To spoil or not to spoil, that is the question!
Spoilers have been a point of consternation since I started watching movies. I didn’t know that they were called spoilers back then, but I recall many a conversation on the playground of my grade school where one kid would get mad at another kid for giving away the ending of a movie. If I happened to show up at the school yard and be the kid dumb enough to give away the ending of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I was liable to get my ass beat. Such was the way of life when we were kids who didn’t know better. Now I’m old, and I know better, and I know what spoiling a movie means. I also know that there isn’t now, never was, and never will be a way of handling spoilers that pleases everyone.
The best modern example of the spoiler argument is The Cabin In The Woods. Drew Goddard’s new horror film has been the subject of much debate throughout the film community. Twitter accounts popped up that were devoted to nothing other than giving away every twist and turn of the movie. Critics opened up their reviews by giving away the major twist or the ending. Meanwhile other film lovers felt that they could not discuss the movie with anyone who had not seen it for fear of spoiling others experience with the film. It was a recent episode of The Golden Briefcase that finally got my dander up and set me to writing this piece.
On that episode of The Golden Briefcase Scott Weinberg and Brian Salisbury joined hosts Jeremy Kirk and Tim Buel to discuss all things horror. It was a great conversation, and early on they briefly tackled the idea of spoilers. The basic consensus of all present on the show was that there is no reason to spoil a movie for someone else. Any critic should be able to write about a film without giving away any twists or surprises within the film. They did allow for the opposing viewpoint, that the experience of watching a movie is very personal and when someone writes about it they are having a conversation about all facets of the film and the ways in which it affected them. Those who have read more than one of my reviews know where I will fall on this argument. While I fully understand the problems people have with spoilers, I believe that spoilers are fair game.
When I write about a movie I want to write about the movie. I don’t believe it is my job to protect others from spoilers, that is their job. If one is a responsible moviegoer then they should be responsible in what they choose to read. I do agree that it is bad play to open up a review with a spoiler or to put a spoiler in your “read more of this” section. However, I will spoil the movies I review because I have seen the movie and thus I have the liberty to speak about the movie. I’m sorry if someone gets mad at me for spoiling something, but is it not my right as a writer and someone who has seen the movie to give my unabridged thoughts?
If you are a moviegoer who is dying to see The Cabin In The Woods then by all means see it. If finding out a spoiler ruins the movie for you then you shouldn’t have read about the movie before watching it. We are adults, at least I pretend to be, and for me that means I live in a world where spoilers occur. I don’t read about movies before I see them, but if a podcast or a conversation does reveal a spoiler I’m nonplussed on the matter. I find that the best movies aren’t the best because of a twist or any sport of spoilery material, they are the best because of how well crafted they are. If I watch a movie that has been spoiled and the experience is less that possibly speaks to the overall weakness of the movie, not the impact a spoiler had on me.
The way I choose to govern spoilers on Bill’s Movie Emporium is by letting everyone reading this know that there will be spoilers all over the site. I don’t do this to be a dick, I’m not giving away the core of A History Of Violence when I relay an important turning point in the story. What I am doing is writing about that turn and why it worked for me as a film lover. When I spoil it is in the service of exploring the world of cinema and the film I am writing about. There are those who will not agree with my opinion on spoilers, and I’m okay with that. But, as long as I am able to write about movies and choose to express myself through my writing then I will be tackling whatever aspect of a film I feel like writing about. That means I may spoil or I may not, it’s up to each person reading as a responsible moviegoer to decide if they want to read my thoughts on a film they haven’t seen yet. Beware of spoilers around these parts, ya hear?
The notion that a good reviewer can write about a film without spoiling it is quite silly given that some of the most interesting films can be ones that change your perception of them, which means you’ll probably have to spoil the film to write a meaningful review of it.
I try to avoid spoilers when I can, but if I have to spoil a film, I always put up a warning, just in case. I don’t read reviews for films I haven’t seen but I know some of my readers do so I try to give them just that extra bit of safeguard in case they don’t want to have the film spoiled.
Definitely agree with your first paragraph James. For me it boils down to how much I love writing about movies, and that includes every aspect of a movie. I don’t really concern myself with spoilers because they are not something I view as part of the visceral reaction to a film that I like to express in my writing.
I agree with the first poster. I describe the movie up to a point, but on the rare occasion when I include a discussion of the ending I put in a huge spoiler warning to allow those who have not seen the film to skip over it. If they continue to read anyway, then it is on them. If I did not give a warning, though, they would have every right to be mad at me. And it’s not like it takes massive amounts of effort to write “SPOILER WARNING” in a post. It’s just common courtesy.
See, I don’t know if they do have a right to be mad at you for not putting a spoiler warning on a post. An article that you write is your article, you are free to discuss a work of art in any way that you see fit. When they read your work people are agreeing to read your thoughts on a piece of art, and that may include spoilers. The more I think about this the more I believe the onus is on the reader to be responsible and not read reviews or articles on a movie they do not want to have spoiled.
Personally, I rarely read reviews of movies I haven’t seen unless I know the poster doesn’t include spoilers. That is because I am a cynic and don’t trust people to be courteous enough to include spoiler warnings.
You are completely correct that your posts are your thoughts and you are the one to best choose what to include and not to include. You also have the right to tell a woman how bad you think her new hairstyle looks when she asks. Just do not be surprised if you get a negative reaction to this. By the same token you have to be aware that not including spoiler warnings will generate a certain amount of hard feelings among people who read your posts, which will cost you readers.
I’m okay with negative reactions, and I make my stance on spoilers known in my About page. Trust me, I understand where you are coming from, but spoilers aren’t a big deal to me and my site reflects that.
People often read reviews to decide whether or not it is worth it to watch a movie. If you write reviews and don’t include warnings about spoilers, you are sadistic and shouldn’t be writing reviews. Recapping plot is often superfluous anyway, and a review that finds it necessary is usually superficial. Anyone who’s taken high school english knows that plot summary is the bane of a good essay. It’s not hard to write about a twist or something of this nature without making the details explicit, as anyone who has seen the movie will likely know to what you are referring. It is absolutely one’s right to write about whatever one wants, but as a reviewer of cinema, one’s goal should be always to increase other’s enjoyment and understanding of film. One has failed in this goal when another has been deprived of the opportunity to experience a film for themselves. If your reviews are meant to be read by someone who has already had this experience, this should be made explicit to protect those who haven’t.
In short, I disagree with most of what you say, although I do agree with your dig on plot description.
In long form, I disagree because I do not believe the onus is on the reviewer to be responsible (and calling someone who spoils in their reviews sadistic is quite the unnecessary hyperbole). As I said previously, the onus is on the person who does not want to be spoiled to not end up having the film spoiled for them.
Any review published can be read as a spoiler in one way or another. It is for that reason that it is up to the reader to make sure they know what they are getting into when they read a review. The reviewer is presenting a critical opinion of the work, they are entitled to write about any aspect of the art they see fit. Offering up pedantic spoiler warnings is not their responsibility.
To stop this before I write anymore, avoiding Twitter on Sunday nights is a great example. I hear so many people bitch about a lot of shows I don’t watch being spoiled for them on Sunday nights on Twitter. The solution is simple, be a responsible consumer of media and avoid a place you know will possibly be full of spoilers on a particular night. To not do so and then complain about spoilers is irresponsible on the part of the complainer.
Movie reviews are no different, spoilers are out there and people need to be responsible about reading up on movies they have not yet seen. The fact that I’m kind enough to include the fact that I do spoil in my About page is more than enough, and to ask for more from a reviewer is in my mind highly unnecessary.
“The fact that I’m kind enough to include the fact that I do spoil in my About page is more than enough.”
Okay, I let this slide when you made the same response to me, but continuing to use this as an excuse is either disingenuous or poorly thought out. Check your statistics on posts read vs read of your About page. On my blog the former is 45,200, while the latter is a whopping 77. This means that for every person who reads my About page, 587 read one of my reviews.
No one goes and reads an About page to check to see if they need to worry about spoilers, especially when any number of other blogs (i.e. LAMB, Big Thoughts from a Small Mind, etc.) link directly to one of our reviews. Having a warning in an About post in no way absolves a person from taking the absolutely miniscule amount of effort to type “spoiler warning” at the top of their movie review.
In fact, this entire argument about not needing spoiler warnings seems to be disingenuous the more the responses attempting to defend it have continued. It’s getting harder and harder to not conclude that in some way you gain enjoyment out of potentially spoiling a movie for others.
I read a handful of your reviews since I left my comment and found barely any spoilers at all and think now that maybe this is more of an argument of semantics. Of course every review is a spoiler to some degree as you astutely observed; the whole reason a person reads a review is to gain some insight into a film. I think you do a good job in talking about particulars of plot without being too explicit, which makes me think maybe your idea of a spoiler is a little more broad than Chip’s and mine. To me, a spoiler goes something like “character A kills character B”, “He’s been dead the whole time”, or “the entire movie is the dream of a homeless man”. Posting something of this nature without a warning is just cruel, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect people on twitter, or movie reviewers like yourself to provide a warning before something that so clearly will negatively affect another’s experience of the movie. Someone who hasn’t had the chance to see the latest blockbuster or watch their shows on Sunday shouldn’t have to break contact with the world to expect an ‘unspoiled’ experience of these things. The onus is squarely on the individual reviewer, the twitterer, or whoever else to adequately warn their readers, or be labled a sadist by Chip and me.
I don’t think you are a spoiler, or a sadist. I have yet to find a spoiler on your site to which I would attribute that name. To me it seems your blog is an invitation for people who have already seen a particular movie to join into a deeper discussion, beyond cursory evaluation of plot. But often, as chip pointed out, people find themselves on your posts through links and do not have an opportunity to see the ‘about’ page before they are thrust headlong into said deep discussion. I would hope that if ever you do find it necessary to include in your reviews a spoiler of the magnitude to which I refer as such, you would take the time to write a small warning, for the sake of those hapless virgin stumblers. I hope that this has swayed you to our side of the fence, we who take exception to that most grievous offense against human decency, the true spoiler without warning.
I like your blog, you obviously have great taste in movies. I hope you can see where I’m coming from, as I hope I can you. Keep up the good work, and continue to write, unspoiled. And on and on, sir, and on and on.
I gain no enjoyment out of spoiling because I do not take spoilers into account. I do not see the big hoopla over spoilers, I don’t get worked up over other people spoiling things, etc.. When I write I write what I feel like writing, whether or not what I am writing is a spoiler very rarely enters into my mind.
There were, in fact, a few times when I did include spoiler warnings within the review I was writing. I didn’t like it, they didn’t belong in the review, and reading it after the fact I felt that having to even warn about spoilers was quite stupid.
As I’ve said from the start, it’s not my task to worry about spoilers. It’s my task to write about what I watch. It is the task of the reader to be responsible about spoilers, if they choose to not do that is their fault and their fault alone. If I were to go tomorrow and read reviews of Prometheus and the movie was spoiled for me as a result the blame would all fall on me for reading reviews of a movie I had not yet seen. That is the approach I take to spoilers, it’s one that I came to after quite a bit of thought and I’m okay with my stance.
I do understand where you guys are coming from, but I have my own way of handling spoilers. It doesn’t mesh with the way you guys view spoilers, I get that. I am open to the way that you two, and others, look at spoilers, but it is not my way. I have a way of handling spoilers that works for me, and that’s something I’m okay with.