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Spouting Off on Spoilers

By Miscellaneous | Miscellaneous | November 11, 2009 |

By Miscellaneous | Miscellaneous | November 11, 2009 |

A long time ago, people would go to the movies at any time they wanted. They might enter a theater in the middle of a film, watch the second half and then stay to watch the beginning. It was a weird concept in terms of narrative consumption, but that’s how it was. Until 1960, when Alfred Hitchcock released Psycho and ordered cinemas to forbid people to enter after the film began. He wanted people to be completely surprised at a certain plot twist occurring early on.

But Psycho is such a great film that it can be enjoyed despite knowing the infamous spoiler. How many of us knew the early fate of Janet Leigh prior to seeing it for the first time? I bet most of my generation did, and we all still appreciated this classic piece of cinema anyway. A quality film is one that loses nothing if the plot is already known. Even the ending.

Of course, I’m all for surprises, which Hitch in particular always knew the importance of. And I’d rather go into a movie with as little info about it as possible. But if I hear how it ends, I probably won’t mind and see it anyway if it’s supposed to be a great film. I saw Antichrist knowing the big shocker because I love the work of Lars von Trier. I’ll be honest and say I’d have enjoyed the film more had I not known about the already infamous climax, but knowing didn’t necessarily ruin the film for me.

Serialized television, however, is different for me for some reason. I guess because the plot of a series is drawn out more. And if I know how a show ends its season or its run, I may not want to rent the DVDs, which is usually how I watch TV. Still, great entertainment should transcend its plot points.

It was Kurt Vonnegut who influenced my attitude on spoilers. He was the kind of writer who’d tell you how his book ends early on. I learned from his work that it’s more about the journey than the destination in storytelling. I think Roger Ebert also informed my stance when I was younger by constantly noting that a movie is not about what is about, but how it is about.

So why am I telling you what I think of spoilers? Because there’s been a discussion about the touchy subject going on around the movie and TV blogosphere today, spawned by a spoilerific interview with Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner at The Daily Beast. Check out some of the opinions from around the interweb below:

  • Jace Lacob (author of the Weiner interview) at Televisionary:
    “Here’s where my views depart from the devout spoiler-phobe. I firmly believe that, once an episode has aired across the country, all bets are off. It’s a free-for-all, as far as I am concerned. Writers, critics, bloggers, whoever, should be free to discuss the episode’s intricacies and plot developments with abandon. There’s no need to label a post, an interview, or anything as a “spoiler” because it’s not spoiling anything.”
  • David Chen at /Film:
    “As a thought exercise, think of how people would respond if a film critic said the equivalent: ‘If a movie’s already come out, then I’m allowed to give away spoilers with reckless abandon!’ They’d be figuratively pilloried in the internet square. TV is obviously a different animal; for broadcast television, people have access to these shows for free, and so there is a greater possibility that you would have been able to experience a program when it originally aired. Cable television is the same way, to a large degree. It’s a lot easier to expect that your readers sat in front of the tube for one of their favorite shows’ finales, than it is to expect your readers to have gone out and forked over $12 for a 2-hour movie the previous weekend.”
  • Linda Holmes at NPR’s Monkey See:
    “Slashfilm’s argument is that you can list everything — everything — you will be “spoiling.” How, then, do you headline a piece called, for instance, “25 Great Death Scenes”? Do you list the 25 movies whose death scenes you will be spoiling? Doesn’t the fact that you’ve just revealed that they contain notable death scenes spoil them already? How does the completely arbitrary rule they suggest, which is that a “spoiler” is anything that happens more than a third of the way through a movie, make any more sense than halfway through a movie or two-thirds of the way through a movie?”
  • Erik Davis of Cinematical (on his Twitter):
    “I think people get too worked up over spoilers - go live in a closet if you don’t want to know anything about anything, and get off the net”
  • Peter Robins at The Guardian Film Blog:
    “There are those who believe that any foreknowledge of a film is corrupting. For the best, truest experience, you should go in wholly innocent of reviews and word-of-mouth, aware of no more than the title and perhaps the poster design. And sometimes no doubt this method works beautifully. Sometimes, however - such as the first time I tried it - you are putting yourself in the hands of a cruel and irony-hungry god. Sometimes you end up seeing 101 Reykjavik with your mother. […] It concerns a young wanker (there seemed to be lots of masturbation gags), his mother and his mother’s female lover, who seduces him in a quasi-incestuous manner, apparently for his otherwise wasted sperm. I saw it shortly after finishing A-levels. My mother was, oh, about the age of the mother in the film. I couldn’t tell you whether it’s any good outside that context.”
  • Sadie at Jezebel:
    “Of course, a lot of the argument boils down to common sense. Robins is talking about content, not plot. No matter when it runs, a story should try not to reveal a major spoiler in the title, especially if as in the case of our layout, one can stumble upon it in the course of a casual scan. A year later is not the same as a day. By the same token, don’t read a post about a show you’re saving because you had a dinner with your boyfriend’s family. Understand that some things are common knowledge. And also know that (with the exception of various horror films) the pleasure does not all lie in the twists. For instance, I was still able to enjoy Hamlet.”
  • Cole Abaius at Film School Rejects:
    “I want you to think of your favorite movie. Think about why you love it, the impact it had on you the first time you saw it, the twentieth time you saw it. Let it live in your mind for a second. Play it out on the big screen in your head and fall in love with it all over again.

    Now I want you to imagine that someone ruins it for you before you get to see it.”

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