Note: this article contains spoilers for Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings.
Ashbrook's guests side with the old standard of spoiler control. Paskin doesn't think it's her responsibility to stay tight-lipped about The Sopranos, and Poniewozik feels free to discuss plot points of The Shield (off the air for six and five years, respectively). What interests me is, as our viewing habits fragment, how we must quarantine ourselves from information to avoid spoilers, and how aware we must be of our friends' and colleagues' viewing habits to avoid spoiling for them.
Growing up without television, I never followed sports, other than occasionally checking stats in the daily Chronicle for the San Francisco Giants. Last year, and still without television, I began watching NFL football, using their Game Rewind subscription service, allowing me to watch games soon after they had completed (though with some annoying broadcast restrictions). Televised sports are on the opposite end of the spoiler spectrum from movies. Even though sports are pure entertainment, they are still treated as news, with absolutely zero spoiler control. Remember the opening scene of Air Force One where not even the President of the United States can make it onto his airplane without having a taped game spoiled for him? I might not watch a game until a day or even a week later; meanwhile, online newspapers will plaster the final score on their front page banner, as if it were the most important news in the world. Imagine seeing a headline Saturday morning after Friday's release of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: "Frodo Destroys Ring; Golem Dies in Lava". To avoid these spoilers, I can no longer look at newspapers, and I've written the names of my teams on a white board at work as reminder to not discuss these teams around me.
Media outlets are only following the cue of the television networks, who actually spoil one game while broadcasting another, with an ever-intrusive score update on the bottom of the screen, and occasional breaks from the current game to show plays from another.
Imagine it's 1980. You're sitting in a darkened theater watching The Shining, gripping your armrest as little Danny rides his plastic tricycle around a haunted hotel. The tension is building; at any moment something terrible is going to happen. Then the film momentarily pauses and an announcer's voice pipes in from the theater down the street, "You're not going to believe this folks, but Darth Vader is actually Luke's father! Back to you, Danny."
It's as if broadcast sports were stuck in a bygone era when it was impossible to watch a game if you didn't watch it live, and the network was doing you a favor by keeping you up to date on past and simultaneous games. Now, with taping a game, picture-in-picture, DVR, Game Rewind, opt-in highlight reels, and any number of other viewing tools, it's absurd that this spoiler practice continues.
With television shows this is becoming less of an issue, but I don't think it's because people are more sensitive about spoiling plots. There is so much variety in our viewing habits, whether in content (network, cable, web) or timeliness (live, on-demand, syndicated, home video), we no longer have the expectation of that conversation around the cooler, because noone is watching the same thing as anyone else. Noone can spoil Foyle's War for me, and I can't spoil Breaking Bad for them. The exception is when a friend recommends a show to me, but in that context the friend is almost always spoiler-conscious, and, taking pride in having introduced me to the show, will wait patiently for me to experience it spoiler-free just as they did.
As I attempt to catch up on my reviews from 2010, I'm trying to be conscious of spoilers. I feel more at liberty to discuss plot points of movies from three years ago, yet I must protect the review's primary purpose, regardless of the movie's age: to empower the reader to decide if they want to see the movie for themselves. What I'm not guarding, though, is the meta-data surrounding the movie. Now that 2010 is long over, and my statistics for that year fully compiled, I think it's okay to say of a movie released in October how it ended up faring against a movie that wouldn't be released until December. Likewise, I'm now able to give overall year stats for theaters as I review them, something that wasn't possible when I published the reviews in real-time.