When is a Spoiler no longer a Spoiler?

There is nothing worse than a spoiler! Or more specifically, nothing worst than the tool that ends up spoiling a film/tv show for you. It’s probably top of my “soft hatred” list. (things you hate that aren’t a big deal!) Whenever someone does inadvertently (or on purpose in some awful cases) leaks a spoiler, I always wonder, after I’ve calmed down, at what point I would have been able to hear that plot ruining tidbit and have no social justification for being upset.

There are now some common, legendary movie twists that are so embedded in movie and cultural conscience that to not know the spoiler is rarer than knowing. It would be wholly appropriate to discuss the end of both Sixth Sense and Usual Suspects on a bus. Comedians can make stand-up routines based on the revelation at the end of The Empire Strikes Back or Brad Pitt’s reaction when he comes across the contents of the “box” at the end of Se7en.

So what made it ok for these spoilers and twists to be socially acceptable? Time is definitely a factor. The newest film of those mentioned above is The Sixth Sense and that was back in 1999. The argument is that if you haven’t seen that movie by now, its your own fault if the ending is spoiled for you. If that is the case though, what is the time limit on a spoiler? A year? Five years?

It seems acceptable that we now know what’s in this box…

Maybe it depends on the film itself. The twist at the end of Sixth Sense was so shocking and well done that it became the main reason to see the movie. That meant it reached popular, social relevance and acceptance a lot quicker than, lets say, the end of The Others. Is it the case that if the film is a huge success, a must see or even a cultural phenomenon, the expiry on a spoiler is a lot shorter. If it’s a movie that nobody has really heard of or seen, even five years may not be enough time to justify spoiling the end.

The issue with movies is that different people believe different things. Some would say that when a movie reaches DVD or Blu-Ray, it is open for general discussion. Others would argue a year after its cinema release. I also know people who say it is never acceptable to spoil the ending of a film, even if it’s so well-known, like The Usual Suspects.

When is it ok to discuss the end of TV shows?

Television is a completely different issue. Now we have catch-up, instant download, DVD boxsets and DVR’s, the need to watch a show live isn’t necessary and in most cases (me included) I never watch a show the night its on. In fact, if people are like me, I wait until a whole season has been aired (and saved on my DVR) before I even start watching it. It means I never have to wait a week to see an amazing cliffhanger being resolved but it also means I’m hugely susceptible to a spoiler.

Even tv shows have their “statute of limitations” when it comes to spoilers. I’ve had both sides of this argument recently. A “friend” posted the identity of a killer from a season long investigation, on Facebook, the night it aired! That’s nowhere near the cut-off for spoilers and is the worst case. That same “contact on social network” spoiled a major death in the first season of Game of Thrones. This was about a year and a half after it had aired but I had argued that it was such a big moment that anyone seeing it would have their first season “spoiled.” She then argued, “if they haven’t seen it yet, its their own fault.”

While it’s still popular and being watched by loads of people – does that mean any of the previous seasons are unsuitable for spoilers?

I kind of conceded, to a point. That spoiler is so huge that I don’t think it’s ever acceptable but it has been ages since the first season aired. Another friend of mine (genuine) inadvertently spoiled the ending of Lost for me. I kept quiet at this point, realising that it had been so long since that show had aired, I didn’t have an argument.

I would argue the social relevance again though. Game of Thrones is huge news. Its event television, with everyone singing its praises and talking about how good it is. That means that more people will be discovering it and won’t want the first season spoiled for them, even if it was aired a while ago. Lost, and other similar shows, have been off the air and out of social consciousness for long enough that maybe it is acceptable to openly talk about the end of those shows (although it would have been nice for a heads-up).

There is no straight, easy rule for tv spoilers either. Some have put forward the argument that if a new season has started, anything that happened before that is fair game. I have also read comments from people who believe it’s after the next episode has aired! (Seems too soon for me though).

Overall, this is a problem that will never go away but is getting trickier and trickier now that we can view shows and films at our leisure and in a much more accessible, selective way. I believe its more to do with how socially popular, relevant and current the show or movie is, arguing that the more its being talked about, the less acceptable it is to spoil it. That also has its faults though and maybe it would be easier just to set a generic time limit – if you haven’t seen the film or series within two years, its your own fault if it gets spoiled.

I would be interested to know what you think? Whats your spoiler rule? Is there an easier way to manage this issue and if so, how are we going to get the news out?

I mean, if you don’t know who this guy’s son is then you are never going to watch these movies anyway… right?

6 thoughts on “When is a Spoiler no longer a Spoiler?

  1. I never spoil anything I review (unless I will warn about it in advance). No matter how old something is…it is something which someone will have never seen before. Why should I take that away by spoiling it for them? They might not even have been around when something was released.

    1. I always avoid spoilers when reviewing, even though my reviews are more for discussion post viewing, you never know who is reading or what they’ve seen.

  2. I don’t do spoilers in films I review, even old films.

    That being said though, as topics of conversation between friends once a film is out of the theatre and on DVD/Blu-Ray I feel the OK to speak freely about film endings without asking the company I’m with if anyone hasn’t seen the film. But, if I’m going to a screening of an older film with anyone that hasn’t seen the film, then I will keep my mouth shut.

    As for TV, once it has aired you can spoil it. The reality is if a show has become big enough where you are worried about spoilers then you have to watch it live because people will be talking about it around the water cooler the following day. Though none of my friend posted what happened on the Season 3 finale of “Game of Thrones”, the reality is I knew something major had happened and everyone was going to be talking about it the next day. And who would blame them. It’s not their fault you haven’t watched it yet.

    1. I don’t agree with the TV aspect at all. Now that DVR’s, streaming and boxsets are so more readily available, and that every tv show is designed to keep you hooked with a “weekly” cliffhanger, I would much prefer to wait and watch the series in one big chunk. In fact, I think more and more tv shows are being designed for that exact purpose, which is why (in the UK at least) we don,t get episode recaps on shows like Game of Thrones.

      That being the case, I would think that there has to be longer than just the next day to talk about spoilers. I would say, if pushed, that the beginning of the next season would be appropriate to openly have conversations about it without giving prior warning.

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