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Spoilers: Where Is Your Line?

By Genevieve Burgess | Comment Diversions | June 29, 2012 |

By Genevieve Burgess | Comment Diversions | June 29, 2012 |

Can we all have an honest discussion about spoilers without anyone yelling? Probably not. But let’s try.

I’m asking half for my own purposes as a writer on this site and half out of a genuine curiosity. I won’t go so far as to say that I’m spoiler-proof, because I have occasionally gotten annoyed when some major plot point or resolution was revealed before I could find it out myself, but I haven’t ever had a “spoiler” actually SPOIL something for me. I’ve never understood the mindset that one’s entire enjoyment of a book, movie, or television show rests entirely on just satisfying a deeply uncurious itch regarding what happens next. The set up, interactions, and minutia are as important if not more than what ends up happening, at least for me. And it must be true for others because when books are adapted into movies the fans of the book will generally show up even when they know what’s going to happen. That said, it can be disappointing to find out important information in advance of actually seeing or reading something yourself. And if people want to drop references into casual conversation we have to kind of agree on lines, since the internet makes it harder to filter people that we interact with or the information we’re exposed to.

So where do we draw the line? I mean, best practice is obviously to avoid spoiling anything, but there seems to be kind of a vast gray area of what’s actually considered a spoiler. Let’s use The Sixth Sense as an example here, because that movie’s old enough that no one should get mad at me. Just in case you somehow haven’t seen it, though, I am about to spoil the shit out of The Sixth Sense.

Clearly the knowledge that Bruce Willis is dead from the end of the first scene through the rest of the movie is a major spoiler as it will drastically alter your first viewing of the movie. BUT! What about the knowledge that Cole sees dead people? It’s not the resolution of the movie, it’s not the final twist, but it’s a pretty integral piece of information, and when it’s revealed in the film it is played as a bit of a shock and a payoff from some confusing scenes. Knowing that going in will cause you to view part of the movie differently, but most of the movie will stay the same since you gain the knowledge in the first half of the film. Are they both spoilers? Is one a spoiler and one kind of a “Come on, now” thing?

Beyond that, I know people who specifically DO want certain information spoiled for them to help them decide if they want to see or read whatever for themselves. A big one around these parts is the death of animals, especially dogs. If a dog dies, y’all want to know even if it “spoils” part of the movie. So, what’s your line on that? Is it better to be aware of potentially traumatizing information even if it spoils the plot?

And then there’s the tricky issue of WHEN spoilers become fair game because there seems to be a social consensus that they do after a certain length of time. Otherwise those “I am your father” jokes based off The Empire Strikes Back would be met with outrage rather than eye-rolls. For this one I believe the medium matters more than anything else. In my own mind, books get a one-year grace period, and even then I do my best to make sure people have read the book in question before talking to them about it. Movies get until the DVD’s been released, and for television I’m pretty brutal and say that everything’s fair game two days after air date to allow for DVR viewers. I’m probably going to get yelled at for that last one, but honestly I find it a bit silly to expect everyone to avoid mentioning anything to do with a show because one day you might start watching it. Unless it’s premium cable; then, discretion is best because not everyone can afford premium cable.

This is complicated, isn’t it?

The more I write about this and think it through the more I’m thinking that there’s not going to be a way to set hard and fast rules that make everyone happy. Best practice is to not be a dick and to stop yourself from spreading spoilery information far and wide on social media and to keep conversations to people you know are up to date with you. But it’s also best practice to not start screaming “spoiler!” when someone mentions a detail of a show, movie, or book that’s been out for a while or that has no significant bearing on the actual events. It’s going to require trust, respect, humility, and patience. God knows those are all traits that frequent users of the internet are well known for.

So what’s your line? And please, no spoilers.

Genevieve Burgess is a Features Contributor for Pajiba. You can follow Genevieve Burgess on Twitter.

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