Monday, April 7, 2014

Spoiler Alert: You're a Jerk

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the first three seasons of Game of Thrones and some pre-2014 Marvel Cinematic Universe films.  It does NOT contain spoilers for GoT s4, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, or any future MCU films.

I’ve had a couple unfortunate incidents relating to spoilers in the past week, which is a big peeve of mine.  And, as it’s Game of Thrones season, as well as new Marvel movie season--basically the two things I care about most in TEH WORLD--it feels especially like I’m traipsing through a social media minefield.

But what bugged me this week weren’t the spoilers themselves--both were relatively mild--but the attitudes that seem to come with them.

The Shape of Things to Come

The first incident came about on my go-to source for Game of Thrones news,, which I’ve been casing all the more regularly as the fourth season has approached.  I know, I know: how can I complain about spoilers when I frequent fan news sites?  Well, I’ve gotten pretty good at reading the kinds of things that, as a previous fan of the books, I’m comfortable knowing about the show, and avoiding the posts that give away things I don’t want spoiled.  We all have to set up these buffer zones of desired ignorance these days.  For me, casting news and crew interviews and things like that are okay because they tend only to reveal, sometimes indirectly, the inclusion of elements of the story I knew had to show up on the show sooner or later.  The things that I avoid are those that threaten to reveal particulars of adaptation and the shape of the season as a whole--which I think makes sense; since I know the story from the books, one of the vestiges of viewerly surprise for me is in the pacing of the season, how the creators choose to dole out incidents, and what level of significance they assign them.

The major info to avoid in that regard, then, are the episode titles, which usually start trickling into the press a few weeks before a season premiers.

So, I go to read a post featuring an interview with a cast member, and what do I get in the very first sentence, before I have time to stop myself, but the title of a late-season episode? And it’s one that clearly betrays the episode’s focus on a particular character--and it’s not, like, “The Tyrion Episode” or something equally expected, but something a bit subtler.  Sad pandas for Alex!

So, annoyed, I post a little comment (prefaced with “Bah”--oh, the temerity!) suggesting that the site runners, who are, after all, not amateurs anymore, might consider being more considerate of those of us who consider episode titles to be overly spoilerly.

Cue the arrogantly snotty reply from the site’s resident unnecessarily aggressive mod (hi, OursIsTheFury!  You picked an apt handle), basically questioning my intelligence for reading pre-season news at all and my manhood (ha, I have to laugh) for being so sensitive.

I recognize the dilemma here.  I can’t expect my standard of appropriate spoiler policies to be in effect everywhere I browse; the onus is on me to be a careful reader.  But the outright dismissal of this as a category of sensitive material left me even angrier than before, implying that it won’t matter how careful I am--on this site, at least, episode titles will be fair game, no one cares about my objection, and I won’t have a way to avoid them unless I avoid the site altogether.  

That won’t do, so I’ll suck it up, and if I learn too much in advance, I’ll put on my big boy pants and try not to let it ruin my enjoyment of things.

But man, that guy’s attitude bothered me.  He didn’t come in contritely and patiently explain that their policy doesn’t cover my concern.  He didn’t express understanding of my feelings on the matter.  He went right for the diminishment and the dismissal.

Are we not your customers, sir?  Do we not click your links and share your posts and provide you with the status you now enjoy?  Can you not, then, treat my concern with appropriate tact, with an understanding that spoiler frontiers are not fixed, and that you should at least be nice to people who feel like you’ve messed something up for them?  
I can understand, definitely, how people might see my personal spoiler comfort zone as really restrictive, but it is my right to define my limits as I see fit and to at least ask you to respect them.  

But even if you’re scoffing at my personal spoiler limit, I ask you to consider this:  It’s one thing for book readers to expect the Red Wedding as it approaches on the show.  We knew it was coming and expected where to find it regardless of whether we knew episode titles.  The show had established a pattern it was not likely to break in this instance.  A momentous event like that one takes on Shakespearean qualities--it doesn’t matter that you know the end.  The impact will be the same--heightened, even, by the sense of expectation.

The same can’t be said of the numerous details, less-epochal shocking events, and hints of character arcs whose coordinates can be revealed by seeing the episode titles early.  Thus, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for some fans to consider titles to be spoiler territory, and to ask that that info be guarded behind spoiler warnings.

It’s especially important for readers of the series like me to conserve what surprises we may, since many of the broad strokes of a given season are known to us.  Yes, a large measure of what remains to thrill us is how those events are adapted--the visual elements, the pacing, the dialogue, and so much more.  But a part of it is also the order that the adapters place them in, and the importance they ascribe to events, both of which can be revealed through episode titles.

Texture and Grace Notes

I avoid casting news on minor characters in Marvel Cinematic Universe movies (read: one-off ‘events’ farther from the adapted source material than Game of Thrones is) for the same reason I tend to avoid episode titles before any show’s release: these characters are small details that inform the texture of a work in the motion picture entertainment medium.  Additionally, in the MCU in particular, they provide a great amount of fun as the studio mines forty-plus years’ worth of bit villains and supporting cast members to round out their world-building.

So I was both heartened (initially) and annoyed (just after) when a “spoiler-free” review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier offhandedly mentioned the appearance of a small, silly classic foe whom I am inordinately fond of.

Look, of course it’s no surprise that TWS would be the Cap, Black Widow and Falcon show--that’s fine, there are your marquis characters right there.  But the surprise of that little “boss level” villain would have given me more of a thrill if I had discovered it on viewing the movie, not in an article beforehand.  I know because I have been pleasantly surprised by previous MCU movies (Kurse!), and even by a better-kept-secret about the current film, which I certainly won’t spoil here.  (I might consider even this hint too spoilery in some cases, but I have to draw the line at some level of insanity.)

These movies also contain what I think of as “grace notes”--entirely unnecessary elements that nonetheless contribute to fans’ overall enjoyment, and often set up future movies--reminding us that we are in the midst of the biggest ongoing film story ever attempted.  Nothing epitomizes that wondrous quality of every Marvel movie better than their now-famous “post-credits” scenes.  Here’s a hint about those in relation to your social media etiquette, folks:

DON’T SAY ANYTHING ABOUT THEM.  Don’t even HINT.  Don’t say one word about the substance of these scenes.  That’s doubly true for those of you who don’t know the source material and don’t know, then, what single word might be a giveaway to a friend who has to wait til the end of the week to hit the theatre.  If you thought it was cool, you can say so; confusing, sure; funny, annoying, bad--any of those basic descriptors, have at them.  But avoid specifics, at the very least until after the opening weekend, and regardless, MARK SPOILERS.  And even saying “Oh, that wasn’t really a setup for any future movie,” as has sometimes been the case, is too much--because that deflates our anticipation for what may be coming in these scenes, and tempers our enjoyment of what may be meant to be humorous or cathartic.  BE SMART.

That’s just some friendly advice.  People will like you better.  Ruining stuff like this is like making a fart noise during a Chopin etude.  Just don’t do it.  Think about whether what you’re planning to say would have ruined things for you, and plan your divulgence appropriately.  (For that matter, all those smug jerks who were talking about “something called the Red Wedding, wink-wink,” you’re guilty of the same kind of thing.  “Gee,” thought no show-viewer ever, “I have no idea what that might refer to and will thus not ascribe any special importance to the much-mentioned wedding coming up in the traditionally-climactic ninth episode.” HINTS AND ELBOW-RIBBING AND COY REMARKS ARE SPOILERS.)

A Few More Kids I Have to Get Off My Lawn

And what’s with saying “spoiler alert” as a mid-sentence parenthetical and then continuing to the spoiler with absolutely no space in between?  My brain doesn’t stop on a dime.  The momentum of reading has carried me forward into more than one patch of spoilage.  ALWAYS SPACE YOUR SPOILERS.

For that matter, what’s the statute of limitations on spoilers, anyway?  The Red Wedding is spoken about pretty openly these days, but I would contend that it’s too soon to dispense with warnings for the few people who have not seen it (remember, I gave an alert at the top of this post!).  Heck, if it were up to me, we’d still be tiptoeing around the first season’s big shockers--you know who you are.

Most of the universe seems to disagree.

I also got into an argument with a friend about a comic book event from decades past that may or may not be due to make a film appearance in the next year or so; I said that all discussion of such an event in relation to the film should be treated carefully, while he maintained that it happened so long ago it is pretty much common knowledge.  But at least 50% of the point of all these film adaptations is to reach audiences unfamiliar with the brilliant source material, who wouldn’t know Hank Pym from Scott Lang, the Nova Corps from the Green Lantern Corps, or a Hobgoblin from a Green Goblin.  They should have no idea of what’s to come--not a hint--and they should be shielded from foreknowledge in the interest of their maximum enjoyment.  Just like we all got to enjoy stuff for the first time, hopefully.

For the record, I’m not saying that discussion of these kinds of plot points should be shut down entirely--I merely contend that we should remain liberal with our use of spoiler warnings when getting into sensitive material.

I feel like this is all an important series of considerations in the modern media consuming era (a topic I also talk about here, from a different angle)--a matter of artistic justice, as it were.  The speed at which we consume, the eagerness with which we approach our material, and the nature of communication in the social media world mean we have to develop a new sensibility when it comes to safeguarding our enjoyment of our favorite media--as well as the enjoyment that our friends seek.  No longer is the water cooler the only front in spoiler wars, and the stories on offer tend to have higher stakes, and thus more emotional resonance, than when America’s main concern was whatever Ross and Rachel were up to the night before.  We all cared so much about that--just a couple of doofy New Yorkers’ romantic life--how much worse is it to ruin the latest life-and-death, bated-breath developments with Tyrion, Dany, Cap and Tony?

Consider yourself warned.


  1. Use of consideration and politeness are seemingly too much a thing of the past. Today it is all about how fast a gossiper (one who gossips as well as one who spoils the surprise of a show) can spread the gossip--being first to tattle seems high in importance to some. It seems to give them their own selfish status.

  2. Well said. I appreciated the lengths you went to to shield myself and others from ASOIAF spoilers, and it is interesting to see your moral reasoning laid out. Unfortunately, the Red Wedding was still spoiled for me by a careless web post. It was still a very affecting experience but I was very frustrated indeed. I try to live by your example re: spoilers, and the pervasive insensitivity around this concern is confounding.

  3. One man's spoiler is another man's excellent review. I think if you don't want spoiled the you're going to have to quit the internet and TV before you see the things you want. There is no room or time for people to think about other people's feelings on the internet.