Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Who Spoils the Spoilers?

Well, I said I'd do another post before the next chapter of Duke Forever - Oh, speaking of:
"Duke Forever - Chapter Nine: BLOODBATH coming soon, only on the Absurd Word Nerd blog."
(ahem) Alright, now that the self-promotion is out of the way. I may do a third little pre-chapter blog post at this rate, since my Writer's Block isn't exactly going away, and I've only written about a third of the story so far. I know everything that's going to happen and I know how it's going to end, I even know some of the jokes and character development moments and scenes, I just need to put the words on the page, so that will be with you soon, fingers-crossed.

But for now, I want to talk about Spoilers. I mentioned last week, briefly, my girlfriend is helping me to write Duke Forever; but it's not just with my writer's block, she helps a lot to edit my work, and in so doing I have to reveal certain plot elements to her. She helps with grammar and story errors, so I reveal certain plot elements so that she can understand why I'm writing in a certain way and why I can't edit out some seemingly unnecessary story elements, even though they don't add anything to that particular chapter.
But at the same time, there are some things I won't tell her. I won't tell her who, what or when "The 88" is, I won't tell her what the Duke will look like when he regenerates into his next incarnation (as Time Lords are wont to do) and I won't tell her exactly how everyone on Rathea died.
Even though she's a part of the writing process, I won't reveal major spoilers, because she is one of the biggest fans of the story and I don't want to ruin her enjoyment of the story, even when she wants me to (and even if I want to). Because spoilers, believe it or not, are very important.
The Word of the Day is: 'SPOILER'
Spoiler /spoylə/ n. 1. Plunderer or robber; despoiler; plunderer. 2. A person or thing that causes spoilage or corruption. 3. A device fitted to an aircraft wing to increase drag and reduce lift. It is usually extended into the airflow to assist descent and banking. 4. A similar device fitted to a car. 5. Sport A team out of final contention that defeats a potential or favored contender and thereby thwarts its chances of winning a championship. 6. A magazine, newspaper, etc produced specifically to coincide with the production of a rival magazine, newspaper, etc in order to divert public interest and reduce its sales.
So, why is this an issue? Why am I talking about spoilers? Well, because for a while now "spoilers" has been a big thing on the internet. The term wasn't so well known a few years ago, but since April 2011, Spoilers became a facet of the internet. When talking about a movie, if you revealed one of the "twists" of the film, then you gave people fair warning, a Spoiler Warning, to let people know so as to not ruin their enjoyment of the film.
It became common practice, and it was good . . .
But then, as happens with everything popular, this soon unleashed a countercultural attitude. An attitude of "Fuck Spoilers". People started to get sick of all these spoiler warning, and they'd get annoyed when people asked about spoilers, so they started getting rude about it.
I've even seen people "brag" about how they reveal spoilers when people tell them not to, and say that they don't care about spoilers, and they find the whole matter to be more trouble than it's worth.
 . . .

Alright, let's talk. Because the problem isn't that spoilers can be frustrating, it's that you're doing them wrong.

For starters, Spoilers Are Important. Just look at that definition up there. Sure, it may seem outdated, it doesn't say "a twist or plot element of a story which will make a story less enjoyable if revealed to the audience beforehand."
But that's because it doesn't have to, because the meaning of the "Spoiler Warning" spoiler is up there already: "A person or thing that causes spoilage or corruption."
When you reveal spoilers, you spoil the work. That's not just a turn of phrase - that's exactly what it means, you corrupt a participant's enjoyment of a film if you reveal spoilers to them before they watch. There are a lot of stories that are reliant on the spoiler to work. The perfect example is a Murder Mystery. The main conceit of the story is that it's a mystery, you don't know who the murderer is (or, at least, you don't know exactly how the victim died). So, if I were to talk about Murder on the Orient Express, then it would be rude if I told  people who the killer was before they read it. Especially with Orient Express, because one of the reasons that that story in particular is so famous is because the murder itself was so unusual!

But it doesn't have to be a murder. An interesting example is "Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde" by Robert Louis Stevenson. I wanted to write an homage to that story for a novella I was working on, so I read the original story (and you can too if you want, it doesn't take long; and if you're going to, you should read that before finishing this blog post).
But did you know, in the original story, there was a Twist? There's no need for a spoiler warning, because by now you all know the twist: The twist is that both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are the same person.
Did you know that? Well, most people do these days. But in that story, it's written as a mystery and the whole tale is building up to that reveal:
"Why does Dr Jekyll hide away in his study for so long?"
"How is it that Mr Hyde can afford this apartment, despite never going to work?"
"Why would a fine gentleman like Jekyll befriend a criminal like Hyde?"
"Where has Dr Jekyll disappeared to?!"
It's well written, but the story is damned boring, because I knew the answer. And so does everyone else, so the original story is useless to everyone, because the major spoiler of that story is now a part of popular, Western Culture; you just can't read it and enjoy it the way it was meant to be enjoyed. Sure, we've made a whole bunch of other stories, parodies, homages, remakes & pastiches based on that story, but now the original is useless . . .

So, as you can see, a spoiler is important as it can make someone's entire work worthless, all that effort, tension and wordcount, made redundant. This not only makes it bad for the potential readers of that work, but also for the writer.

But, that leads onto my second point: I don't think we're doing spoilers right. Sure, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a book you shouldn't bother reading if you're hoping for a stunning twist, but does that mean I believe it shouldn't have been spoiled?
Well, no. Many interesting characters have been created because they've been inspired by the Jekyll/Hyde character, from interpretations of Smeagol/Gollum to Bruce Banner/ The Incredible Hulk. If that spoiler wasn't a part of popular culture, then those characters probably wouldn't exist, and that's a bad thing.
Heck, if I believed that it shouldn't be spoiled, then I would have given a spoiler warning for those last six or so people that haven't heard of Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde yet.

Another part of spoilers that people seem to get wrong is that not everything needs a spoiler warning. The reason that people which don't care about spoilers find spoiler warnings frustrating is because people who - like me - believe that spoilers are a good thing are overdoing it. Or, ultimately, doing it wrong.

For starters, Spoiler Warning and the like should never be said in interpersonal conversation (unless it's being said ironically). It should never be said for one simple reason, you shouldn't reveal spoilers, ever, in conversation.
And usually, people don't. But for those of you that don't catch on, here's how it works:
Person A: "Hey, have you seen/read/played/experienced [Title of a popular Story/Book/Film/Game]?"
Person B: "Yes, I have, [words of praise or derision (optional).]"
In this case, go right ahead, you can't "reveal spoilers", because the film already revealed those plot elements, you're clear. No need for warnings.
If however, the person replies differently -
Person B: "No, I haven't."
At this point, you shouldn't talk about the book/film/game. At all. Just don't, it really is that simple. There are some people that have bullshit rules "I only reveal spoilers if the film came out 20 years ago." or "If it's in black and white, I don't think spoilers matter." Uh, no that's not how it works! Because the ability for a spoiler to spoil doesn't diminish with time.
Even though it's crazy-old, The Jekyll/Hyde reveal still spoils that story. The Agatha Christie story I mentioned above, Orient Express, I still think that's a good story, so I didn't spoil it. That story is older than most of my readership, but I won't spoil it because it's worth experiencing for yourself, so if you have read it, don't spoil it. And that's the thing that SO many people get wrong - IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU.
Some people say "Well, if they wanted to see it, they would have by now."
Those people are wrong and should be slapped. When you have a desire to reveal spoilers - or just to talk about a story which you've seen/read recently or enjoyed - it's not about you and never was, you selfish bastard, it's about the recipient of this information. This is why it shouldn't be used in conversation. Spoiler warnings exist for one specific reason - to prevent people on the internet from unwittingly spoiling their enjoyment of a film. Because it's impossible for everyone on the internet to experience a story at the same time, so to allow discussion for those that have seen the film (and wish to discuss it), you warn people about the spoilers to filter out those that haven't experienced the story, but would like to.
When these people hear "spoiler warning", they make a conscious decision whether or not they want to have the major plot elements of the story revealed to them. It's not up to you to make a judgement call over whether someone does or doesn't deserve to have a story spoiled. It's up to them. So when the option comes up, always ere on the side of caution and don't spoil it. It doesn't matter how old the story is, if they haven't seen it don't spoil it. It really is that simple.

Now, this might seem a bit draconian - never spoil. But, that's the thing . . . it really isn't. Because not every spoiler is a spoiler, if you get me. A spoiler is called a spoiler because, as I said above, it spoils the story, it corrupts it and makes something less enjoyable. But not all of the things that people call "spoilers" are spoilers.
I'm sorry, but you have to draw a line. In this modern culture where memes and pop-culture references are all the rage, plot elements from stories are going to pop up. You can't stop that. I'm sure many of you & have heard lines like "I'm the One who Knocks"; "It needs to be about 20% cooler"; "Winter is Coming" & "You Shall Not Pass". Many of these could be considered a kind of spoiler, but you can't expect people to not make these references, it's what fandom does.

So, no. I don't think it's an issue. These are what some people might call a "minor spoiler". It's like the fact that Dumbledore is gay, it's not a massive issue (despite what homophobes believe), but it changes the way one experiences the story, because they've been given information they wouldn't have otherwise.
But that's not a big deal to me. Not that I don't appreciate that some people find minor spoilers aggravating - I too find them a little bit frustrating - but in the case of minor spoilers, the onus really is on the recipient to avoid them. Because the thing is, they don't matter - not really. They're not really spoilers, because they don't spoil the film - they don't corrupt your enjoyment of the entire feature, they just spoil the surprise of that one, minor plot point. That's not a spoiling a film, that's revealing what happens. Spoiling that one moment, yeah sure, but not the film entirely - it's not a spoiler, it's just "prior knowledge".
Sometimes, I avoid all prior knowledge of some films, myself. The only reason for this is that there are some stories I want to see "cold", with no prior information. Once I know these kinds of movies are coming out, I put in the effort to avoid minor spoilers, I avoid talking about it, I avoid sites and shows that talk about it and I even mute trailers/advertisements for it. I avoid all of that, so that I can judge the film for myself, without any outside influence.
So you generally don't need to give warnings that your about to reveal this kind of information, because I'm already on the alert and avoiding it. Like, for the movie Frozen - I knew that I wanted to see that movie cold (lol, puns). So, I wouldn't watch ads for it, I avoided reviews for it and when "Let it Go" became the next, great internet meme, I avoided that as well. As soon as I saw any reference to the movie, I avoided it [and having seen it, I wrote a blog post about it a blog post which contains Major Spoilers, please watch Frozen prior to reading my musical analysis of the movie].
But I don't need a "Minor Spoiler" warning, because the title alone is the warning, if you want to avoid prior knowledge it takes a lot of effort - but it should be your effort, not everyone else's.
So no, it's not difficult to avoid spoilers, and give people spoiler warnings. Especially with your friends, because you will know whether or not they're the kind of people that avoid spoilers; and if not, they'll tell you.

That being said, there's one final thing I need to mention . . .
A "Spoiler Warning" is meaningless without context.
Let's say I want to show you an awesome clip from Doctor Who, so I go:
  "Hey, check out this scene from Doctor Who - Contains Spoilers!"

What the fuck does that mean?! Seriously, at time of writing Doctor Who is literally the longest running science fiction television series, in the history of television! So what spoilers am I talking about?
Are they spoilers for the next series, the Twelfth Doctor? Perhaps it's from a recent season with the Tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant. Could it be the clip involves that other character, whose very existence is a spoiler?
In fact, I've been going through the original Doctor Who seasons at the moment (I'm currently up to the Third Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee) so maybe this is a spoiler for something in the first 10 seasons, with the First or Second doctors (or all three, when they meet up in "The Three Doctors").
Or, hey, there was a telemovie for the series titled "Doctor Who", maybe this isn't for the series at all, but for the movie about the Eighth Doctor.

So that warning is useless. A spoiler about what? Without context, you're basically saying "here's a video, don't watch it".
So, for the record, that clip is of the Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith; it's from the third act of the episode "The Rings of Akhaten". Yes, it does reveal some major plot elements of that episode, but it doesn't actually spoil the show, and even with that minor twist revealed, the episode is still worth watching. Moreover, it is a great example of why, despite its flaws, I continue to watch Doctor Who, so you should really watch it, even if you're a little bit worried about spoilers.

There, do you see how easy that was? Spoilers are easy, so there's no excuse not to warn people about them.
And if you think that's too difficult for you, Spoiler Alert: you're an arsehole.

I’m the Absurd Word Nerd, and until next time, don’t be a spoilsport. I’ll hopefully see you soon with the next, thrilling instalment of Duke Forever.

1 comment:

  1. Spoilers are a tricky subject, since before the Internet it was impossible to find leaks or to spoil people. Now that we have access to an excess of information, the etiquette rules have changed, and we find ourselves trying not to offend, or offending on purpose if we are trolls. Advance screenings and different airing dates per country are going to kill us one day what with the flame wars and spoiler tagging that results.
    That said, this blog is a good elucidation of the new etiquette regarding spoilers, and how to act properly on the Internet. Kudos!


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