….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.



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3 responses to “Spoilers

  1. Spoilers are so tough. I’m in the middle of season 4 of Buffy right now actually, and I stopped using the internet for days when I found out the last Harry Potter book had been leaked. My two NPR obsessed friends have stopped listening the radio since the last episode of The Wire has recently aired to much publicity and they are still watching season one. I lurk on child_lit but I haven’t finished The Amber Spyglass; I’ve managed to only know a little bit about what happens but I can’t avoid it forever.

    I am in the beginning stages of redesigning my website and want to link to blogosphere reviews of ya books – but should I give a spoiler warning? Should I not link to reviews that give away too much information? If I haven’t read the book myself, can I judge that accurately?

    On a listserv you can pick and choose which threads to open; as long as the subject lines are accurate you shouldn’t be in too much trouble (until someone compares the book you have read to one you haven’t). If you’re subscribed to someone’s blog and it pops up on your screen, you may not be able to avoid it.

    I think the spoiler guidelines posted are really on target. Although when you’re a book community waiting three months to discuss a book isn’t always possible – especially since the more vocal members of the community have finished the book 4 months pre-publication.


  2. I should say I did think the three-month for books to be excessive, but that is for their site, after all, which is more for popular culture in general. Wouldn’t work on child_lit, that is for sure. We did create our own for the various Harry Potter releases — usually a couple of weeks, I believe. Never three months!


  3. Sarah

    I think sometimes a spoiler can be a good thing – long ago I watched The Sixth Sense having heard about the “twist”, and instead of a nerve-wracking thriller, it became heartbreakingly sad.


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