The spoiler-police: spoiling it for the rest of us?

Paul Raven @ 21-05-2010

Mary Elizabeth Williams takes to the pages of Salon.com to decry one of my own pet hates: the spoiler-police, those people who get angry at you for discussing a book, film or TV show that they haven’t seen yet [via Martin Lewis].

As a reviewer and critic, this is a particular bugbear for me. First and foremost, I believe that stories that can truly be spoiled by having major plot points revealed before reading and/or watching it are rarely stories worth bothering with. This is why The Sixth Sense wasn’t really a very good movie, for example; watch it a second time, and it’s just ninety-odd minutes of narrative prestidigitation. That said, there are exceptions (it’s very hard to discuss Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World without talking about the pivot point twist at the middle of it, but knowing that twist actually makes a second reading a different and equally enjoyable experience), and it’s the mark of a good – or at least responsible – critic to be able to know the difference and act accordingly.

But secondly, it’s always baffled me that people bothered by spoilers couldn’t simply self-police the problem and, y’know, avoid reading reviews and discussions of the story in question before they get to it. Williams agrees:

… for the love of God, if you really don’t want to know about a book/movie/television show, do the rest of the world a favor and stop hanging out in the online discussion groups about it. Sure, if you live in a time zone where your favorite show has not yet aired, you could go on any of the many websites devoted to it and rage about the injustice of it all, like the poster in a “24” thread who complained, “Your East Coast arrogance that once it airs on the East Coast, it’s fair game to blog about — and ruin for us on the West Coast — is beyond stunning.” Or you maybe could restrain yourself from joining the discussion for three measly hours.

[…]

Do these die-hards ever consider that maybe they’re the ones spoiling things — for the rest of us? I promise I won’t blurt the ending of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” when you’re behind me in the ticket line. If, in fact, you tell me directly you’ve never seen “The Third Man,” I will simply say you’re in for a treat. But how about you assume if you’re in an online discussion about the film, maybe that’s a space for people who’ve seen it and want to discuss it? Or the fact that you’re just now getting hip to “The Wire” doesn’t impose a cone of silence on it for anybody else?

Testify, sister!