From the Archives: Spoiler Alert: Some Rules Regarding the Ethics of Spoiling

From the Archives: Spoiler Alert: Some Rules Regarding the Ethics of Spoiling

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

Alright, people. Enough. I’m as spoiler-avoidant as anyone, but we’ve really got to take a collective chill pill. I mean, we’ve reached a point where we are so terrified of spoiling and/or being spoiled that we’ve begun to regard any piece of information from a film, no matter how irrelevant, as a potential spoiler just to be on the side of caution. I, for one, have had enough.trjcsci4akua9kbnssv6

The reason I bring this up is the release of the new Captain America: Civil War trailer. Almost every link to the trailer featured a headline stating that we’d get our first look at the new Spider-Man, and wouldn’t you know it, people were crying “SPOILER!!” Think about that. People are upset that the title of the trailer stated that Spider-Man would appear in the trailer. This is absolutely ridiculous for a few reasons. First, it’s a trailer. A TRAILER. So relax. Second, it’s for a movie that we have all known would feature Spider-Man for almost a year now. Moreover, anyone with even a modicum of nerd cred was awaiting the trailer’s release with the knowledge that there was a 99.99999% chance that Spidey would make an appearance.

So yes, we are now a society capable of getting mad at spoilers for trailers revealed alongside the trailer itself.

This begs the question: what even is a spoiler? The current, broadly accepted definition is “anything at all.” I think we need to narrow our focus a bit. To me, a spoiler is a piece of information about a movie, the knowledge of which can detrimentally hamper enjoyment of said movie. It’s as simple as that. Yes, this will require some thought on the part of the information holder, but not much. Just look into the intentions of the filmmakers. Ask yourself “had I made this film, would I want this information to be revealed?” If the answer is yes – or at the very least, isn’t no – then it’s not a spoiler.

I can certainly understand why some people avoid trailers or blogs and such prior to a film’s release in an effort to go into the theater with a clean slate. To those who have the will power to make such an effort I offer my applause. But the world we live in is one in which information, especially that which involves pop-culture, is made universally available whether we like it or not. These folks must understand that their desire to avoid pre-release information is the exception to the rule, and that most of the information that may be thrust upon them is not even remotely in spoiler territory (especially if the information-holder follows the above criteria).

Granted, those of us who are wantonly privy to pre-release buzz should always be mindful of who we’re speaking with, but it is not our responsibility to not share a trailer on social media or not discuss our favorite pop-culture items with abandon. It is not our job to censor non-spoiler material with regard those who are overly avoidant. These folks can tune in and out as they see fit, but if their paranoia puts a damper on water-cooler chatter, they are asking too much. When it comes to actual spoilers, however, the ethics can get a little murky.


I think it’s time we set a few rules regarding the ethics of spoiling:

1. Consider whether or not the information you hold is a spoiler.

a. Does it ruin a first-time viewer’s enjoyment of the movie? If so, it IS a spoiler.

b. Was this information included in the marketing material? If so, it’s NOT a spoiler (I am aware that sometimes a trailer can include spoilers, but that’s on the production company, and the degree to which they’ve spoiled their own movie cannot be known until after release anyway).

2. If the movie has been released and there’s a chance that someone within earshot hasn’t seen it, take measures not to spoil. Note: if the movie is no longer in theaters, it is the burden of the potential spoilee to speak up. Feel free to speak openly unless stopped. If a spoilee really cared that much about avoiding spoilers, they’d have seen it by now. Yes, I know this is a privileged view that does not consider that many folks do not get the chance to see a film in the theater, but the fact remains that if you wish to be a part of the conversation, you must participate. It’s not right to demand that the pop-culture conversation be put on hold indefinitely to cater to an endless number of personal circumstances. Anyone who hasn’t seen the movie in question has a right not be spoiled, but with that right comes the responsibility of being vigilant about it. You don’t see spoiler alerts attached to sporting events. You either watched the game or you didn’t.

3. If someone brings to light that they haven’t seen the movie in question and wishes not to be spoiled, be respectful and give them the opportunity to leave before you continue the discussion. If it is absolutely impossible for them to leave (which is almost never the case), then hold off on spoiler talk until later. 4. Whether you’re a spoiler or a spoilee, just use common sense and don’t be a jerk. It’s so very easy. If any of these rules were considered to be “The Golden Rule,” this is it.

5. Remember that no matter what happens, it’s only a movie. And if it’s a movie that can be ruined entirely by the reveal of a single spoiler, relax, because it’s probably a terrible movie anyway.

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