Spoilers and the way Media is discussed can be really tricky; and I think it can be solved by handeling it with the concept of consent.
Between Endgame hitting the cinemas and the last sesason of Game of Thrones being released, there has been a lot of talk about spoilers and the way they are handled especially in Social Media. There have also been some opinions about the gap between critizing something, „just letting people enoy stuff“ and hateful rants. I have some
short thoughts about this and need to get them out of my head.
[English Post because I wanted to, this article contains no spoilers except one very broad „there is character death in this movie“. I also have to point out that the idea for this article came from this Tweet I saw some days ago.]
Let’s talk about Spoilers first. There were several tweets and articles claiming that the fear of spoilers and the wish to avoid them are overrated, that a good story works even when you know its suprises and that companies like Disney and HBO use things like Spoiler Bans and the fear of spoilers to get more people to watch their content more quickly and in the cinema instead of waiting for the DVD/BluRay/Stream. Let’s get into this:
First of all, not everyone is on the same page regarding spoilers. I know of people who make an effort not to see a single information before a movie comes out, not even watch the trailer or read anything about it. I also know folks who love to get on spoiler pages and read all the important plot points before they enjoy the movie/episode/book. Both approaches are valid, of course, but the thing is: Not getting spoiled is just way harder than doing so. If the show/movie is big enough, it is everywhere. Everyone is talking about it, there are headlines and memes and pictures and trending hashtags – social media is not helpul if you want to avoid unwanted information. It also seems to have become some kind of messed-up game for some people. I saw a tweet of a dude that proudly shared a screenshot of a group messenger where he had spoiled every character death in Endgame to all his classmates. Just to be rude. And, to quote Star Wars Rebels: „Once a secret is known, it cannot be un-known.“ So one careless or rude person can be enough to ruin everything (if spoilers are a bad thing for you).
The thing about a movie/show being bad if it does not excite you when you know the big twists: I don’t really think this is a good argument. It is just a personal preference if you enjoy something more when you have the chance of being surprised. Of course there are books and movies that are so good that you can come back to them time after time, even if you know everything that is happening. But surely not every big blockbuster based on a comic book that you wanna enjoy while eating popcorn will be a timeless classic. It does not have to be. And I don’t see why people should not have the right to be surprised and awed and entertained and then never watch it again because it was not THAT good.
The point about companies using spoilers to their advantage is correct of course. There is hardly a better marketing tool than the good old „watch it NOW or get the whole plot told to you by random people on the internet“. Of course this only works for releases so big they get a lot of media coverage – but Game of Thrones and Endgame are big enough to be covered everywhere, from papers to news pages to the info screens in the subway. I very much get that it is annoying to watch people being lured into exactly the bevaviour the big companies want. I get that the whole spoiler business seems too heated and too outraged sometimes. I have no answer to this. Of course I notice that I am being manipulated into watching everything as soon as I can – but having to navigate around spoilers for weeks would be too annoying to me, and also I usually love to get excited and get cinema tickets on the first day and be hyped about something.
Which brings me to the next point:
Discussig media, especially on Social Media, can be tricky and annoying and exhausting. There are people who just want to celebrate a movie, there are some who want to discuss and criticize it and talk about strengths and flaws, and there are some people who just wanna rant about how much they hated something. (And that is just counting the ones who have acutally seen the content and don’t wanna shit on it because, I don’t know, one of 22 MCU movies has a female protagonist or a girl is holding a lightsaber.) And it all comes together under the same hashtags, people jump in conversations because they wanna get their point across and sometimes it is just a big exhausting mess. There are appeals to „just let people enjoy things!“. There was an article that made the point that „just letting people enjoy things“ is not a good thing because the problems those things might hold have to be pointed out.
And for me this whole thing, the whole spoilers or no spoilers, ranting or celebrating, pointing out problems or letting people enjoy things, boils just down to this: Consent. Or the lack of it.
I know consent is usually a topic for more important conversations than comic book adaptions or Fantasy TV shows. And yet the same concept and the same rules can (and maybe should) be used to navigate discussion about media.
If you go into a discussion about, let’s say, the latest MCU movie, you mostly don’t where the person you are talking to about it is coming from. Did they love it? Hate it? Have a complicated relationship to it (Hello, Endgame!)? Did it bring up topics deeply uncomfortable for them? Did it show something that meant a lot to them for whatever reason? Are they in a mood to go into a passionate discussion? Might this stupid comic book movie just be the one thing they enjoyed in this whole week? And if they did not watch it yet, would you ruin it for them by spoiling the ending? Or would they love to know?
You don’t know.
So the answer is simple: You ask first.
When I go into a conversation about a new movie or TV show episode, I usually start by „have you watched it yet?“. When 3 of 5 persons in a group saw it and the rest did not, I ask „do you still wanna watch it? Or can we talk about some spoilery stuff for a bit?“. And then I try to put my own opinion in vague and not very passionate words (when I talk to people, not when I need to express myself in a short tweet or something). I say „I really liked it, what about you?“ instead of „OMG THIS WAS THE BEST I LOVED IT DIDN’T YOU LOVE IT??“ or I say „This one did not really work for me“ instead of „OMG THE FUCKING WORST I HATED IT SO MUCH“. And then after the other person has stated their opinion you can go on. If they agree on the general impression, you can go into detail from there. There is also really no need to get in a fight over something you totally disagree on. Discussions are great, but not everyone is up for them at any time. There also might be topics that hit too close to home to discuss them (I linked it already a while back, but there is a great article about this by Abigail Dillon). If, for example, The Last Jedi comes up I usually say something like „I loved this movie and it means a lot to me, so if you hated it I would prefer not to talk about it.“ Funnily enough, this brought me some really good conversations about the movie, because people who did not like it where taken aback by this starting point so much that asked why I loved it and then they told me what points they did not like and then we had a good talk about it.
There is also no need to hijack other people’s conversations just to get your hot take out or your anger across. If there is an open question about „how did you like XY“ – of course. But if two persons on Twitter are very happily discussing how much they LOVED XY, why on earth would you jump into their mentions with some one-sentenced hot take to tell them how wrong they are? And if there is an discussion about how offended someone is by something a movie did, why would you jump in there to tell them that you loved it and they are overreacting? Both are bullshit moves. There is nothing wrong with starting your own tweet thread oder writing your own article and pointing out you have a different opinion. There is nothing wrong with saying „I see this differently, do you wanna talk about it?“ Just don’t try to force your opinion on people.
The TTRPG (table top role playing game) community has made a lot of progress in the last years and the use of safety tools is one big step to make people more comfortable at the table. One of the most important ground rules is: The players are more important than the game. For me, this can totally be adapted to discussing media. It is more important to have a good time with my friends than to get everyone to agree with me on how good/bad something is. This is totally something I am struggling with because I often care a lot about the stuff I watch/read and I can get very passionate, but in the end … it is not worth getting into a real fight over it. Trying to be accepting about other people’s opinions and not forcing them into a discussion that makes them feel bad is a good thing to work on, I think.
Tl, dr: You can spoil, rant, hate, love, discuss everything as much as you want. Just make sure that you are not hurting someone, find the right space and time, find people who are willing to get into this as much as you do.
Oh, and some last thoughts on handling this whole thing on Social Media: Of course you cannot go and get consent from your 300 (or whatever) followers before putting your opinion out there. But baby, that is what hashtags are for. Tag your stuff, so that your posts can be muted for those who don’t want to read them (right now). Be aware of how your platform works: Do you need to tag every single post/tweet or just the first one? Do you need to reply to all those people or do you need to un-tag some? If you are retweeting stuff, can you do it with a comment using the hashtags and a spoiler warning? Is this funny image from the film set a potential spoiler for those who have not seen the movie? Many platforms offer good ways to hide spoilers – use them. If your platform does not: Use something like ROT13 to mask your spoiler posts. Create private chats for discussing if you really wanna get into the spoilery details in length. Not because you have to, not because the Twitter Police will shut you down, but because tagging a pots takes a few seconds and it is a nice thing to do.