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Monday, 3 December 2012

Dude, spoiler!

It's funny how often that phrase gets thrown around these days.

I was reading the AV Club this morning before heading to work, and clicked on the review for Joe Abercrombie's new book, Red Country (which - spoiler alert - I'm likely to be getting for Christmas). So far, so good - the reviewer seemed to like what Abercrombie was doing, but then he revealed the true identity of one of the characters; a pretty big reveal.

It kind of bothered me. I've been wondering what happened to this character for a while, so it's a little disappointing to have the twist revealed so blithely. I tried to rationalize it away, thinking maybe it's dealt with early on, but even then it's not cool - wherever the reveal falls in the novel, now I'm going to be looking for it and waiting it, rather than trundling along and letting it hit me.

But this post isn't so much about that, as about the whole spoiler "thing" that's going on in the culture right now. Everybody reacts differently, from the people who don't seem to care to the people who refuse to listen to conversations about Argo because they don't want to know what happens at the end (seriously: I haven't even seen it and I know how the Iranian hostage crisis turned out, if not the whole business about a fake movie; but a coworker insisted on not hearing even that spoiler).

I'd say there are two factors leading to this rise of "dude, spoiler!" that I'm talking about. One is the increase in heavily serialized entertainment (eg Lost), and the other is the increase in conversation about this entertainment on the internet. Wander into the wrong corner of the internet, and you'll find out what happened on the island, who lives or dies in the Walking Dead, or who got elected president at the end of the West Wing.

This comes up quite often, unsurprisingly, on the Nerdist podcasts. Chris Hardwick and the gang have chatted to JJ Abrams, Robert Kirkman, Damon Lindelof and loads of others involved in these big "now" shows, so inevitably things slip out. I've basically stopped listening to podcasts involving the Walking Dead, so that I can eventually watch the show in peace; same with Lost and Mad Men.

So what's the etiquette? I think Chris Hardwick has it mostly right - Lost has been off the air for years, so someone (like me) who hasn't seen it all yet has to take the responsibility in avoiding spoilers. On the other hand, with reviews of movies or books, it's best if the writer signposts that he or she will be revealing key plot points, because the assumption is that people haven't yet seen or read the item in question.

I got some disbelieving looks in the office when I objected to my coworkers spoiling parts of the new Bond film, Skyfall, only a week after it was released. But not everybody can get to the theater at the same time, as I pointed out (we've compromised on Homeland: whenever they start talking about that show I go and hide out in the kitchen or something). In any case, Skyfall was ruined for me even more by being boring and not very well written, so I can't really hold it against the folks in the office.

So when's it acceptable to reveal a plot point? Ie, in what cases, and at what remove from the movie or book's release?