[SPOILER] is [SPOILER]’s Father!: Examining the New Spoiler Culture

*EDITOR’S NOTE: This post has been imported from my Tumblr page, where it originally appeared.*

SPOILER ALERT! Do not proceed if you have not seen or read anything about anything that has ever existed in time and space. 

As someone who grew up loving game shows, even once aspiring to become a game show host, I love doing bar trivia nights. I go to one in particular semi-regularly with a small group of great friends. On one night about a year ago, during the Picture Round, we were shown a photo of Josh Brolin with the question, “What was this actor’s first theatrical film?” Though I was dumbfounded, my friends instantly knew the answer and wrote it down. I had to check the paper to find out it was The Goonies. I didn’t know the answer because, at that time, I hadn’t seen the movie, a fact to which all four of my friends replied, “You’ve never seen The Goonies?!” (Don’t worry, I get that reaction with a lot of films.) This revelation prompted my friends to rattle off their favorite lines (“Hey, you guys!”) and do their best impression of the truffle shuffle. I then proceeded to spurt out of my mouth words I would come to instantly regret: “C’mon, you guys. Spoilers!” My friend Pete assuredly trounced my tomfoolery: “It’s a 30-year-old movie. It’s not spoilers–you’re just behind.” I immediately apologized to each one of my friends.

Pete had a point. I mean, surely the expiration date on a spoiler is significantly sooner than 30 years, right? Well, maybe not, according to the Entertainment Weekly subscriber who recently wrote in to the magazine to express her outrage that the staff had spoiled the ending of Citizen Kane for her by mentioning that Rosebud was a sled. So if this person’s claim has any merit, the statute of limitations on a spoiler is, at the very least, 72 years.

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Regardless of how you feel about the reactions to Goonies or Kane, this is a result of the hypersensitive spoiler culture we currently live in. The idea of spoilers itself is nothing new. Stories have always been using suspense and twists to drive the plot or punctuate elements, and it’s hard to argue against the idea that such storytelling wouldn’t be as effective if you knew about it beforehand. I think about an episode of The Simpsons where Homer blabs about the ending to The Empire Strikes Back in front of a line of people waiting to see the movie. For people my age, as we grew from infancy, we learned how to walk, then our ABCs, and then that Darth Vader is Luke’s father. It’s basic knowledge. But when we do see Star Wars, we love it nonetheless. Still, I can only imagine how much my mind would have been blown had I seen the movie when it was originally released.

However, there is a big difference between, say, 1995 and now. My reaction to my friends spouting off Goonies references was very telling. I was never that jumpy about potential spoilers when I was younger. But now, we FREAK OUT at even the slightest notion of maybe perhaps possibly potentially getting spoiled. When exactly did this change? The answer is 2007, when an advent of new technology changed our daily habits. During that year:

  • Facebook’s months-old News Feed started gaining ground after it was adjusted with customizable settings.
  • A new company named Twitter made a presentation at the South by Southwest Interactive conference, and its popularity surged exponentially.
  • The iPhone launched.

These three factors changed the way we share and obtain information. No longer were we tethered to our laptops, sitting on a bench in the park! The iPhone led the way for the Internet to become more mobile and easily accessible than ever. Facebook and Twitter made us more connected, not just to our own personal social circle, but to the entire world. You love #DoctorWho? So does Rachel M. in London! #instantbesties! But while our information and news became more rapid, our viewing habits slowed down. DVRs became more prevalent in that time, and Internet companies like Netflix (whose instant streaming service also launched in 2007) and Hulu began to rise. They changed the way we watched TV and movies; “Now you can watch them whenever you want!”, they would advertise.

It took a while for news to catch up to viewership patterns. I still remember a couple of years in a row where the Associated Press app would push an alert to my phone about so-and-so winning American Idol–even before airing on the West Coast! Fortunately, I didn’t care, but I’m sure plenty of people were angry enough for AP to not do it at all this year. But it seems that no matter what an entertainment website does, visitors get up in arms over them posting info “that they shouldn’t have.” Couldn’t the people behind the How I Met Your Mother Facebook page have waited until a week after the episode aired to post spoilers? Couldn’t EW.com have talked about that guy from House of Cards being a breakout character without talking about what happened to him, four months after it aired? My cousin can’t even post a two-year-old Doctor Who revelation on his Facebook page without someone commenting with the word “Spoilers.” The result of all of this is a website like TVLine putting SPOILER ALERT all throughout their articles of episode recaps, which by its very nature is full of spoilers and shouldn’t be clicked on by those who didn’t watch the episode!

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This is where I start to take issue with that spoiler mindset. More people need to do what I did and take ownership of their follies. It’s my fault that, as of this writing, I have not yet begun watching Game of Thrones. I am not going to get mad that I already know one of the characters who has died. Hell, I was looking at a collection of “Most Memorable TV Deaths”–I knew what I was getting into! The fact is it is not the Internet’s job to protect you from spoilers; it is your own. In fact, remember what a website’s job is: to be viewed. A website needs as many eyeballs on it as it can get, and it will do that by writing news articles analyzing that thing you haven’t seen yet. Also keep this in mind: While it sucks to have that movie you’ve been waiting to see be spoiled, remember what it’s like to be on the other side. If you’ve seen that movie, you’ll want to talk about it to as many people as possible. You can ask your friends to not spoil you, but don’t fault them for being too excited to listen. (It’s okay. Just plot your revenge for the future and tell them what happens to Walt at the end of Breaking Bad while they’re at work.) Do yourself a favor and go see that new movie in its opening weekend, or watch the show while it’s airing. And yes, I know that life is busy, and there are so many good shows, and you didn’t have time to watch them all right away because you were giving birth. Totally understandable. Just remember the statute of limitations: Zero. Once the information is released, the spoiler clock starts ticking.

Oh, and by the way, The Goonies is amazing.

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