Nerd fight accepted

Unlike dedc’s post, I won’t include a spoiler alert here because I’m going to show how easy it is to discuss spoilers without actually saying what they are.

This whole argument started because dedc included a Game of Thrones spoiler, albeit a somewhat minor one, in a post. I complained about it, he relented, but then included the pretty well known Soylent Green spoiler in his response. We then had a pretty heated (though, of course, still friendly within our pretty vulgar friendship rules) argument about all sorts of things, and now you have two posts to ignore.

DE’s argument is basically this: “there comes a time when a surprise element of a plotline is fair game to be referenced without any warning to people who didn’t actually know it.” He rightly acknowledges that he can’t give any specific definition of when this happens, so he’s basically just arguing that you can spoil whatever you feel is part of “cultural literacy”. After the jump, a nerdy breakdown of why I disagree:

1) One person’s pop culture is another person’s undiscovered territory: Even in dedc’s original post, he includes a plot point from the end of Moby Dick that I didn’t know. Maybe that makes me culturally ignorant to a degree, but it also means that I had one more little mystery out there to have revealed. Now I don’t. I feel a small loss there.

Every once in a while I meet someone who hasn’t seen the Star Wars trilogy. It blows me away, because it’s so pervasive, but just like an anthropologist meeting a stone age tribe deep in the forest, I immediately want to shelter them and preserve their experience. Dedc includes the well known spoiler from the end of Empire Strikes Back (not “Star Wars”, ahem), which I realize 99.999% of our readers already know, but what if they don’t? So, every time you use a spoiler, remember that you risk taking away a pleasant life experience from someone, which gets us to my second point:

2) Spoilers are entirely unnecessary. Unless you are actually debating the plot itself, you NEVER need to include a spoiler. They are entirely unnecessary! I will go ahead and say this right now, and let it be known as Nick’s Fundamental Law of Movie Discussion: “There is nothing that a spoiler reference conveys that can’t be conveyed by other means.” Unless, of course, you’re discussing the actual plot itself, in which case you’re pretty explicitly opening yourself up to spoilers. And if a person asks you if you would recommend a movie that you thought had a really stupid twist in it, then go ahead and say that “there is a twist to the plot that I thought was unbelievable.” I have done the for years now with Battlestar Galactica, which I consider an amazingly good show except for the very ending of the whole series. I tell people to watch the whole thing and stop before the last episode (which, of course, no one has ever obeyed), but I will never tell someone why that episode ruins itunless they explicitly ask for it, which is an example of my third point:

3) You can easily warn people about spoilers! Not sure if a reference is so pervasive that you can freely reference it? Then just put a note at the top that says “[warning, minor spoilers about Battlestar Galactica]” at the top of your post. There, that’s it, you’re done. DE considers that “tip toeing around”, but I think it’s common internet courtesy. You can’t depend on tags to warn people about a post. You can’t necessarily assume that a reference in the post title is going to do it. Like using “NSFW” tags, don’t assume that your context is sufficient, and just err on the side of caution. It take five seconds to do, and you ensure that you aren’t ruining anything for anyone. Which is good because:

4) You can never be sure that you’re not spoiling it! You will always meet someone who hasn’t seen or heard the reference that you think is so basic, and therefore you’ll eventually ruin something for someone. There are people out there who haven’t seen The Usual Suspects. Part of it is because it was a small release, part of it was because it seemed like a normal gritty caper type movie from the outside. And of course most people who have seen it will tell you that it actually has pretty interesting twists and turns with a pretty good mystery at the heart of it. But of course the movie’s been out for over fifteen years now, and millions of people have seen it. So you have a movie that people won’t watch until they’re older, with a delicate plot secret that is easily ruined, and millions of people out there who consider it a classic movie because they saw it over a decade ago. Recipe for disaster!

Similarly, I feel like every single person I hung out with in high school read Ender’s Game. It’s a good sci-fi read, consider it highly recommended, but I’ll bet most of our readers have never read it and many have never heard of it. If you were talking to a four year old about Santa, you wouldn’t go ruining it. If you were talking to a ten year old about Santa, you’d assume they understood. That’s what’s going on here except that when it comes to movies and books, we’re all four years old. And I think there’s nothing wrong with erring on the side of caution and warning people when you’re potentially going to ruin an experience for them.

All of this is just general argument about spoilers being tossed around freely. With respect to the post that started it all, DE felt that a Game of Thrones reference from the end of the season is fair game because the show (which only airs on HBO of course) finished that season a few weeks ago. Of course, he doesn’t want to know details from the rest of the series, even though the entire second season was published in book form in 1998. This is the whole problem, people assume that something they’ve seen is common to everybody and things they missed aren’t going to be referenced.

So there’s your two arguments, feel free to chime in below, but please keep all comments free of actual spoilers or I WILL delete them. You can put them in DE’s thread though, and feel free to include lots of stuff from A Clash of Kings. It’s cool, that book has been out for well over a few weeks.

About nickgb

Computer programmer, lawyer, and aficionado of many dorky things that, in reality, you probably can't be an "aficionado" of. nickgb is a fanboy of Whedon, Sorkin, Gary Cole, Matthew Perry, and anything that brings together casts of his favorite shows (which, by definition, were all canceled "way too early").
This entry was posted in Books, Movies, Pop Culture, Television and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Nerd fight accepted

  1. Attaway says:

    Until our society and technology allows us to compel persons to have their brain forcibly crammed full of a requisite amount of images from TV and film, spoilers are the only literary device that authors have to remind people that they are out of the loop and lame. My co-workers and I have a 48 hour rule when it comes to discussing TV plotlines; you have 48 hours to watch without risk of spoilers. After that, people take pleasure in ruining it for you as well they should. While I feel some consideration should be given to shows from premium networks, shows still on the air, or films not out on streaming/rental for a certain amount of time, people that have had ample time to watch something should not be offended when references to it make their way into pop culture, articles or regular conversation. I’m not sorry that I don’t care if someone finds out who the only survivor in Heat is in 2011 before they’ve had a chance to watch the movie. Even the Amish have seen that movie by this point.

    • nickgb says:

      Yeah, your people are bad people. I like your point about premium networks, etc., of course.

      How do you feel about popularity? I mean, I avoid telling people much about Supernatural because I know so many people haven’t seen it. Same with Buffy, even though it’s been off the air for years.

      • Attaway says:

        Someone mentioning a Buffy plotline actually made me go back and watch the show on Netflix, so I am all for talking about shows most people never saw. Discovering an old show that you never saw and can watch all the seasons of in modern streaming form is awesome. Plus you look like a hipster which is simultaneously cool and not-cool. It’s like the duality of Schrodinger’s cat. I am both happy and sad for you.

    • dedc79 says:

      You make an important point. At what point do conversations need to suffer because someone has never gotten around to seeing an old film or reading an old book?

  2. E says:

    I made a comment earlier to Nick saying that Moby-Dick has been around for quite some time and that telling him the ending was like telling someone before seeing Titanic that **SPOILER REDACTED**. Everyone knows the plot points (yeah, you all know what’s under that redaction, don’t you), the important thing is HOW the directors/producers/writers of the movie/show get us there. And, I still agree with that.

    BUT!!!!!

    I wholeheartedly agree with Nick’s point that it takes no extra effort to warn your readers that if they care enough about a TV/movie/book/whatever that there are spoilers, dead ahead! It’s courtesy. Maybe some of us don’t have HBO and saw the first 2 episodes of Game of Thrones and are eagerly awaiting the release on Netflix to finish the season and don’t know that EVERYBODY DIES AND IS EATEN BY YETIS. Oh, spoiler alert! No, jk, obviously, because I’ve only seen the first two episodes, but see how mean that is? And totally unnecessary?

    So I guess I see it sort of like, the Golden Rule: I don’t want you to spoil shit for me, so how about I don’t spoil shit for you?

    • dedc79 says:

      How about the examples at issue in my post. I mean, I acknowledged that Game of Thrones info deserves a spoiler alert, but Soylent Green? It came out in the 70s and the last line from the movie is referenced all the time…

      • nickgb says:

        Well, your actual point as published is “My view in general is that when a tv season is finished, a book has been out for a while, or a movie has left theaters, we all have free [rein] to post on those topics without being accused of spoiling anything.” Not sure why you picked examples that were all 30+ years old, given that statement.

        • dedc79 says:

          Yeah, so I could as easily have said (and would defend) talking about the ridiculous Sopranos ending at this point, as a more recent example. Most people have or should have heard about it by now. It’s been made fun of on other tv shows (without a spoiler warning). And you still haven’t explained whether you’ve complained to the writers of the Simpsons that they ruined Soylent Green….

  3. Stephanie says:

    How do you determine what is a “spoiler” and what isn’t? There are plenty of plot points that, if revealed, are not going to spoil someone’s experience in watching the movie or reading the book. How can you even convince someone they should watch or read something if you don’t tell them anything about it?

    I’m also wondering what could possibly have been redacted from E’s mention of the movie Titanic that is an actual spoiler? Is it that the boat hit an iceberg and sank? Because that’s HISTORY. Not a spoiler. (Also, what could you possibly tell someone about that movie that is going to spoil it for them even if they haven’t seen it?

    • nickgb says:

      Yes, E was talking about the iceberg, because when I first talked to her about spoilers she made fun of me with that example. But E came around eventually, at least on the merits.

      What is a Attaway and I discussed the “What is a spoiler” question offline earlier. I pointed out that I could tell someone the entire plot of Swingers and it wouldn’t detract at all from the movie. But telling someone the end of a Shyamalan movie ruins the whole thing. So, I’d say a spoiler is any detail about a plot that provides some kind of impact simply by being revealed. It’s a subjective line, for sure, and there’s no way to have an objective line here at all. That’s why I am arguing for erring on the side of caution, while DE argues that there’s just a statute of limitations, which he can’t define, after which we can spoil freely (as long as you know how that magic statute of limitations works).

    • nickgb says:

      To answer your parenthetical question though, there’s nothing that could ruin that movie, because that movie is awful. I totally haven’t watched it, like three times, and I certainly never teared up.

    • dedc79 says:

      yeah, spoilers are sometimes in the eye of the beholder I suppose. Someone might view it as a spoiler [SPOILER ALERT] to learn that Alice falls into a rabbit hole. And those jerks in Jefferson Airplane ruined that one with the song White Rabbit. I refuse to go through my writing to censor out anything that anyone might consider to be a spoiler. I’m happy to consider proposed rules of conduct but I stand by the examples in my post.

  4. Angela says:

    A few random thoughts:

    1) When you said, “that book has been out for well over a few weeks,” did you mean A Dance With Dragons? A Clash of Kings HAS been out for well over a few weeks – about 640 weeks, actually.

    2) I don’t agree with your Battlestar Galactica example – the mere fact of you saying “Skip the ending” ruins an element of it. Not that I don’t do that all the time, I’m just saying it’s a form of spoiler. Now the person to whom you said that won’t be able to watch it without your viewpoint coloring their experience.

    3) I agree that it’s not that hard to ask “Have you seen X?” in conversation, or to add, “This article contains spoilers on X, Y, or Z.” These are thoughtful things to do. However, if you’ve reached a certain age (and have had the means and opportunity to rent movies/watch tv/read books), you also have a responsibility to exercise vigilance so as not to blunder straight into spoilers. Let’s take dedc’s Creepy Convergence post. If I hadn’t seen the show yet, or was behind, but planned to catch up, I would not have clicked play on the video, and probably would not have continued to read the post.

    Lesson: Don’t be an insensitive dick by failing to post spoiler alerts. Don’t be an insensitive dick by running headfirst into spoilers and then getting mad about it.

    4) Just out of curiousity, though, television shows, movies, and books are rife with spoilers. Would you have each show/movie/book be prefaced with spoiler alerts as to things it may reference? I’m not being sarcastic, I’m actually asking.

    • nickgb says:

      1) Yeah, I meant Clash of Kings. The “few weeks” note was because of DE’s first argument we had that he was okay spoiling GoT because it had wrapped a few weeks ago, and I was saying that he’d be pissed about a CoK spoiler even though it had been out for much longer. I didn’t do the math because I’m not a nerd like SOME people. ;)

      2) I agree that telling people that does color their viewpoint. I’m irritated to report that every single person has come back to tell me they thought the ending wasn’t really that bad, so apparently I’m doing a service.

      Seriously, though, I’m not sure how to do it differently. Do I just tell people not to watch the show because it sucks? Then they miss out on a lot of great stuff. Do I just tell them to watch it, and deal with the consequences later? That would work for BSG, where they’re only going to waste one hour at the end, but there are other shows with much longer stretches of garbage at the end. I don’t like recommending (or not) an entire show as a whole, if there’s a clear marker. Would it be a spoiler to tell people to watch all of St. Elsewhere except for the last 10 minutes? It wouldn’t ruin anything about the show, it would just change how they viewed it in retrospect.

      3) I agree with all of this, if you don’t want spoilers don’t look at the wiki page, don’t click on youtube videos of the show, etc. Hell, don’t even bring the show up unless your first words are “I have only watched one season and don’t want spoilers but…” There’s a responsibility on the viewer to avoid obvious spoilers. But a warning up front is necessary, and the Creepy Convergence post originally had a spoiler, in-text, before the video. And honestly, there’s no way to know what the hell is being talked about on this blog without reading it all. If I see a picture of Peter Frampton in one of RE’s posts I usually just wonder how it’s going to tie to the deficit.

      4) This is a great point, and I don’t have a good answer just yet. Would I recommend that someone should read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, even though it talks about a ton of comic book plots? No question. What about episodes of Community that parody a movie? Probably. But none of these are big on real spoilers, they don’t take pleasure in ruining surprises for people. I’m sure there’s a good example, which escapes me, of a book in which the plot is inextricably intertwined with another book. In that case, yeah, I think it makes far more sense to tell the reader upfront. But there’s a big difference between a book that includes the lines:

      “Bill was hunched forward, staring intently at the flickering set while the final frames of The Usual Suspects rolled into credits. He slowly leaned back, lit a cigarette, and whispered ‘Damn’.”

      And someone putting:

      “That’s just like when XXXXXXXXXXXX is XXXXXXXXXXX”
      (non-spoiler alert: these might be places, people, abstract concepts, or all of the above)

      The former is not a spoiler. The latter is a spoiler. I think a writer who needs to use the second is trading on proving that he is aware of the truth of the spoiler, and that’s lazy. The former gets the point across without being a spoiler (though, let’s face it, still really shitty writing). So I guess I just inherently expect that massive amounts of spoilers, as found in Family Guy, go hand in hand with shitty writing, like Family Guy, and people are on notice.

      • dedc79 says:

        Wait a minute, are you saying that The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao talks about comic books? Now i’m not reading it. Thank you for the spoiler (seriously, thank you)

      • Angela says:

        With regard to #2, I wasn’t saying there’s a better way to do it. I’m just saying that it is a type of spoiler.

        This whole topic of spoilers comes up at our house every once in awhile because of Twitter. Mark HATES when people live tweet tv, because we rarely watch shows live. I hate it, too, and I think those people are insensitive dicks, but I know better than to get on Twitter if I don’t want to get spoiled.

        Weirdly, I’ve read two pieces on this exact topic in the last week: http://raked.wordpress.com/2011/07/27/when-is-a-spoiler-fair-game/ and
        http://www.tvworthwatching.com/blog/2011/07/spoiler-alert-once-again-im-at.shtml

        ALERT! Both of those pieces include spoilers (Vampire Diaries, Buffy, Falling Skies in the first link, Bambi & Citizen Kane in the second).

        • nickgb says:

          Honestly, I thought both those people were pretty much egocentric assholes.

          re: Raked
          Dexter Season 4 is a great example, because that was one of those endings where the whole world was abuzz about “the surprise” and warnings to people to not get any info till they had a chance to watch it. But I still think there’s no reason people can’t preface a giant spoiler like that with a tiny little warning. Which, by the way, everyone who loved Dexter did to preserve the surprise.

          But even worse, her argument is so egocentric that it baffles me: “This has given the community plenty of time to watch the show, and it shouldn’t be considered a “spoiler” anymore.” Her definition of the community is the people who, like her, are watching the show right now. Even more ridiculous, she defines it as “three hours” so the West Coast catches up. But what about foreign audiences that get the show a day later, or a week, or a year? What about Hawai’i? Her definition of “the world” as everything between LA and New York pretty much shows her narrow-mindedness in the debate.

          She’s right that you have to be aware of the fact that other people are going to talk about TV spoilers. But she thinks that it’s pointless to say spoiler alert after a day has passed because “You can’t spoil the past”. That is moronic.

          re: TVWW

          MASSIVE Dexter Spoiler in that link!

          They make a fair point that, if you’re writing an article about the next season of a show, you can assume your reader is okay with spoilers from the previous season. But you’ve already put your audience on alert that you’re including that, of course a season preview will make reference to the previous season.

          But when you have a captive audience, such as on a radio program, you can make veiled references to what happened without flat-out saying what happened (or if you can’t, then you should find a line of work more suited to your inability to form thoughts). And this animosity towards “procrastinators” who are tying their hands is ridiculous. Just put a fucking spoiler alert at the front. That’s all. If you do, and a person reads it, it’s their own fault. But this absurd anger towards people who may not have discovered your own favorite show until later on? Why not revel in the fact that someone else is going to take the same journey you did, instead of bitching that they aren’t already there?

          Honestly, I can’t understand why this person didn’t jump all the way to “What’s wrong with these cheap jerks who don’t pay for Showtime and HBO? Why do I have to wait till they can rent the show before I can spoil it without the hassle of a ten word warning in my post?”

    • dedc79 says:

      Re point #4, I agree and this is part of what makes me think NickGB has taken his argument way too far. This is what I was trying to get at in my post when I linked to the Simpsons use of soylent green. At some point, too much caution regarding potential spoilers can actually stifle creativity/discussion/jokes/etc..

      • Angela says:

        Right. But now I’m trying to come up with good examples. I know they are out there and am just currently drawing a blank (except for the Simpsons). I know Citizen Kane was spoiled for me about a few dozen times through various television shows, books, articles, and movies before I actually got around to watching it. That being said, I don’t think it lessened my enjoyment of it at all…

  5. Anonymous says:

    Can I publish spoilers on a Dance with Dragons? It’s been out for about two weeks? ;-)

  6. Pingback: Spoilers revisited | Poison Your Mind

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