In 2010 I saw 100 different movies in 100 different theaters. Here are the details.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

When Is It Okay to Spoil?

Note: this article contains spoilers for Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings.

On a recent episode of WBUR's On Point, host Tom Ashbrook discusses the Emmy Award Show with guests Willa Paskin and James Poniewozik. One of the interesting topics they cover is the idea of spoiling a television show. They harken back to a day when everyone watched a show at the same time, and then discussed it around the water cooler the very next day. Now, however, viewers don't so much watch as consume shows (an entire season or even series at a time), and at their discretion (on a device of their choosing, and weeks, months, or even years later).

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.

1 comment:

  1. When I began this entry and saw the spoiler warning for Star Wars it reminded of me of this Penny Arcade Comic
    It was only as I continued reading that I realized you were in on the joke.

    I never noticed any real issue with spoilers for most TV programs because I stopped watching them before DVR was a thing and people actually delayed watching them. I have only really seen the phenomenon again with two shows, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones (neither of which I watch). Breaking Bad spoilers became a thing because it was talked about a lot on the internet but as this author has pointed out, people were watching it under many different venues, most notably live from AMC and then a season behind on Netflix. The show became much more popular over time so many people began from the beginning on Netflix and have been working to catch up this whole time. Game of Thrones is mostly only on HBO from what I can tell but the series follows very closely to the books the first of which is just 3 years shy of 20 years old. So among its viewers there are a large class of people who know the upcoming story very thoroughly since they have read all the novels (I actually am in this latter group having read all the books, though I don't actually watch the show and don't know anyone who does so I have no one to spoil it to, . . . or else I would . . . yeah I would do that right now).

    As another avid consumer of sports, I find it very hard not to have them spoiled. I have historically almost always been watching them on tape delay (an old way to refer to DVR now) since I have (or had) young kids who took my attention during the day or always had afternoon activities. The reviewer is right, one has to avoid all social media and news outlet. Unlike the reviewer, I can't go very many days like this since I like to consume sporting news and commentary during the week and also run in too many circles of people who will inevitably talk about it. Now that I can DVR games and have access to all of them I am annoyed as ever that they scroll the scores and have game breaks to other games. It did make sense when I was a kid, not only pre DVR but pre internet when I couldn't just find the score at any moment I wanted online. I actually remember having to wait until the NEXT DAY when a NEWSPAPER was given to me and I could look up the scores of a game that was played the day before but not broadcast locally. Have you seen a newspaper recently, they do still exist, and strangely enough they still list the scores from the day before.

    I usually don't wait that long before watching games now (though I always wait at least an hour to an hour and a half so I can fast forward through all the commercials) but I do sometimes want to watch two games that are on at the same time, which makes me hate the scrolling scores at the bottom. The only way to avoid them is to change the screen settings to move them off the bottom of the screen which loses a good amount of the action. Sometimes I wonder if this isn't as much a hold over of old habits as a calculated way to make sure I don't change the channel to a competing network to find the score myself. All that being said, I will say I don't mind them if I am just watching one game,even delayed, because I will have avoided all media to not spoil my current game and therefor will not know the result of any games. The scrolling scores at the bottom allows me to update myself on the other scores as they develop and in a very distant way enjoy the progression of those games as well, albeit very superficially.

    Well that was a big tangent. Back on point, I agree with the reviewer, reviews of movies from 2010 should be sensitive to spoilers. A good many of these films I still haven't seen myself.