Let’s Talk Spoiler Myths

Lately I’ve noticed an uptick in very heated spoiler debate online and I suspect, in the book community at least, it’s about to get a whooooole lot hotter at the end of the month when Harry Potter and The Cursed Child begins its run at the end of the month and the script is released the following day. So let’s talk spoilers, people. Specifically, let’s talk myths about spoilers.

Spoiler Myth #1: Spoilers are “not a thing.”

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Anyone who says this should be thrown in side-eye jail on the charge of extreme smarm. This is obtuseness for obtuseness’ sake; of course spoilers are “a thing.” They may not be a thing that matters to you, but they exist. Far be it for me to pull a “The dictionary defines ‘spoiler’ as …” but it’s there. You know what it means. You know when you’re doing it. Don’t be cute. When you say spoilers aren’t “a thing,” what you are saying is that they don’t matter to you and therefore shouldn’t matter to anyone else. But guess what? You don’t get to decide what matters to other people and what matters to you isn’t necessarily more important or correct than what matters to them! Next!

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Spoiler Myth #2: If spoilers actually ruin the reading or viewing experience for you, that means you are either not a sophisticated reader/viewer or the book/film/series you are consuming itself is too plot-heavy.

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I’ve seen various permutations of this, and they all reveal the same smug superiority of Myth #1. Caring about spoilers is not bad or anti-intellectual. Spoilers are value-neutral. The idea that viewers or readers spoiler preferences reflect on the quality of the book/series/film is especially baffling to me because there is rarely consensus. Any book, series or film, no matter how theme- or character-centric, will still have viewers or readers who prefer to avoid spoilers.

Commonly-held wisdom about stories is that “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” For some that means they don’t mind knowing where a story ends up, because the pleasure is in knowing how it gets there. Others prefer to be entirely lead by the storyteller and for the “destination,”  as well as the journey, to surprise them. It is okay to determine your own viewing or reading experience to the best of your ability (emphasis on your ability; we’ll come back to that one later). There is no “right” or “pure” way of experiencing a story and anyone who tells you otherwise is simply trying to feel better about themselves. Ignore them.

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Spoiler Myth #3: No one should ever discuss or read spoilers in advance because that is not how the artist intended for their work to be consumed.

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I’ve got two words for these people: Barthes, baby. The author is dead even if they’re alive and well. They put that beautiful art out into the world; their intentions and their preferences for how people interact with it is not their business. Let it go.

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Spoiler Myth #4: “People” (or often, “the internet”) should refrain from publicly discussing anything that could constitute a spoiler for [X period of time].

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I suspect this is the most contentious one, but sorry spoiler-haters: the “spoilers are a thing” I talked about above cuts both ways. Spoilers are real. They’re a fact of life now and there is no putting the genie back in the bottle. There will never be a Universal Spoiler Accord for when it becomes appropriate to discuss the events of a book/series/film because a) some people don’t care, and b) the speed with which people consume media varies widely and is based on a host of different factors: their job, their location, their budget, their family situation, etc.

The list of people you can reasonably ask to refrain from discussing spoilers includes your close friends and family when they are in direct conversation with you. End. of. list. Spoiler warnings are a courtesy. Refraining from mentioning spoilers is a courtesy. It is nice when people do these things and as a general rule we should all try to be as courteous as possible! However, you simply are not entitled to police other people’s public discussions. And there is never any excuse for barging up to a stranger or into their mentions to yell at them about it.

(Please note that I am referring to the average reader or viewer who have consumed media on or after its release date here. Professional reviewers or anyone who receives screeners or arcs should avoid spoiling stories either on their social media or in their reviews in advance of the release. However, reviews =/= recaps or essays. If you read the latter two, it’s probably safe to assume they will include spoilers).

If you are the one who cares about spoilers, the onus is on you to control your own reading or viewing experience. There are a variety of strategies for mitigating the risk of encountering spoilers online (mostly liberal muting), but the best one is to stay off the internet entirely. And believe me, I practice what I preach. When I wanted to wait until after Christmas to see The Force Awakens so I could see it with my family, I refrained from going online for two weeks. I even avoided my local comic store in case people were discussing it there. This was extremely annoying and inconvenient! It sucked! But it was my sucky, extreme annoyance and inconvenience to deal with and no one else’s.

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My spoiler position in summation: mind your own business and be nice! Do not judge or control how people choose to experience and discuss the stories that matter to them. The end.

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