When Should TV & Movie Spoilers ‘Expire?’

Published 5 years ago by , Updated January 23rd, 2013 at 6:55 am,

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This is a spoiler free article!

Over the last month, it’s come to my attention that my idea and Screen Rant’s readers’ idea of a spoiler may differ by just a little bit. Okay, maybe a lot of bit!

In my mind, what I wrote were not spoilers because to me and most of the world, it was old news. Yet to others, it was a no-no beyond all disrepair and I’ve been shunned by some who think I was callous in my reporting.

My first reaction was “What ever. Go back in your cave and quit griping. It’s your choice and hence, your own fault.” To me, getting snapped at about being spoiled about something that has been in the mainstream news for weeks and even months is akin to a vegetarian going into a steak house and bitching about the menu… Or those who buy houses next to a major airport, then months later looking up and going, “Whoa! Where’d that come from?”

For some, you will probably charge right into the comments section and fillet me right here and now. Fine… have at.

For those of you who stuck around, that was my sarcasm sequencer * going off and I can’t help it! Trust me, I’ve never talked my way out of traffic tickets because of that personality flaw! “Do you know how fast you were going?” “Dude, I’m not filling in the blanks for you!”

*Anyone catch what that reference is to?

After my initial reaction to the spoiler thing, I started to ponder this issue because I’ve seen other sites where readers got their feathers ruffled about being spoiled. The incident I saw was a lot more blatant than mine, but nonetheless, I reflected.

This brought me to ponder the following:

  • What is a spoiler?
  • How long should the media warn people of spoilers?
  • Should the media even care?
  • Whose responsibility is it to not sow spoilers unto the mind?

What Is a Spoiler?

The first question is pretty easy. A spoiler is a piece of information that ruins someone’s anticipation or surprise of a plot point or character/actor reveal before they are ready.

I get that and as far as I’m concerned, it’s pretty easy to do.

A New Kind Of Viewer

With the advent of the digital age and time-shifted viewing, our busy lifestyles (or disgust at the deluge of advertising on TV) creates different reactions in folks.

Some may record a show, or search it out online to view later that week. Then there are others that can’t stand the onslaught of advertising, and instead wait for the DVDs and watch an entire season on without interruption.

It’s this new type of viewer that is creating a new kind of perspective on what a spoiler is. And much to my chagrin, this sort of viewer is easy to alienate if one is not careful.

Viewer Categories

From what I see, mainly speaking, there are 3 distinct kinds of fans out there:

1. The spoiler-fan is the one who looks for the insights and behind-the-scenes info like movie spoilers. It’s a “seller” to be able put this information up and it can generate a ton of traffic for the site that does. The spoiler fan wants to know something about a show before their friends do. They want to be able to talk about these things.

2. Then there’s the non-spoiler fan. They want to be surprised by either the twists and turns of a plot, or who may show up and play a part.

3. Then there’s the contradiction-fan. He’s the fan who doesn’t want to hear anything about upcoming episodes, but claims that they like preview snippets in the opening of an episode so there’s a sense of anticipation of something to look forward to. [Crickets]

When Does The Media Label A Spoiler?

When does the media stamp a spoiler warning on an article? Different forms of media distribute a lot of different kinds of information that could be considered a spoiler every day and that’s that. But when do you think a website should stop calling something a spoiler?

With movies, I can see it being a spoiler when unknown details are given up before you see it. Heck, just seeing the pictures from a soon to be released movie can be considered a spoiler because now we know that scene is coming up. But then, how long do we use the term spoiler when talking about a movie after it’s opened? Do we wait until a few weeks until after its release? It would seem reasonable that after a film’s second weekend, all bets are off.

With TV, I can respect someone needing a week or two to view a show. The standard time frame seems to be within a week of an episode for recorded programming. Does it seem unreasonable to not label something a spoiler after it’s been released in the wild after a month or two?

Different Worlds

I recognize that we live in different paced worlds. I see, hear and am told things long before anyone else knows about them. I have a friend at FOX who mentions he’s seen call lists for some movie that’s only been rumored to be in the pipe, and another bud who sent me pics of Battlestar Galactica props that I COULD NOT PUBLISH (which I find to be cruel and unusual punishment). Heck, a couple of years ago I had the list of which “Survivor” was leaving the show, and in what week.

When do I use discretion? Should I keep it to myself that I know who Luke’s father is? There are still folks out there who haven’t seen this yet! Or should I keep it to myself that I know the Titanic sinks at the end of the movie? It’s a judgment call on everyone’s part!

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The different worlds we live in became apparent when I had blurted out that ????? was the ???? ????? on ???! Or that ???? was going to play ????? on ????????? (NOPE, NOT GONNA BLURT IT OUT HERE!). To me, this was old news. All major outlets had reported the first one. On the second bit of info, the actor/actress put their news on their website. Heck, I even had these bits a few weeks prior with nary a snag! So my presumption was that everyone knew.

A very nice reader reminded me (thanks, Sherry) that not everyone goes to all the other sites, but just visit Screen Rant and a few select others, and don’t necessarily see this info. Meanwhile other readers verbally scorned me for the error of my ways, stating they’ll never take me seriously ever again. When someone goes all out on me, it makes me want to say “Bite me! I’m in the middle of a learning curve. Have some frakking patience.”

Whose Responsibility Is It?

On whose shoulders does the onus lay? I think it’s a team effort and there’s a really big gray line running down the middle of the road we need to recognize. A two sided coin.

On the shiny side of the coin, writers need to be aware of certain bits that need to be handled as spoilers.

I also don’t want to alienate our readers, if you are indeed trying to hide from spoilers. I know you come here because we are a great avenue of information and opinion. I feel you also want to be able to trust us if we’re not going to blurt out that Old Yeller dies… oh crap… sorry.

Teamwork

This is where teamwork between you and the writers will come in handy. A GENTLE, POLITE reminder would be appreciated, because (for the most part) we are human. Sometimes our snarky attitude might shine through when we’re roughed up, but we mean well. Don’t worry – I’m getting help for that part of my personality… NOT! That’s my fun side. I can’t help myself and I blame society!

On the dark side of this coin are time limits. How long before we stop labeling things as spoilers? I’m not going to label my post about E.T. getting home as a DVD spoiler. And I’m not going to worry about telling you that Bruce Wayne is Batman. Actually, who is Batman these days?

For Some, Get Real!

It does irk me that there are those who choose to not view a show in real time, or in a responsible time-shifted fashion because, believe it or not, they also ruin it for others.

I’m part of a film club that meets on Fridays and we can’t chat about anything relevant or the hottest issues because we have a few folk that come to the get-togethers and say “Whoa, don’t talk about that! I haven’t seen the entire season yet!”

Great, we get to lumber into film club and sit in zombie-like fashion and talk about the weather because we can’t spoil it for a few folk who choose to live in a cave! (I’m about to find out who, from my film club, reads Screen Rant !)

Time to Chime In

Finally… I’m done ranting. There you have it. I asked my film club members for their take on the idea of spoilers. I discovered that we have some smart asses in the club because I got a rather large number of links to Wikipedia. DON’T DO THAT!!! For them, I suggested some Sarcasma pills!

The club, as a whole, was of the same opinion and I’d like your take on the issue. I want to do a non-scientific statistical sampling here and extrapolate the numbers into a result for a later update. Hmmm… I just tossed out some terms from my day job. dOh! Didn’t mean to do that!

Thanks for reading, and thanks for chiming in!

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  1. Josh, don’t worry about Wanted, the movie stunk anyway. Waste of 2 hours of my life with a weak plot, mediocre effects and bad acting. Ugh. The only thing worthwhile in that whole movie was Angelina’s bare butt. Oops, was that a spoiler??? :P

    I agree with you Vic, in no WAY should you wait until after the DVD release of a major film to discuss it. Unless it’s a straight-to-dvd film like the Stargate SG-1 films, that is.

    I have to agree with Josh on one point. Keep the talk about said movies or shows in relevant articles. I know we have the weekly discussion on here and that is NOT the place to randomly insert stuff about last week’s “24″ or the ending to “Watchmen” without spoiler warnings. That is a general discussion and people shouldn’t have stuff ruined for them there.

  2. As a big-time spoiler-phobe myself, thank you for thinking about the issue and inviting this discussion. The simple fact that you made this post gives me with confidence that you have good intentions regarding spoilers.

    A little about me… I personally can’t stand spoilers. I don’t watch the preview for upcoming episodes of tv shows I know I’m going to see anyway. I’m that person in the movie theater who looks away and closes my ears for the trailer of a movie I’m excited about. Once I’ve decided to watch something, that’s it, I don’t need to know anything more about it other than maybe its score on rottentomatoes. I completely avoid articles about stuff I haven’t seen yet, but I do go back and read them once I’m ready. There are entire websites that I have stopped visiting because they unexpectedly spoiled me one too many times. So, yeah, I’m pretty sensitive about the issue.

    I like your metaphor about being at a film club but not being able to discuss the movie because some people haven’t seen the film yet. I think that’s exactly right. The difference between a film club and a website is that when you go to the club meeting, I’m pretty sure you know in advance what film will be discussed. You wouldn’t attend if you hadn’t seen the film.

    A website like this is just like the film club, except harder to navigate because there are so many movies and tv shows and everybody watches them on their own personal schedules.

    The way to solve the spoilers dilemma is pretty straightforward in my opinion. You just have to clearly identify what show or movie will be discussed and refrain from major spoilers in the post title and probably the first few sentences (including the first picture). This gives people a fair chance to decide for themselves whether to read it or not. I think that’s all spoiler-phobes like me really want.

    (Some websites even label posts with warnings such as “spoilers through episode xx”. I always thought that was a pretty considerate thing to do. It would have helped with that BSG article a while back that gave away the Final Cylon.)

    I’m not at all saying that people should not discuss spoilers or the details of a movie that just came out. Of course we want to do that. My main issue is that when I’m here to read a review of Movie X, I don’t want to see some headline that accidentally spoils TV show Y.

    As a final thought, you’ll never be able to predict when something is not a spoiler anymore. There’s always someone out there who hasn’t watched it yet. You just have to give readers the ability to choose whether they want the spoilers or not.

  3. *waves hi to Bruce*

    I was hoping you’d be posting this article soon! Very interesting. And as I see John already did the joke I was going to do (WHAT? Titanic sunk?? etc.), I will move on to serious posting. ;)

    I like the discussion you’ve got going on here. I agree with those who say a quick note at the top of an article warning about a potential spoiler (for tv episodes or films that have not yet aired/premiered) would be helpful. Then those who choose not to know spoilers ahead of time can avoid the article and bookmark it for reading at a later date, once they’ve seen the show. Once the film or TV episode has been shown to a wide audience (maybe giving people 1 to 2 weeks to get to it), all bets are off and all discussions open.

    I happened to read a very interesting article about Sixth Sense before seeing the film, and was thoroughly enjoying the content of the article until the writer gave away the ending. HOWEVER, I fully own up to that being my own fault because — even though the author of the article did not warn me ahead of time that he was going to mention that key detail — I hadn’t seen the film yet (one of those cases where I kept meaning to and just hadn’t gotten around to it), but it had been out for months already. So that was my own fault. If I had seen it before I read the article, I wouldn’t have found out that very big spoiler. Now I wonder if I could have figured it out while watching the film or if I would have reached the denouement with my mouth hanging wide open in surprise and awe like so many did back when that movie first premiered. I doubt I would have figured it out, but I’ll always wonder. That’s the thing, though… it was my own fault, that time, because I waited far too long and then went ahead and read a thorough article analyzing the film, when I should have realized it might tell me too much.

    But if the film or TV episode hasn’t yet aired, I do think it would be kind to allow readers to make their own minds about whether or not they want to proceed with reading an article that might spoil them. A simple warning sentence at the top of the article would suffice. If they keep reading, they do so at their own risk.

    I do think that certain spoilers (not all, but some of them) should not be known before viewing for the first time. Obviously, it’s a viewer’s choice; some don’t care if they know things ahead of time so they soak up as much information as possible. And truly, some spoilers aren’t really that big a deal. But there are those special spoilers that can affect the way a viewer enjoys the show for the first time. I agree that after you’ve seen it once, it no longer matters; knowing the information won’t destroy your enjoyment of watching the film or TV episode again and again. But I really do think it matters for that first viewing. If I know a key piece of data ahead of time, I might not appreciate the full impact of it being revealed in the scene itself, in the moment. Those wonderful scenes that make your jaw drop open in surprise because you didn’t see the twist coming, or when your eyes well up because you didn’t know that person was going to die, or whatever amazing moment that affects you emotionally as a viewer. If you already know what’s coming, you might still like the episode or film and appreciate its artistry, but you’ll never know how much deeper its biggest moments could have affected you.

    Thanks so much for writing the article!

  4. As a final thought, you’ll never be able to predict when something is not a spoiler anymore. There’s always someone out there who hasn’t watched it yet. You just have to give readers the ability to choose whether they want the spoilers or not.

    Well said, Forrester. Kudos to your entire post. I agree.

  5. i like the web site Themoviespolier because I am abit hard of hearing
    and I can read what I missed. I somtimes stop a movie,read as far as
    I have watched and it helps a lot
    I love the long long reviews on themovie spoiler.

  6. I usually don’t mind spoilers. If you’re that against them, stay off the Internet.