No matter what universe you’re in — Muppet, Westeros, Asgard, Skrullos or the planet Earth — you are not the center of the universe, time or space. Hence, it is not the job of everyone else in the world to prevent you from learning the ending of a fictional story you enjoy watching.
That is to say: If you want to avoid spoilers, change your behavior to avoid them, rather than demanding that everyone else who enjoys the same pop culture ephemera as you mind the manners you prefer.
Since the definition of a spoiler is so nebulous, let’s talk about the definition of a spoiler versus the perception of one. A spoiler is some early or leaked information or imagery, the dissemination of which ruins the suspense, thrill or excitement that a consumer may otherwise experience from watching or reading a piece of pop culture. That’s it.
In practice, however, a “spoiler” has been taken to mean any detail about a media property that someone might want to consume. Because of the latter attitude, there’s sometimes a backlash when things that have aired days, weeks, months or even sometimes years earlier are discussed in public.
SIGN UP FOR THE THINK WEEKLY NEWSLETTER HERE
Get the think newsletter.
So, when Marvel directors, the Russo brothers, tweeted their request to fans to not leak any spoilers for “Avengers Endgame,” reactions were mixed; almost everyone appreciated the sentiment, but there was no consensus about what it meant to honor the request. Some felt that any information beyond what was in the trailer constituted a spoiler; others felt that content warnings about problematic scenes were necessary and not spoilers at all, since they didn’t directly affect the plot. And some people just didn’t care — they were going to see the movie whether they knew the ending in advance or not.
There is just no single correct behavior that can please everyone when it comes to spoilers.
Does that mean that anyone’s feelings of disappointment about finding out something in advance are wrong? Of course not. The whole purpose of movies and TV shows regardless of source material is to entertain and engage consumers. Spoiler frenzies have been around much longer than “Game of Thrones,” “Endgame” or social media.
But the perceived need for spoiler paranoia has made working in the media worse, whether you’re an actor who isn’t even being given the whole script for fear of spoiler leaks, or you’re a critic who really wants to warn the audience about something that could be triggering (or downright terrible), but doesn’t want to lose your access to these creatives or harassed by audience members.
So, rather than make some rules, let’s talk about a little common sense.
Given the sheer volume of mass media produced today, it would seem to make sense that not everyone will be able to watch something as soon as it is released. So, when the “Avengers” directors asked fans to hold off on talking about the movie until after the second weekend, it sounded fair — until you look at the sheer volume of worldwide attendees required to have an opening weekend box office that tops $1.2 billion. There comes a point at which, no matter what the creator or some fans might desire, there are simply too many people who have seen a pop culture artifact to keep track of what’s “supposed” to be a secret (and what’s just innocuous information) until a certain tipping point’s been reached.
And then there’s the fact that popular shows such as “Game of Thrones” or “Scandal” are often live tweeted as a communal experience for fans — one which drives up ratings and boosts interest in a show that might otherwise go unnoticed. “Spoilers” released in the form of live tweeting a live broadcast are only spoilers for people who choose not to watch live. And, whether they be in text, memes or screencaps, they can drive the popularity of shows and often that social media push is what keeps a favorite show airing instead of it being canceled. Most social media platforms offer options to filter out things you want to avoid, or you can just not log in until you have time to watch the show.
So, sure, spoiling the big shocking twist at the end of a show’s live broadcast can ruin the enjoyment of someone who’s saving it on their DVR. But, then again, very few things actually have a big shocking twist. Take the infamously shocking Red Wedding episode of “Game of Thrones” — the same twist was, after all, in the book long before people started tweeting about it.
And, finally, most so-called spoilers are closer to content warnings than key plot details. People complaining need to ask themselves: Is it really ruining your enjoyment to find out that a movie has an offensive fatphobic running gag? Does it really impede your ability to get into an episode of a show because you know that two characters who were flirting for several seasons had sex? Or does it let viewers who might be actually bothered by that know what to expect, and decide in advance whether or not they want to watch?
Official spoiler bans, after all, are publicity stunts on some level — a way to encourage people to run out and see the movie or show so as to avoid being spoilers. It’s not a coincidence that these bans generally only last long enough to boost early sales.
And, after all, there’s really nothing that can be spoiled in a movie based on 50 years of comics or a bestselling series of books. But fans have been conditioned to think that “spoilers” are so terrible that they must make sure they don’t even come near one, no matter how mundane a detail it might be in reality.
Honestly: If you can’t predict sex scenes or deaths in extended series that span years (like the Marvel Comics Universe or “Game of Thrones”), then the spoilers won’t matter anyway because you’re not really paying attention to the foreshadowing, context clues or the way that stories are told. And if you’re not paying attention, then how other people are talking about it makes no difference to your enjoyment — unless complaining about other fans is part of the fun for you.