    • I find it ironic that you just spoiled BIOSHOCK for me with no warning.

      • Yeah I put a fake spoiler, I’m not gonna put a real spoiler when I’m going on about how it’s respectful to not just up and spoil something for someone.

  2. I live in Spain, as such, the only comepltely legal way to watch shows is to wait for them to be shown here. But I’ve got enough sense to stay away from where I know I might run in to spoilers. That being said, by living in Spain I don’t have the problem of people talking about the show in public.

  3. The idea that nobody should have to post spoiler warnings in the age of TIVO, DVRs, Netflix, OnDemand, HBOGo, torrents, etc. is frankly sort of asinine. More and more, media is being consumed based upon the individuals schedule, NOT on the schedule of a network or a movie release. It’s one thing to not worry about sporting events, which are still generally viewed live, but posting spoilers about tv shows and movies immediately following their initial broadcast or release is just a dick move.

    Not everybody can watch a show as it airs, or see a movie opening weekend. That’s the entire basis behind this gradual destruction of broadcast TV as we once knew it. People no longer have large scale collective viewing experiences like they did with tv in previous decades outside of things like the Super Bowl. 76 million people watched the finale of Seinfeld at the same time. Do you think that would happen if it were to end now? Hell no. Half of the viewers would have to DVR it and watch it at a later time or date.

    If we want to be able to watch tv on our own terms on an ala carte basis, which is obviously the direction things are headed, we sure as hell should respect the fact that not everybody is going to be caught up at the same time. We shouldn’t be loosening restrictions on spoilers warnings, we should be tightening them. And it shouldn’t still be an issue at this point. This article is totally backwards.

    • Exactly, I find the worst part of this article is how he makes a note that article headlines shouldn’t have to be more vague, if anything they should be more vague. A lot of the shows US viewers get come out at a later date for us UK Viewers yet I have to put up with various articles with titles that just flat out reveal there’s going to be a twist or a character death.

      I totally get that Screenrant is a site that runs by page views and that you guys want headlines to grab a person’s attention but wouldn’t you agree it’s annoying when that includes a plot twist? I come to Screenrant to find information on the production of my favorite movies and TV Shows so if they were to be more relaxed with spoiler filled titles I’d have to stop visiting the site, I mean you can’t tell the difference between an article on a new actor joining the cast of say the amityville asylum and one on a huge plot twist till you’ve read the article headline.

  4. I think I felt similar to Kofi when SPOILERS was chanted in the comments section of any media site that ran an article about Family Guy killing off Brian. That event led me to wonder, could an episodic cartoon really be spoiled?

    Stick with me on this. We can all agree that Family Guy is not a drama series, where the events of each episode contribute to the next. I.e. it’s not one big story, it’s hundreds of little stories. If you miss an episode of Family Guy, you can follow the next one, yes?

    But then, bam! Brian is killed. The internet explodes. I saw comments berating Screenrant for running anything that tried to make sense of WHY Fox and McFarlane did it (easy, ratings). But that event, Brian’s death, made me think. The argument can be made that that single episode is not episodic to the rest of the series. Brian is no longer a regular character.

    As for me, I’m willing to wager that a majority of us shocked by the news Brian was killed off weren’t even regularly watching Family Guy to begin with, or at least keeping up with after it’s been on air for more than 10 years. Why don’t I keep up with it? I don’t know, it’s mostly episodic I guess. Sure, there are some devoted fans out there who saw it in real time, but guess what they did? They immediately went online an shared it with all of us who didn’t care to keep up with it in the first place.

    Personally I don’t think anyone should be tarred and feathered for trying to promote a discussion of something everyone else on the internet is already talking about.

    • Brian is no longer a character, full stop.

      Family Guy may be episodic, but it still has a continuity, the Chicken fights for example; these carry on for the last one, which may have been two or three episodes before. Just because the story of one episode is largely unrelated to the story of the next, does not make them uniquely independent of one another.

  5. Ah, the old first world problem of spoiling media for the masses. Here’s my thoughts on the issue of spoilers:
    Nobody likes anything being spoiled for them unless they literally asked for it. It doesn’t matter if it’s been out for a month, a few years, or even almost a century! Take The Hobbit or LOTR-people will say what happens in the end and in their defense, they’ll say something like it’s been around for and pretty much everyone knows about it.
    It’s the same with The Empire Strikes Back’s famous scene-it’s been mentioned so many times due to the popularity of the series, but it’s still a spoiler to an unknown audience who haven’t seen the film.

    You shouldn’t spoil those twists and turns in the 2nd or 3rd act of any medium. Even if the title in question is widely popular, there always some who have yet to catch up, and you should be courteous not to mention it.
    However, those aforementioned people can be partially to blame, as they should really avoid websites/discussion areas/articles that mention the thing they have yet to see, as things may be brought up you didn’t know yet. You need the willpower to avoid spoiler-y things until you have seen the film/read the book etc.

  6. I’m simple. I’ll give you (meaning anyone) two weeks with a spoiler warning, after the airing of whatever show. After that, it’s open discussion. If you have a problem with that, then you have two things, get mad, and get over it.

    • That’s a fair compromise. At least then you know for certain most people have found a way to watch the show/movie. I had Game Of Thrones spoiled for me but seeing as it was a while after Season 1 had aired I got that most of the fans were going to be talking about the show.

      Still on Screenrant the headlines shouldn’t openly spoil things on the site but I don’t think the article itself needs a spoiler warning. I mean if you go to WALKING DEAD EPISODE 7 RECAP and you haven’t seen episode 7 then that’s kind of your own fault.

    • @Dingo – now, is that just on the internet or do you do that in reality while talking with your friends. Because if I was your friend and you were exposing spoilers on a show that I watch but I’m a season behind (say I watch it on DVD or Netflix), I wouldn’t hang out with you (if you’re blurting out spoilers two weeks after air).

      Now, if you’re discussing it with others, I could simply walk away and choose not to be part of the discussion. It’s the same on the internet, I can avoid the pages/podcasts devoted to Dexter (which I recently started on Netflix), but I’m not going to avoid the internet entirely. No matter if you’re in reality or on the internet, to blurt out spoilers (or post spoilers on an unrelated thread) for no reason is rude…2 weeks later or 2 minutes.

      • @Professor Procrastination … I do it in both real life and online. I chaffed the wheat of sensitive friends long ago. :)

        • hm, you just sound like a turd person. you should consider what other people think and feel.

          • Considering that I’m not the one coming out with personal attacks, I’m going to guess that that’s projection on your part.

            • Not to get rude here but when you say things like “I chaffed the wheat of sensitive friends long ago” I can’t imagine it was hard on the guys you abandoned. I used to be less liberal with spoilers, it annoyed my friends but instead of getting rid of them I just tried harder at keeping my lips sealed.

              • I forgot about this conversation, it was three months ago. :)

                Don’t worry about being rude, I’m not overly sensitive. I wouldn’t know how hard it was on them, I stopped talking to them long ago. They were all casual friends… acquaintances. Friend vetting is a very long process. I’ve had the same circle of friends for years with an occasional addition. But, the spoiler thing is part of the vetting process. It’s to cancel out pettiness and inanity. It’s not the offense at a spoiler, it’s the offense at something trivial. If they’re offended that easily at something that insignificant, it can be easily deduced that offense is a thing that they often take, and at a great many things. If I wanted to walk on egg shells, I’d lose more weight.

      • @Dingo – With my viewing habits, I can’t expect to go through life without some things being spoiled. But, I would avoid contact with a friend that goes out of their way to ruin things for me. I wouldn’t consider myself “sensitive” though, more like evasive. I don’t understand why anyone would want to spoil another person’s viewing on purpose. It’s not my style to be that inconsiderate, but to each their own. Good luck to you :)