By Ray Flook
"Rosebud" was the sled. Norman Bates was his mother. Vader was Luke's father.
Those are some pretty important pieces of information that most people already know about Citizen Kane, Psycho and The Empire Strikes Back, even if they haven't actually seen those movies specifically. But to some who haven't, what I just did was "spoil" those movies for them…even though the youngest of those three films is still something like thirty-plus years old. It's pretty much in-line with a conversation I had last week about The Walking Dead: every time I kept trying to mention something…anything…about Season 5, my friend kept cutting me off and getting righteously pissed because (as she put it), "I'm only on the first season…that's not cool, man. Stop spoiling it for me."
Flash ahead to a couple of weeks ago and to Rich Johnston's post regarding the new Batman coming out of DC's Divergence on Free Comic Book Day. I'm not going to rehash it when you can check it out for yourself here and here… but it was the online reaction from other websites, bloggers and artists within the industry that got me thinking about the whole concept of "spoilers" and why there's so much drama over them.
In the interest of full disclosure, I'm coming at this from the perspective of someone who loves and seeks out spoilers all of the time for pretty much everything. I'll read the last pages of a mystery to find out who did it…because now I'm fascinated to see how the author is going to get me there. Same with movies, television shows, and anything else that fits that criteria…it's one of the reasons why I'm a huge fan of Netflix and their eagerness to feed my binge-watch addictions at a moment's notice. It's a spoiler-addict's wet dream.
But whether you enjoy a spoiler-loving lifestyle like I do or you prefer finding out things in a "as-it-happens" kind of way, I'm pretty sure there are some things for all of us to consider…and maybe even agree on:
Spoilers have stayed the same; it's the technology that's changed. From the first time Gnarr saw Klokklok paint something new on his cave wall and then ran outside to grunt about it before Pokow could see it for himself, one of our basic human instincts has been to find out information before we're supposed to and share it with as many people as possible. We're only restrained by technology and means…and as technology has gotten society to the point where each of us is our own "broadcasting network," those restraints have been tossed aside. Consider this: it's easier to brag about keeping the ending to Psycho secret for so long after it first came out when your "social media" at the time was talking to someone at work/school, writing a letter to your local newspaper or maybe calling-in to your local radio station. Throw Twitter, Facebook or Instagram into the mix? It would've looked more like this…times a couple million:
— PerkinsFan01 (@OldManGeek88) May 6, 2015
There is a difference between a spoiler and a post that contains a spoiler. To be clear: if you consciously put a spoiler in your headline or post a preview pic that's a spoiler, then you're a raging a-hole. Why would that make you a "raging a-hole"? Because a person should have the right to decide for themselves if they want to know or not, but you've taken that away from them just for the sake of being "first." I'm not saying that sometimes you can't get caught-up in the excitement and put something out there without thinking it through because we've all done that…and live-blogging is always a thin line to walk. A spoiler post should have warnings and be one that you have to click and scroll down to read, so that it's crystal clear that if you're reading this post then you made the choice to read that post…nothing was "spoiled" for you. From a "good spoiler/bad spoiler" standpoint, I see it like this:
Marvel Just Can't Stop Torturing The Fantastic Four, Can They? (Secret Wars Spoilers) http://t.co/zPutiPwWtx
— Bleeding Cool (@bleedingcool) May 6, 2015
— The Walking Dead AMC (@WalkingDead_AMC) December 1, 2014
If you really care about the reader/viewer, then there's no difference between a spoiler that comes from the publisher and a spoiler posted through reporting. If I'm a fan of Captain America who doesn't like to know what's going to happen ahead of time, I'd be just as angry having it spoiled for me through a news/rumor website as I would through a Marvel-planned announcement on The Colbert Report and a press release in USA Today. At no point am I ever thinking, "Oh…wait…Marvel owns Captain America? Ohhhhh…that's cool, then!" As a loyal reader, it would suck for me either way…
There needs to be a Spoiler Statute of Limitations (SSL) in place…but for the life of me, I have no idea what it should be. If a movie came out within the past five years, it enters a spoiler-free "safe zone" in my head when I'm talking about it with others; after that, all bets are pretty much off. Spoiling/not spoiling television shows has gotten really complicated over the past ten years, with more viewer control over when/where/how we watch a show; with a broader selection of programming to choose from; and social media to communicate with others in real-time during shared viewings. So I'm not sure how patient I'm supposed to be when it comes to episodes/seasons…should you be spoiler-protected if you're a season behind? Or should spoiler-protection expire after a certain number of episodes? See what I mean? As long as you start from the position of giving your readers/viewers the choice to be spoiled, I feel like you'll develop a personal comfort level with them that reflects what they're comfortable with from you.
Live by the spoiler, die by the spoiler. If you're a website or company that's used spoilers in the past to your advantage, then you really don't have the non-hypocritical right to be wagging fingers at anyone else. That applies to creators, too: you should be just as "outraged" when your publisher spoils your work as when a news website does the same thing. I'm not saying run out onto social media and start biting the hand that signs the checks…just keep this "big picture" perspective in mind when you go on social media and attack a website for doing the same thing. And don't forget: "leaked spoilers" come from somewhere; and usually come from places that protest the loudest.
Not being able to control what your readers do with the information isn't a good enough reason to not post a spoiler. We have no control over what our readers do with any of the information we put out there, whether they're spoilers or not: once it goes live, it's their's to do with it what they want. We hope that they understand what it is that we're doing and maintain a respect for others when they communicate what they've read…but there aren't any guarantees. But that lack of certainty over how some may act shouldn't get in the way of informing your readers; more importantly, trusting them to choose to be informed or not…trusting them to do the right thing.