By some miracle, the first time I heard what villain Benedict Cumberbatch was really playing in “Star Trek: Into Darkness” was from Cumberbatch’s character himself, during the actual film. I spent the week before the movie’s release on Internet lock-down, afraid to even “Google” “Star Trek” in case someone somewhere had posted spoilers.
The true identity of Cumberbatch’s villain was carefully guarded by director J.J. Abrams, but secrets like these are getting harder and harder to keep in today’s media-saturated world. I wanted to be surprised by Cumberbatch’s revelation, and thankfully this time, I was. However, I can think of plenty of times when I’ve inadvertently come across major plot details for a movie or TV show while browsing the Internet or social media.
Lately I’ve seen quite a bit of discussion taking place about “spoiler” etiquette. What responsibilities do bloggers and other Internet posters have to avoid “spoiling” a TV show or movie for another viewer, and is there a “statute of limitations” on spoilers (such as, do you still need to flag a post “spoiler alert!” if you’re going to write about the ending of “Citizen Kane,” a movie released more than 70 years ago)?
Ask any film or TV buff, and they’ll probably agree that “spoilers” are one of their biggest pet peeves. However, this wasn’t always such a big problem. Before DVRs, or even VCRs (remember those?), if you wanted to watch a TV show, you just tuned in and watched it live. People also didn’t have the Internet to start immediately “tweeting” after the show.
Now, the Internet has dramatically changed how we consume and interact with entertainment media. As I’m walking out of the movie theater, I can instantly post a comment about the film on my Facebook page using my smartphone — a comment that could “spoil” the movie for a friend who hasn’t seen it yet. This issue is further compounded by the fact people don’t watch media at the same times anymore, either. I can watch an entire season of a TV show in one shot on Netflix, or catch an episode on a TV network’s website. For example, my job schedule changes from week to week, so I don’t even bother trying to watch one of my favorite new shows, the CW’s superhero drama “Arrow,” live. I catch the episodes online a week after they air, due to Hulu’s delayed posting schedule. This type of situation is even a problem with movies — films like “Iron Man 3” and “Star Trek: Into Darkness” both opened at different times in different countries, so you can bet spoilers were already floating around the Internet before some countries had even started playing the movies in theaters.
Some have argued that those who accidently get “spoiled” are perhaps a little too sensitive. Sometimes, this may be true. Finding out that (spoiler alert!) Matthew Crawley and Lady Mary get married at the beginning of season 3 of “Downton Abbey” likely isn’t going to ruin the whole show for fans. But sometimes, a surprise ending is the key to a film. In a movie like “The Prestige,” all the unexpected twists drive the narrative forward, and knowing the ending ahead of time would rob the film of most of its power. Finding out too many spoilers can suck the energy out of watching a TV show or movie or reading a book. I accidentally found out the ending to the “Hunger Games” series from a post on a friend’s Facebook page. I still finished reading the books, and enjoyed them, but would have preferred to experience the story without knowing what was coming.
So, to what extent are we obligated not to “spoil”? If you’re posting a major plot twist in a review, it’s a nice gesture to include the tag “spoiler alert” to give readers a warning. I’d argue you should maybe even do this on social media. On your Facebook profile, don’t post the name of the character who died in the season finale of the TV show you just finished watching (unless you’re willing to fight off angry protests from your Facebook friends). 😉
However, I do think the more time that passes after a movie/TV show episode’s release, the more the burden is on the reader of potential spoilers, not the writer. If someone references “Star Trek: Into Darkness” a year from now, I wouldn’t expect them to post a “spoiler alert” when they talk about Cumberbatch’s character. By that time, most of the people who were really excited about the movie (and would have been the most upset about a spoiler) have probably already seen it. I’m currently waiting for season 7 of “Doctor Who” to be made available on Netflix, but I also recognize many people have already seen the show on cable. It’s now more my responsibility to avoid “Googling” “Doctor Who” if I want the new season to be a complete surprise.
So, what do you think? Do you have any spoiler horror stories? When do you think it’s OK to spoil something? Or, is it never OK?