On Spoilers: Stop Being So Sensitive

I don’t think it’s my imagination that there’s been a marked increase in the absurdity of the lengths people go to to avoid spoilers, and it has to stop. It’s stifling conversation and making the discussion of current media more and more difficult as people try to accommodate those for whom so much as the name of a character can ruin the enjoyment of a game, movie or TV show.

Darth Vader

It’s The Hobbit that’s inspired this rant, for much the same reason as I was annoyed back when Lord of the Rings was being adapted. Back then, a book written when Hitler ruled Germany, Britain governed India and the United States had 48 states and whose ending had been a popular slogan that you could literally see painted on walls for decades before was suddenly a closely guarded secret. Nobody cared what happened to Frodo and co in, say, 1999 and it could be thrown around with impunity, but then reality itself has to be warped for people who suddenly care.

All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again.

The Hobbit is on the school curriculum and was published 75 years ago. The literately impaired know how things will end up because they’ve seen Lord of the Rings. If you don’t know what happens and don’t want it spoilt, avoid talking about what’s a touchstone of modern popular culture and stop expecting the rest of us to self-censor for the next year on something that was discussed freely only weeks ago. If you want to “go in cold”, that’s on you; it’s not everyone else’s responsibility to shelter you.

Phew.

I can at least understand the argument, and I’m against anyone who’s doing it maliciously, seeking out the uninitiated just to tell them major plot twists. But the lengths some people go to and what they consider a spoiler is astonishing. When Game of Thrones is on TV, there are threads on NeoGAF that allow free discussion of the entire series and another for the TV series that allows marked disclosure of what happens in the books… and one in which people have to pretend the books don’t exist, and even a mention of them is grounds for a ban. When you’re actively distorting reality to avoid so much of a mention of the story’s original form, something’s wrong.

In recent weeks I’ve seen complaints that a screenshot from a Life of Pi trailer was spoiling it; that a mention of a game’s ending in a forum thread about game endings was unreasonable; that an HBO-produced Game of Thrones teaser that names a new character is going too far. It’s ludicrous, and it does nothing to help these people’s case. Keep crying wolf about how a casting announcement impairs your enjoyment and I won’t care when something with a legitimately shocking reveal comes along.

Planet of the Apes

Spoilers, even major ones, won’t ruin the enjoyment of any media. I knew everything that happened in the Harry Potter series before I even picked up the first book, but I still enjoyed reading them immensely. I’ve seen most of cinema’s classic revelations – The Empire Strikes Back, Planet of the Apes, Citizen Kane, The Sixth Sense, Psycho, etc – but will happily watch those great films because they’re still great, with or without the twist. I didn’t finish Final Fantasy VII until 2009 so you’d better believe I knew what happened to Aeris, but it was still fun to see it happen. Similarly, I’d seen out-of-context GIFs of the end of season 4 of Breaking Bad before I’d even started on the show, but I didn’t care because I was along for the ride when I watched it.

Does knowing what happens to Lincoln ruin Spielberg’s newest film? Don’t be silly. That would have been a twist had it been a fictional account, but it’s about the journey, not the destination, and instead we can look for foreshadowing, enjoying our position of knowing something the characters don’t. All the above movies are the same. Still superb even when half the population knows the iconic ending.

I would have been pissed off if someone had spoilt The Sixth Sense, for example, back in 1999 before I’d seen it. But that was a new movie, based on an original screenplay, that is built around that iconic ending. If you’re the type of person who hasn’t seen The Usual Suspects or Se7en – both 1995 – but expects people not to discuss such established pop-cultural landmarks, you need to work on your priorities. Or get out and buy them, because they’re stunningly good.

That turned into quite the rant.

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