This article contains spoilers. Lots of spoilers. Crazy spoilers. Eeeeeeevil spoilers.
Geek culture, man. You can spend your entire life immersed in it and still not understand it completely. Take spoilers, for instance. When are they okay? When are they not okay? Does anybody have a definitive list of when they want spoilers? Personally, once I’m sold on something I tend to avoid the media hype about it as much as possible because I’d like to go in blind and experience everything as it happens, but being a citizen of the internet, they don’t make it easy.
There used to be a code of honor for some mediums that they’d label an article title with spoilers. For instance, it might say “Villain for Next Spider-Man Movie Announced!” At that point, you could choose to click on the article or not. The specific instance that got me thinking about writing this article came from Agents of SHIELD.
A couple weeks before the show’s return headlines on nerd-based websites declared “Deathlok is coming to Agents of SHIELD!” I don’t know if Disney paid these sites to do this (I tend to blame all worldy problems on Disney whenever possible), if Marvel is applying their stupid comic book marketing to television or what, but any hype generated (as if the average viewer would give a shit about such an obscure character) was offset by the fact that the show did a great job of setting it up and revealing it only to have it blown weeks before it was revealed. This pretty much destroyed the entire episode for me.
Instead of being in the moment and having my mind blown as intended, I spent the entire episode thinking “Oh, so that guy is going to be Deathlok. Look, He’s getting his Deathlok leg. Such Deathlok. So cyborg. Wow.” The name was never spoken or implied, but then at the end of the episode, the camera zooms in on his leg, where you see word is stamped in what would have been a “whoa” moment for loyal comic nerd viewers, but instead was just a “duh” moment because it had been all over the flippin’ web. This kind of crap is new to television, but there’s plenty of precedents elsewhere.
Spoiler alert, Lois: nobody stays dead in comics. Such a drama queen.
At this point I have to wonder if this won’t become standard operating procedure in popular media. Comic companies have been guilty of deliberately spoiling their most important stories for years in hopes of enticing collectors to flock to get their copy of the historic death or of a big name or some obscure character coming out of the closet. Anybody with a brain knows that collectors flocking will most likely mean there would be no point in collecting an issue since everybody having a copy does little to appreciate the value, but a sale a sale to the comic industry.
How mind-blowing would it have been to have been reading your monthly Superman comic expecting to see the big guy win yet again and to have been met with Doomsday beating the Man of Steel to death instead? Right?! Too bad. In case you missed the media firestorm preceding it, they made damn sure to plaster “THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN” on the cover alongside the (amazing) image of Lois Lane clutching his brutalized body. Sure, there were still feels to be felt, but imagining how much more truly jaw-dropping such a moment could have been if you’d never seen it coming makes me kind of pissed.
On the other hand, take a franchise like Harry Potter. Reports and videos of trolls pirating the books and showing up at midnight bookstore releases to rain spoilers upon unsuspecting fans reveal some pretty strong feelings regarding the practice.
Props to the guy with his hands on his ears going” la la la la”.
Which brings us back to the question, when and why are spoilers acceptable? A lot of us scour the net for any little tidbit of leaked information about upcoming films and television shows, but we will threaten you with bodily harm if you see something before us and try to tell us. We’ll pitch a fit if somebody tells us who dies in a message board post or comment section without proper warning, but we just accept it as part of comic book marketing.
And what is the statute of limitations? Some twists are so ingrained in popular culture that it’s almost unthinkable that somebody wouldn’t be aware of them. Some are so well-known that they transcend the medium altogether and are common knowledge even among people with no interest in the work it came from.
Speaking of transcending mediums, what’s the etiquette with that? Take Game of Thrones, for instance. The show is pretty universally loved and airs some ten eagerly anticipated episodes a year. But the books the show devoutly follows have been available for consumption for years. Wherever people discuss the TV show, the George R.R. Martin fans are likely to converge and begin discussing things that the show hasn’t caught up with. This leads to all sorts of drama.
Is it kosher to banish commenters who are big enough fans to have read the original work to cater to fans who aren’t? I mean, A Song of Ice and Fire may not be Star Wars, but most of the stories have been out there being discussed for years. At what point do you just say “get off the damn web if you don’t want to know”? Or does a cross-medium franchise have its own set of rules? What if it’s a remake? Can I not discuss that Carrie kills everyone at her prom (oops) because you haven’t seen the latest revamp yet and lived your entire life without bothering to see the classic film (or other remake) or read the popular book? To what extent are those in the know beholden to those who aren’t?
I mean, if you love something enough to care about spoilers, odds are you are going to be on top of it. There’s a definite level of dickishness associated with deliberately spoiling something for somebody else, depriving them of that “holy shit” moment they can never get back, but there’s also a slightly lower level for people who choose not to keep up with popular culture and make a show out of making everybody else dance to their ever-so-slow tune.
Then there’s the tricky business of online reviewing. To fully explore what makes some stories great, it can be necessary to allude to if not state outright plot elements that might be better left a surprise. Do you risk semi-spoilers in order to better convey your appreciation, or do you hope that your vague positivity shines through and gets the point across? People might say to always avoid spoilers outright, but recalling the most famous and celebrated film critic of all time wrote a popular review of Night of the Living Dead that was little more than just a list of spoilers and observations regarding children in the audience with precious little backlash, one wonders what the standard is. Maybe it was just a different time.
As far as I can see at this time, spoilers for casual pre-release marketing purposes seem to be acceptable while post-release spoilers between fans are unacceptable. Trailers that give away practically the whole plot of a film or TV commercials and “on the next…” segments are pretty commonplace. The current review standard seems to indicate that spoilers are okay so long as you give fair warning first. With that in mind, at some point I wish we’d question the need for major entertainment companies to use them as advertising. That seems to be the one area nobody has a problem with and it’s often the most egregious. Unless one is trolling. Like so:
Spoiler alert, losers!
Personally, I kind of prefer the J.J. Abrams approach to marketing. Dude doesn’t want to tell us shit about shit he’s doing. Half the time, he’ll avoid even giving you the title of a film for as long as he can unless he’s working on an established franchise. Remember that first trailer for Cloverfield? THAT is how you get peoples’ attention. Giant monster movies are a small market, but his refusal to tell anyone what the hell they just saw made what would have been a cult release at best a majorly anticipated event among all sorts of moviegoers.
So round and round we go, when we can rock spoilers nobody knows. Perhaps Congress could spare some time from their lax schedule of destroying America to hash out some Constitutional amendments regarding lawful use of spoilage. In the meantime, surf the web at your own risk because here in the wildlands of cyberspace there be trolls and corporate leaks. Beware!