Point – Counterpoint: Spoilers

A fiery debate over the value of “spoilers”…

by: Christopher Rockwell (Point) and Shiloh Whatley (Counterpoint)

Point: While the flurry of excitement built to a dizzying crescendo in the weeks leading up to the release of the latests chapter of the Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens, fans appeared to separate off into two very distinct camps. The first camp, more tepid and guarded, yearned boorishly and constantly to be shielded from any information that would “ruin” the movie for them. These folks, who could have easily just avoided social media and gone about their day, could instead often be found lashing out at the internet, condemning it for its bevy of information about the upcoming film. “Please, no spoilers,” they pleaded, as they always do, begging to be left free of information as they surf a world wide web rife with it. The other camp, a more savvy and curious bunch, sought out with zest any information that could properly prepare them for the journey ahead. These sophisticated “film-journalists,” as I am inclined to call them, thoughtfully shared theories and nuggets of information that leaked from The Force Awakens team, knowledge that would enhance their visual experience of the film. But those valuable bits of knowledge are under attack. A vigorous war against so called “spoilers” is well underway, an unjust war against information that has heightened as said information is shared more freely and rapidly.

Counterpoint: Did you notice when you went to read a follow-up article on the latest GOP debate that in the margin was an Amazon advertisement for that exact pair of shoes you were looking at just the other day? Do you want to know why you saw that? It’s because the internet has absolutely no respect for boundaries. It will blindside you with information you weren’t looking for even when you’re trying to do something as simple as checking the weather forecast. So the other day when you googled My cat keeps peeing on my rug, and an image of a TIE fighter crashing into the planet Jakku appeared above the header, it was actually your fault that you took in this mild spoiler, because – according to some schools of thought – you never should have been on the internet to begin with. Not if you want to avoid spoilers.

Here’s an analogy, one we’ve all heard before: The information superhighway as an actual highway. We get on the highway and head towards a destination, and where we end up depends solely on us and where we choose to go. We have freedom of choice, but we must exercise this freedom responsibly. Now imagine that this highway, which has clearly marked signs and markers, suddenly starts taking us to places we don’t want to go. We’ve observed the rules of the road, and are following the map to a tee, but we keep ending up being sidetracked to these undesirable locations.

That is what the internet has become, a landscape that no longer respects the rules that govern basic geography. And this is totally unacceptable.

Stay off the web? Why don’t we just stop answering our telephones and checking our mailboxes while we’re at it? You never know; there just might be a postcard in there from the Skywalker Ranch that reveals the real identity of Kylo Ren.

Point: This is the world we live in now, and I am here to tell you it’s a magical time to be alive. A fortuitous age of “conscious” technology where even your time spent online is being catered to your wants and needs. What you look upon as intrusive, could easily be viewed as a hand extended, yearning to help. Carefully vetted shopping options, events that might strike your fancy, and even film trailers you may be interested in now have the ability to find you, rather than you having to put forth the effort to hunt them down. It’s remarkable really, the future we were always promised.

But I must ask: What is a mild-spoiler anyhow? Is this the level of complaining we have reached amid the War on Spoilers? A TIE fighter crashed in Star Wars – wow, what a shocker! I cannot believe that happened. But let’s dig into the heart of the matter: Is your film truly being ruined because of slight glimpses and previews of what is to come? Is the cheap thrill of a reveal of some shocking moment all that you are into it for? While the exhilaration of a surprise may be enough for you, I’m into it for a whole other reason, and being informed (“spoiled,” as you put it) only enhances the way I’m able to appreciate a story. With some backstory, or some deeper insight, I am able able to examine the occurrences within the tale in a whole new light. In this way I am capable of understanding and appreciating all the nuance to the moment and in doing so, more fully comprehend its meaning. It’s hard to understand why so many people value surprise over total comprehension, when in good storytelling there is so much depth to pivotal turning points to wrap your head around. Knowing Rosebud is a sled prior to experiencing Citizen Kane doesn’t make it a bad movie, it fashions it into a deeper journey into the psyche of Charles Foster Kane (the sled is surely not what makes the movie so timeless). But I guess for some, the “gotcha” moment is what’s it’s all about.

I’d like to bring an example to the table, one that involves newly expecting parents. Now, when you have a child you are given the option to find out the child’s sex. Many parents want to know, to “spoil,” the moment of reveal. They want to be able to prepare correctly and get their head around everything that involves bringing either a boy or a girl into the world (names, attire, etc.). And other parents like to wait for the delivery room where they can experience the reveal firsthand. It may come of no surprise to you, I come from the pragmatic group that wants to know the sex in advance. But what’s interesting is this method doesn’t mean the reveal is missed. Quite the contrary actually. Months prior to the baby’s arrival there is still an exhilarating moment of disclosure, one that can be enjoyed between the expecting parents and then appreciated for months to come as they relish in their waiting child and properly prepare for its arrival. But the others demand that reveal on the “big day.” They want the surprise then. But I must ask, aren’t there enough “surprises” taking place that very day? I mean if you are a woman, there is a human life form emerging from your body that day. That’s a hell of a thing! And if you are a man, on that day there is a human emerging from your (possibly) significant other. SURPRISE indeed! It seems to me there is plenty enough to be focused on and revel in besides whether your new child has an innie or an outtie. But to some, screaming “It’s a Boy!” overshadows cherishing absolutely the true miracle that is a new life being birthed into the world.

And for the record, no one is asking you to stay off the internet. You are absolutely right, in this magnificent day and age this is unfathomable. But we are asking you to exhibit some self control in not clicking on links to locations where grown-ups are having weighty discussions about the particulars and subtleties of today’s greatest stories. Maybe after you enjoy in your coveted jolt of revelation, you can join us!

Counterpoint: You’ve emphasized the aspect of choice. As in: I chose to go onto the internet, a place where individuals have discussions that may be heavily laden with potential spoilers, so therefore I am to blame when something I perceive as a spoiler comes my way. Fair enough (within an extremely limited context). You also mentioned trailers. Trailers used to be the studio’s main means of selling tickets by whetting the audience’s appetites with selective images and dialogue from a forthcoming movie. And this practice has carried forward to this day, although there has been a very tangible and not-so-subtle shift in what’s presented to us. Case in point: These days we are given the entire movie, beginning to end, in little out-of-order vignettes that not only potentially ruin the movie for us, but actually take us right out of the movie when we’re in the theater, because we’re constantly thinking to ourselves, “When is that one part we saw in the trailer going to happen?” or “This must be when that one scene we saw in the trailer happens.”

Even J.J. Abrams alluded to this when he talked about how careful he was in what he revealed in the trailer for The Force Awakens. Need more proof? I challenge you to watch the trailer for Terminator: Genisys, take the pieces of the puzzle and chronologically put them together into a rough outline of the movie’s plot, and then go watch the movie and see if the story doesn’t sequentially line up exactly with what you yourself already deduced. In other words, you’ve already seen the entire skeletal framework for the movie in two to three minutes.

If I hadn’t lowered my expectations and lost interest in all future installments of the Terminator franchise years ago then I would have been furious at this marketing ploy. Then I started looking at even more contemporary trailers, and in one way or another they are all guilty of the same thing. They spoil the movie for us!

Point: Recently – I shit you not – I was in a social situation where I was asked not to “spoil” the end of Breaking Bad. The rage that boiled within me at that moment is something I cannot find words to describe. First of all, if you haven’t seen all of Breaking Bad at this point, that is on you. It is one of the finest shows in television history – possibly the finest show – and if indulging in its glory hasn’t been a priority to you at this point, your issues lie with that man or woman in the mirror solely. Society should not be asked to be patient with your profound shortcomings. And this idea should be extended to recently released narratives. Why must we wait to converse and to share in our excitement? Oh, because your life is so much busier than ours – that’s right.

But it is worth noting, again, that there is far more to entertainment than the big reveal. Most admirable films and television shows have depth that lies far beyond just one moment, and when film or TV relies heavily on a dramatic twist alone, that worthiness of the entertainment and the ability of it to stand the test of time as a classic is suspect at best. To me, there has always been something so special about the second viewing. Being aware of what unfolds within the story allows one to escape completely into the film and allows for the aesthetic accomplishments of the production and the scrupulously crafted narrative to wash over you wholly. With a viewing or two under your belt, there exists the possibility to fully embrace the scope and mastery of the artform. And this is what “spoilers” have the ability to do, to allow one to more easily process the story at hand, and thus achieve an elevated overall experience.

There is no question that there are a few spoilers out there that are flat out unforgivable (and I understand completely your take on trailers exceeding their bounds and exposing the entire skeletal framework). I concede that fact fully, although the number of stories where this is the case is minimal there are films where the twist in the film completely reconditions the entirety of the film before it (The Sixth Sense, The Unusual Suspects, etc.). And there are many out there on both sides of this debate that are just flat out assholes, who are simply trolling or seeking out attention. But the heightened rhetoric against spoilers that exists online today, and the need by so many to demand that society zip their lips in aggregate for their own personal gratification, is obnoxious and self-centered. The truth of the matter is those continuously trumpeting “No Spoilers!” are fighting a losing battle. This disdain for spoilers is something that it is best to get over. The amount of entertainment that abounds in this day and age is awe-inspiring, and because of this you will always be playing catch-up and will always be ducking for cover from these so called “spoilers.” Frankly, that is no way to live. Get in line, or get out of the way. If it was truly that important to you, you would be right there with us watching as the true magic commences, and not incessantly bellyaching online.

Counterpoint: This all boils down to two things: respect for storytelling and respect for others.

Whether you’re watching a series on television or going to see a movie in the theater, we’re all just trying to distract and entertain ourselves for a few hours outside of our normal day-to-day lives. Storytelling, around since the dawn of man and passed down from one generation to another through oral traditions, is an enlivening art form we all used to take far more seriously. These days it seems as if everyone wants to contribute something to the process, to put their own personal stamp on the narrative. And yes, social media has contributed to this. But if we break everything down to brass tacks, what we all really want is to experience a story to its fullest, to respect the process itself so that we in turn get the most out of it. And unfortunately, knowing that Rosebud is really a sled, Verbal Kint is really Keyser Söze, and Kylo Ren is Han Solo and Princess Leia’s son ahead of time has the potential to greatly diminish the experience for us.

We also need to stop worrying about ourselves and what we get out of the experience and start showing more deference for those responsible for the process, the same respect we’d pay any artist or artisan. Storytelling is not easy, and we should refrain from spoiling it for ourselves and others, because these actors, writers, directors, and producers deserve our respect. Just ask Quentin Tarantino, who had to rewrite his entire Hateful Eight script because some jerk lifted it off him and absconded with it.

Respect for others is something we should maintain without having to be prompted, but here we are. How times have changed. Yes, water cooler talk used to be the only good thing about Monday mornings in the office, but alas, DVR and streaming have changed the game. You don’t have to be happy about it. You don’t even have to appreciate the reason the person who hasn’t seen it yet had for not being able to view it with the rest of the world when it premiered. But you do need to respect that person’s need to remain in the dark until he or she has experienced the story the way it was meant to be told, spoiler-free. And anyway, if you’re one of the people who feels the need to blab about some plot device or big reveal in a story, then just look harder. You will find someone who’s seen the show, read the book, or even watched the game, and then all bets are off. But in the meantime, abstaining from affecting the experience of those who aren’t yet where you are is not too much to ask.

Hey, it’s great that you knew that the Planet of the Apes was really Earth all along, but I – like 99% of the movie-going public – would prefer to be right there with Charlton Heston’s Taylor when he discovers the Statue of Liberty half buried in that sandy beach. Sorry, it’s just that much more impactful finding out the way it was meant to be revealed.

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