I’m in a weird position here. I’m publicly on record as someone who doesn’t mind spoilers. And generally, I really don’t. I have no problem with someone telling me the end of a movie I’m not planning on seeing (“No, please! Don’t spoil the end of “Hide and Seek!” I might casually flip past it on basic cable someday!”). To me, twelve years is enough time to talk freely about the major twist in the film whose image appears above (“He sees dead people. He sees dead people.”). And I believe strongly that writers should be able to write seriously and thoroughly about films and television shows; if that means they have to write about important elements of the plot, then so be it. If you are sensitive to these matters, then avoid articles by and conversations with people who are not.
And yet! An article I read yesterday infuriated me by revealing a spoiler of a show I’m currently watching. Either I’m a hypocrite (possible) or the writer of this piece crossed a line (also possible). Maybe it’s both. I’ll let you decide.
The article is entitled “Spoiler Alerts: A Manifesto” by Gawker‘s Brian Moylan. As someone with a fairly strong point of view on the subject of spoilers, I was curious when I saw the link pass through my Twitter feed. Here is how the piece begins:
“America loves having its movies and television shows recapped, reviewed, and regurgitated back to them, but the one thing that it hates more and more is having the events of those things spoiled by reviewers. It’s time for a guide on what constitutes a spoiler and what does not.”
I agree completely with that premise, and I’m fully on board with a manifesto. I love manifestos. They’re intense, hyperbolic, and full of utterly pointless outrage (kind of like the article you’re reading right now). So I continued, until I was slapped in the face by this whopper:
“The final straw for me was reading this review of the second season of [[SHOW REDACTED]] by Emily Nussbaum. She gives a spoiler alert to the [[SPOILER REDACTED]] at the end of season one. Yes, she spoiler-alerted something that happened more than a year ago, in a piece about the show’s almost-finished second season.”
Again, I agree with Moylan’s fundamental point: it’s sort of ridiculous that the author of a piece about the second season of a television show should have to go through the trouble to warn readers that they’re going to discuss plot details from that television show’s first season. To me, talking about something that happens at the end of season one of a TV show in an article about season four of that same TV show is not a spoiler.
But here’s the problem: Moylan himself wasn’t writing a piece about season four of a TV show, he was writing a general blog post about the concept of spoilers. In the process, he brazenly and intentionally ruined a major chunk of a series — that I have helpfully and rather exaggeratedly redacted — that I and others, I imagine, are currently catching up with on DVD.
He didn’t unleash this spoiler to further a complex argument about a work of art, either. He did it for shock value and to reinforce his larger point that there should be a statute of limitations on TV spoilers. According to him “Just like the TV networks get credit for everyone who watches a show on DVR a week after its initial airing, that is how long you should keep the details of a scripted television show a secret. One week.” Movies, he thinks, deserve longer and larger cones of silence. “Other than basic outlines of what happens in [a] movie,” Moylan says, “details of the ending shouldn’t be openly discussed until the movie is out on DVD.”
Here’s where we really disagree. And here’s why. Television shows are a much bigger time commitment than any one movie. A movie is ninety minutes. If you really think you’ve had a movie spoiled, just don’t watch it. Unless someone leans over to you twenty minutes into “The Usual Suspects” and tells you who Keyser Soze is, there’s no way to spoil “The Usual Suspects” once you’ve committed the time to watching it.
A television show, on the other hand, can be spoiled in the middle of a season. You can decide to watch something, invest hours upon hours of your life in it, and then have the very end of the experience ruined by, say, a dude suddenly and without warning telling you what’s coming three episodes down the road. Moylan says that “reviews of [a] movie should also avoid mentioning that there’s a surprise ending because knowing a shock is coming is like going up the hill on a roller coaster: You may not know how steep the hill is, but you’re waiting for it the whole time.” Exactly right, but it’s so much worse for television shows, where you can wait for that hill for six or eight or twelve hours. If you’ve put that much time into something, you deserve the full experience.
If I’d been stupid enough to click on an episode or season recap, that would be my own damn fault. But I didn’t. And for my curiosity, I learned a valuable lesson, though perhaps not the one I was supposed to learn. In the process of trying to prove why spoiler warnings are pointless and stupid, Moylan has reinforced the very reason why they can be important.