….died….leaps off…killed…saving the world…sex…vampires.
Oh no! Did we just spoil things for you? It may seem ridiculous to tag these events, which first aired on television between 2001 and 2003, as spoilers, but surely there are people out there who are interested in Buffy but haven’t gotten around to watching it yet. Hell, maybe someone just dropped 99 bucks on the complete seven-season DVD package, is halfway through season four, and just had everything spoiled for her. Nevertheless, most likely no one is going to yell at us for revealing this information five years after the fact. But what if we’d revealed it in 2004, when DVDs of the final season were released? Or a week after these episodes aired? Or the day after they aired? In the era of DVDs, Netflix, BitTorrent, and iTunes, how soon is too soon — and how late is too late — to discuss the plot of a TV show or a movie?
Or a book for that matter? One of my students just finished the Harry Potter series. He knew most of what was going to happen, but didn’t care. Who lived and died — that he knew. But who was good, who was bad — that he didn’t, for sure. So he found reading through the series (which took him most of the school year) completely satisfying.
The excerpt above is from New York Magazine’s Vulture Bloggers post, “Spoilers: In Defense of the American Watercooler.” Frankly, I found it refreshing, but others evidently did not. One very interesting response came from Michael Z. Newman, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Among other things he wrote:
Spoilers have no doubt been around as long as stories have, but it is the discourse of media fandom that has popularized the idea of the spoiler as a token of knowledge-power. The one with the spoiler has the potential to influence someone else’s experience of a narrative. Thus the warning of a spoiler to come is a courtesy, a gesture of respect. The expectation of spoiler warnings in popular discourse is a matter of etiquette. It would only exist in a scenario in which knowledge is unevenly distributed, and it mitigates the effects of this distribution. In particular, those like me who prefer not to be spoiled like to be respectful of others, whatever their preferences.
The Vulture bloggers responded with another post defending their position. I must admit that I’m with them (and like their official spoiler policy). On child_lit whenever something of particular interest comes out and begins to be discussed there are always complaints of spoiling. I find that everyone on the list tries to be careful, but sometimes someone write something in the first line of their post, not realizing that some email programs make those lines visible or someone else attempts to shield readers with tabs, but they don’t work. The result is someone else writing a very annoyed post making others feel badly and the whole thread comes to a screeching halt. We are, after all, polite people who have no wish to offend. Of course, this only seems to be a problem with high-visibility movies and books. In my opinion, this fear of spoiling makes discourse incredibly difficult and unfortunate. Perhaps there are nasty types out there who are purposely and rudely spoiling things. But mostly there are people who are excited and eager to discuss something, people who attempt to do so politely only to discover that they have still managed to offend. I hate seeing conversation so limited this way.