I was once accused (in a very polite way) of spoiling my own novel by a potential fan. I’d been plugging Epoch, my apocalyptic YA comedy, and I told the guy how the world ends at the end of it. “Isn’t that a spoiler?” he asked, and for a moment I felt like a complete dick. Then I remembered the prologue I’d written for the novel in which I’d spelled that part of the ending out. The whole point was that the world was ending. I’d wanted that as a given going in.
So, no, that wasn’t a spoiler. I hadn’t wanted readers to anticipate an ending where the apocalypse is called off.
Good for me. But I also spoiled a lot of details regarding Torchwood: Children of Earth at a panel at Polaris several years back. And I still don’t feel bad about doing it. And yet, I reserve the right to be angry with people who spoil plot points in upcoming movies/shows/books.
I also just wrote a string of sentence fragments and got away with it. But I digress (hah, did another one!).
Let’s talk about spoilers. Some avoid them, some crave them. I have a friend who won’t watch movie trailers or read reviews to avoid ingesting a plot tidbit he wanted to be surprised by. I, on the other hand, gobbled up every bit of data I could get my jaws around regarding the first Transformers movie. And on yet a third hand, I stopped reading a review of Back to the Future Part III when I was a teenager because the critic gave away two significant plot points in the first paragraph.
How can I be mad at one and not the other? With Transformers, I sought the spoilers out. With Future III, I ran into them by accident in a place where I did not expect or want to find them.
So, what actually constitutes a spoiler? I’d define it as any detail about an upcoming or existing (but undigested) story that you did not want to know. The true definition probably includes details you didn’t care about knowing too, but nobody really complains about those. Example: no one seemed bothered going in to Terminator 2: Judgment Day knowing that Arnold Schwarzenegger was a ‘good’ terminator, even though the movie is structured so that his true motives aren’t revealed until a key moment (“Get down.”). I think it has to do with the premise – if you have to give a detail away in order to simply sum up a movie’s plot, it is generally ok to do so. T2 was conceived on the premise of A Boy And His Terminator, or so I read. The simplest summary gives the ‘good terminator’ angle away.
I love anticipation. The one thing I love more than opening Christmas presents is the excitement of what they might be. A good movie trailer should make you desperate to rip that wrapping off without actually doing it for you.
What is not so cool is blowing a secret that people will see the movie (or read the book) to discover.
Movie trailers are terrible for this. The most recent trailer for Terminator: Genysys is a perfect example. The first trailer gave away just enough to whet appetites… well, maybe a little bit more than that, but it could have been worse. And in the second trailer, it was: a revelation about a key character was given away. Naturally, I won’t say what it is. Suffice to say, it’s a secret the film-makers should have kept.
I remember really looking forward to seeing The Perfect Storm until I read a review that spoiled the fate of the boat crew. I had assumed they all survived – it was a mega-budget Hollywood movie, after all. Were they really going to risk a downer ending? Well, yes they did, because that’s what really happened to the boat crew. It was based on a true story, and there had been a best-selling non-fiction book. I hadn’t read the book or known of the historical incident, so I figured George Clooney and his pals would make it home safe with their fish.
So I was one of the many people the film critic bashed in his follow-up article. It’s history! There was a book, stupid! Oh, and I’m getting paid to call you stupid! Suck it, paying customers!
As an aside, I have zero tolerance for reviewers who give away movie endings. Especially reviewers who, when called on it, get paid to write a followup article bashing all the people they’d spoiled (“Guess I better not tell ya what happens to the boat at the end of Titanic, huh?”). Juvenile antics and a lack of professionalism should not be rewarded.
When is it okay to spoil a spoiler? I just blew the climax of The Perfect Storm, after all. What is the statute of limitations on spoilers?
My sister complained that, when she saw 50 First Dates, the surprise twist at the end of The Sixth Sense was given away. I figure that if one hadn’t seen 6th Sense by the time 50 First Dates came out, you probably weren’t going to. There comes a time when a significant plot detail of a popular property becomes part of the common knowledge. Every time M. Night Shyamalan releases a new movie, people expect a twist (actually, nowadays they just expect it to suck). The joke goes, what is the twist at the end of The Happening/After Earth/The Last Airbender? Bruce Willis is a ghost!
We all know it now.
Nobody knew it on The Sixth Sense’s opening night. That was the point.
How about this? When a new sequel comes out, it is okay to talk about the one before. The entire premise of Alien Resurrection depends upon the way Alien 3 ended. The surprise cameo at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest? Pretty much given away in the cast list for At World’s End. If you’re in line for Pirates 3 and somebody remarked on the resurrection of Captain Barbossa, well, they weren’t telling you anything you wouldn’t already know ten minutes in. That kind of spoiler is forgivable.
I also think that if you are attending a discussion panel on a specific property, and you’re all there to discuss the impact of said property as a whole, then spoilers are to be expected. After all, how can you talk about something if you can’t talk about it? That was the situation I found myself in at the Torchwood panel I attended at Polaris, at 1:00 Sunday morning, back in 2007. The five-part special had aired the week prior, with the final episode released the Friday before. It was an emotional five-parter, to say the least, and all of us – panelists and audience – had a lot to say. A couple of people in the audience hadn’t seen the last episode, however, and they asked that the panel refrain from spoilering. To the panelists’ credit, they tried very hard to make that request work. A large number of us in the audience, myself included, decided Fuck That! We needed to talk about the overall impact of all 5 episodes, and we were all supposed to respect the wishes of a couple of people who wanted to have it both ways?
After the third or fourth spoiler (I forget which, but one of them was definitely mine) those guys left in disgust. I understood their frustration but had no sympathy. Like I said, how could we talk about it if we couldn’t talk about it?
And talk about it we did. Until 3 AM. That’s when I left, at any rate. I understand a large number of fans kept going until 5. That miniseries remains the best television I’ve ever seen. Really, you should check it out.
Most times, I try very hard to keep spoilers to myself. It can be frustrating – I’m still waiting for a few friends of mine to catch up on Doctor Who so I can talk to them about all the cool stuff. I’m careful to ask if everyone is up to speed before discussing a spoilery topic (well, most of the time). And I waggle an angry finger at those who post instant spoilers on social media. Like all the people who leaked the ending of the Game of Thrones finale! Boo-urns!
I reiterate: spoilers are fine if you seek them out, not if you come upon them by someone else’s carelessness. Be respectful. Post spoiler warnings. Ask yourself if the tidbit you are about to reveal is something you wouldn’t have wanted to know. There’s nothing wrong with being excited and whetting one’s appetite. Just don’t kill the anticipation!