Warning... this post may contain spoilers about spoilers...
Herein myself and a fellow film scholar will discuss a certain topic in relation to cinema. The possibilities are limitless. This time Jeremy Ridnor and I had a chat about spoilers...
J.S.: Spoiler Alert! That was the name of the short film that you directed and cast me in a few months back, the tragic tale of two co-workers whose water cooler chit-chat teeters dangerously close to "spoiler territory" for the one who did not see the latest Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad. Tell me, how much of this was inspired by real life?
Jeremy: I consider myself a cinephile and television aficionado. A tremendous pet-peeve I have is when people spoil a show or movie for me. I am all about the cinematic experience. Even if I am watching an episodic television show at home I still try to emulate the experience of being in a theater. I dim the lights and sit back and enjoy. I will admit I am kind of on the extreme side when it comes to spoilers. Even if I do not think I will watch something I still will not want it spoiled, just on the off chance that I will some day. I like to watch films with fresh eyes. Sometimes I feel that trailers give way too much away. This is of course an effort to draw people into the theater. They typically show the best parts of the movie in the trailer, which in a word "spoils" the cinematic experience in my opinion. I try to avoid certain trailer or will only watch part of them if they are movies that I am excited about. This is kind of ironic since I work for a movie trailer company.
The other phenomena that has made spoiling a sport is the invention of social media. Any time a movie or TV show comes out, immediately there is an online dialogue about said media. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy discussing film and television shows quite a bit, in fact it is one of my favorite topics. However, it becomes a problem when I have not seen the content yet. I am baffled by people’s obsession with ruining other people's experience. When I confront people for spoiling something, a lot of the time there are justifications. They might say, "that movie came out three years ago" or perhaps "that happens in the first 20 minutes." Sometimes depending on the movie I don't even want a synopsis of it because it might take away the surprise and or wonderment I might experience on my first viewing.
Now I am about to break my own rule, but if someone were to tell me, in Breaking Bad Walter White is a high school chemistry teacher who gets lung cancer and then decides to sell meth, I would be slightly upset. Even though all this description happens in the first episode, I still lose that first experience of starting my journey. I saw Breaking Bad without knowing a thing about it and everything from him getting cancer, to teaming up with a former student to cook meth was new to me. This made it more exciting and enjoyable. I am so extreme at times with specific movies or shows I do not even like speculating with others what the ending might be. I know you and many others have had theories about how Breaking Bad will end. Even though that is technically not a spoiler, I still do not like that. The reason being is on the off chance that one of your theories is right. I wanted to be a 100% surprise. This generation specifically in America is all about instant gratification, but just knowing what happens in a TV show or a movie is not the same as seeing it played out. I can tell you that everyone dies at the end of Hamlet, but is that as satisfying as seeing it? To me I do not think so.
J.S.: Great, now we have to say at the start that this post contains some spoilers ;) It's safe to say you are on an extreme side in the spectrum of spoiler tolerance, the right side in my opinion, but extreme nonetheless.
You've touched on a lot of the important points already. One's virgin viewing of a film or show (or book or play or game) can be a very sacred experience between an individual and a narrative and ought to be treated as such. In the very least you'd think we could respect the spoiler tolerance of others. Providing "spoiler alerts" in conversation (online and offline) should be seen a form of etiquette, the "please and thank you"s of our pop culture relations. Have we adopted a new form of table manners for our media-heavy diet? Though it ought to go both ways. If someone gets upset with me for discussing some plot points in my film review (which someone recently has) then I have very little sympathy. You should have avoided reading reviews in the first place if you wanted to know nothing. There's the argument that reviews are for people trying to decide if a film is worth seeing. Sure, that's one big reason for their existence. But If you want to read 500-1000 words about a specific film and expect them to avoid discussing plot, character motivations and quite surely the inciting incident, you are sorely mistaken.
I'm annoyed when people say in their reviews or previews that they won't get into "spoiler territory." The only way to not go there is to say nothing about the work. Spoilers are in the eye of the beholder. Who are any of us to declare what is and is not a spoiler for someone else. If anything we need to acknowledge a "hierarchy of spoilers." Among its most basic tenants would be "the further in the plot the bigger the spoiler," but even that can be misleading. Several movies come to mind where something shocking occurs at the very beginning and it would be a shame to ruin that moment for first-time viewers. There is no right or wrong way to deal with this issue. Like all people and all narratives it should be adjusted on a case by case basis.
As you've illustrated, it's a shame we now have to avoid Twitter or look away from trailers these days just to keep ourselves unspoiled. What would you say are codes of conduct people should adhere to when discussing film, TV, etc?
Jeremy: You bring up a good point about what is considered a spoiler and I agree it is in the eye of the beholder. I also agree with you that when reviewing a movie, either written or verbal, that the reviewer should be allowed to spoil anything, as long as he or she warns their reader prior. In order to dissect a movie, one should be able to discuss the entirety of the film. However, if a critic is on a site like Rotten Tomatoes then that person should limit what they reveal, because that is a site that is designed to inform the viewers whether or not a movie is good. I believe that when one is writing about film in an academic sense, that one should not be censored in any way, shape or form. What bothers me is when people spoil movies in a social media setting, like Twitter, Facebook, etc. The reason why this is insulting, whether intentional or not, is because that person is forcing everyone of their online friends to have something spoiled for them, whether he or she wants it spoiled. I wholeheartedly believe in freedom of speech, but there are laws against disturbing the peace. Now this might be an extreme example, but the reason I bring it up is because there are no repercussions for spoiling something, especially in a social media platform.
I am not saying that there should be punishment, but I do feel that this creates a lack of responsibility. The reason why so many people are rude in chat rooms or in the comment sections at the end of a blog or YouTube video is because they can spoil something or say something hurtful without facing any consequences. Everything starts becoming fair game that would not be considered "kosher" in the real world. One can be racist, sexist, and down right bully other people and why not? They will never meet that person in real life. All I am saying is that people should have the same etiquette on a social platforming site that they would in real life. Be aware of your surroundings. Respect someone if they do not want their favorite show spoiled. I think the reason a lot of people do not think spoiling a show is that big of deal any more is because there is so much content out there. In the past if you wanted to watch a show you had to watch it live. Now a days we binge-watch shows and we record shows on our DVR. Also, there is much more variety. The same goes for movies. We do not have to see the movies in theaters, we could watch them on Netflix, or on HBO, etc. There really is no expiration date on spoiling something anymore, because virtually everything is accessible.
J.S.: Perhaps in a utopic cinephile realm people would be fined or banished for spoiling movies in a public square, but (fortunately/unfortunately) we’ll likely have nothing like that. One can change their ways if they realize they are spoiling it for the rest of us or we can otherwise strive to ignore, block to un-friend the culprit(s). I remember this bastard in my high school who came to school with a shirt saying that so-and-so dies on page such-and-such in a popular book series at the time. There’s a special place in storytelling hell for guys like him.
Amen to there being no expiration dates on spoiling something. I don’t care if its The Sixth Sense or Citizen Kane, nothing’s open season for you to reveal any and all details. People spoil and talk about things so willy-nilly because so many years have passed. That doesn't matter. You never know the age or the diet of your potential audience. We all simply need to be more sensitive, about what we say/type and we about what we watch/listen/read. It’s not going to be perfect and we’ll learn more than we wanted to every now and again (often from the trailers themselves), but there is a better way.
Thanks for reading Dialogues: Spoiler Alert, a discussion between myself and Jeremy Ridnor. We’d hate to see the conversation end here. Please share your mind regarding spoilers and the act of spoiling in the comments below.