Spoiler: When someone reveals a previously unknown aspect of something which you likely would have rather learned on your own.
*discussions of art media such as video games, movies, etc. especially vulnerable.
It turns out that my wife (who blogs about food here) has not been reading Hourman. She is worried that I have given away the end of The Hunger Games, which has been collecting dust on her nightstand for two weeks.
Yet is it really possible to give away the end of The Hunger Games? Once you read the back cover, or see a commercial for the movie, or have any idea what it’s about (hunger; also, games; possibly vice versa), and once you know that it’s part of a trilogy (see: inside cover) it seems impossible to give too much away, since it’s highly unlikely that Katniss can possibly be killed in the book. What do you think this is [Spoiler alert!], Game of Thrones?
But thanks to the Internet, we live in a perpetual No Spoiler culture, where the worst thing a website, blog, critic, or writer can do is reveal an important plot detail or, God forbid, the ending.
The issue, for me, is twofold.
First, time does not exist online. Not in the timesuck sense of murdering an hour on Facebook or, for me, looking longingly at lovely Les Pauls on Ebay, but rather in the contextless void of cyberspace, where all people, living or dead, and all music and video simultaneously coexist. Abba to Zappa, Beatles and Bach and Beck, are all just keywords, timeless—in the not necessarily classic sense.
Music doesn’t have spoilers, though. Yet with movies, there is no longer a statute of limitations for how long someone is supposed to wait before you’re Allowed to Talk about Fight Club, since it will always be brand new, eternally, online, to someone, somewhere. In other words, online writing, in its perpetual present, is expected to maintain the rhetoric of old media newspaper movie reviews, which essentially summarize the premise, or roughly the first act of a movie, with a little subjective commentary about whether the reader should see the movie or not, preferably with 1-5 stars as an EZ guideline.
This is very different from critical writing, college writing, and academic writing, where the presumed audience is someone who has (likely) read the book or seen the film in question and is interested in analysis, not a recommendation—and who already knows the twists and details. ‘Cause the thing is, I need to be able to discuss the work in its entirety to discuss it at all. The difference between The Lion King and Hamlet is the difference between the wayward Prince reclaiming his betrothed and kingdom, vs. everybody dying horribly. Possibly also: singing animals and fart jokes.
But this ethos contradicts the internet rule of No Spoilers, as seen here by one Amazon.com review, about—surprise!—a collection of critical essays on Fight Club:
This review is from: You Do Not Talk About Fight Club: I Am Jack’s Completely Unauthorized Essay Collection (Smart Pop series) (Paperback)
I love Fight Club in both book and movie form and I love the fact that the story makes you think. So picking this book up seemed like a must for any Fight Club/Chuck Palahniuk fan.
I’m only two essays into it and my interest is already losing traction. The first essay was painfully overwritten considering the context of the book and the audience who will probably be reading it. If you don’t have your dictionary and a good understanding of philosophy both basic and advanced, you’ll probably struggle through it hoping the book gets better as I did (it does). Long, complex sentence structures, insane words and hybrid words I recognized but didn’t know the meaning of and philosophy references that I had never heard before all conspired to ruin this first essay for me rather quickly.
Another major complaint I have–again with the first essay since I’ve only read two so far–is that there is no spoiler alert at the start of the essay. Well let me just warn you now, the first contributing essay will ruin a good majority of Chuck Palahniuk’s novels if you haven’t already read them. The author goes off endlessly and in detail about his theories on Chuck’s other books, describing in detail certain aspects of the story and the book’s overall outcome. So annoying trying to skip over stuff that seemed spoiler in nature. I haven’t read Chuck’s other books yet and now I don’t need to; the surprise is ruined.
The “first essay” in question was written by me. And I didn’t realize the possibility that what I was writing was “spoiler in nature.” I thought I was writing about books.
Leaving aside that this reviewer thinks it’s a problem to read an essay that uses words and philosophical references that he has “never heard of before” (JFGI, kid), I turn to the second issue: the No Spoiler fetish overemphasizes the importance of plot.
OK, maybe in fairness to my Amazon detractor, with a Chuck Palahniuk or an M. Night Shyamalan or a Quentin Tarantino—people who traffic specifically in the twist ending—you don’t want to know that at the end of Fight Club oirjrnjnriwbecbwqhjbediuwrenrfnewroin. Or at the end of The Sixth Sense it turns out that Bruce Willis’s character wfnwenfrewijgtmhoiweb, or at the end of Unbreakable, Bruce Willis’s character learns that lkjsfrohjdeoifhqwiuewqnbe, or at the chronological end but narrative middle of Pulp Fiction, Bruce Willis’s character oiewhfiunewicnbewfndekjwncen. These movies, like Bruce Willis, have been out for decades.
At what point is it safe to declare a Spoiler moratorium?
The thing is, there are many, many reasons to read or watch a story aside from the stuff that happens. If anything, Palahniuk’s, Shymalan’s, and Tarantino’s best work transcend plot entirely and enter into the much more interesting realms of style, voice, and narrative structure, aspects of storytelling that, like sweet, sweet honey, naturally resist spoilage. If all anyone wants is plot summary, go read Cliff’s Notes. Or if that’s too long, the Cliff’s Notes of Cliff’s Notes, Wikipedia. If someone likes an author, even the most egregious spoilers shouldn’t actually ruin (the word used twice in the review) much of anything.
I’m a fun guy, so, let’s play mold to film’s gentle bread and spoil some endings, shall we?
Harry Potter series: the good guys win
Lord of the Rings: good guys win
Star Wars: good guys win
Titanic: boat sinks
Now, maybe this is too glib. After all, I suppose it’s the particular details of the plot, not the overall trajectory or ending, that rankles the Spoiler-sports (Alternate names for people who want to stop spoilers: the Refrigerators? The Tupperwares? Or are these just terrible band names?). For example, in Titanic, it’s not the boat, it’s that [Spoiler alert, despite that it’s the second highest grossing movie of all time] Jack dies; in Harry Potter [Spoiler alert, even though it’s the bestselling book series and third highest grossing movie of all time], the epilogue flashes forward to a future where Harry and Ginny are sending their bully magnet-named son Albus Severus to Hogwarts; in LoTR [Spoiler alert, even though—ah forget it], Frodo destroys the ring but is altered by the experience and can’t go back home; in The Empire Strikes Back [oh no he di’n’t], Luke is revealed to be Darth Vader’s son.
I’ll go one further: I don’t like surprises. Let’s hear two cheers for spoilers. Once you’re free from the filmic tyranny of What’s Going to Happen?!?, you can actually sit back and enjoy the show.
As everyone knows, “spoil” can mean ruin.
But it also means “indulge.”
Time: 55 minutes