Few words strike so much fear into the hearts of so many. Perhaps it’s because we feel as though the integrity of a piece of art comes down to the element of surprise. Perhaps it’s because fans of various types of entertainment can gather together virtually in so many ways they couldn’t before. Or perhaps it’s because the conversation around any given topic seems to be moving so quickly, that just remaining “unspoiled” has turn into a stressful task all its own.
Through the last 24 hours, two things have happened that got me thinking about the spoiler-culture we live in these days.
The first was something of my own doing – the recording of Matineecast 110 where I discussed both volumes of NYMPHOMANIAC with Alex Withrow. In case you’ve never noticed before, what you read and hear around this site tends to stay fairly spoiler-free…usually holding back on any specifics that arrive after the halfway point of a film. However, when it came to NYMPHOMANIAC, I couldn’t help but feel that it would be disingenuous to sidestep discussion of the ending. Putting aside the fact that there are actually two endings, which means one cannot be avoided, the conclusion of the film felt like it had so much sway over one’s ultimate opinion of the movie.
Could we still have talked about the film for forty-five minutes without getting into the nitty-gritty of its final five? Probably. Would it have been as informed a discussion? Probably not.
I feel as though there should be a place for that in the lexicon of review and discussion. Somewhere that people can go to read and reflect after they’ve seen something. To examine it as a whole and consider how something’s beginning informs its end. Heck, nowadays people tend not to read word-one about a piece of art until they’ve seen it for themselves anyway. Still, I don’t know that place is the widest basins of social media.
That brings me to the other encounter with spoiler culture this weekend: Game of Thrones.
(Don’t worry – I won’t be alluding to any specifics)
We live in an on-demand age, where shows are being aired on a specific day and time, but consumed according to the viewer’s whimsy, However, certain shows have defied that model. The fan culture surrounding shows like Hannibal, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and Walking Dead has turned these properties into must-see-TV. Not only is it must-see, but the window for discussing what happens opens…well…as it happens. On Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and the like. The moment it happens, it must be reacted to, must be shared, must be “OMG”d to the enth degree. Is this fair for those of us who cannot be in front of our TV’s? Maybe not. Can anything be done about it? Only to stay off social media until you have the chance to watch the show in question.
However, in the days that follow, I do feel like media outlets can do a poor job of pussyfooting around spoilers. Even the suggestion that there is something to be spoiled is a spoiler in its own right. I mean really, how much is an article protecting a twist when its headline is “You Won’t Believe What Happened on ________”. Or my favorite, “About THAT Scene”. Perhaps the only thing worse than spoiling the surprise? Tipping one off that there is a surprise to be spoiled! Don’t even get me started about the choices of images that get used in these articles.
What gets my goat about this is the fact that it runs counter to my previous point about there being safe places to read and review pieces of art as a whole. I believe in these places – but they are not newspapers, entertainment sites, or the like. These are spaces that people go to for all sorts of reasons – many of which have nothing to do with the property in question. For instance, I should be able to find out what my city’s dumbass mayor has done now without having to see a headline about The Walking Dead right beside it.
But that leads me to my final point – about the very nature of spoilers in the first place. How much do they matter – really? As I’ve been prodding people to seek out films they’ve never seen before, people are inevitably coming across films where the endings are well-known. I, for one, know that the first time I watched CITIZEN KANE that I was fully aware of what Rosebud was. If a piece of art is so well-constructed, shouldn’t it be able to stand up to spoilers? Shouldn’t there be more to it than just “what happens”?
Don’t get me wrong – I won’t be going on social media on Sunday nights anytime in the near future…but shouldn’t there be a better balance from all sides?