The Age of Spoilers
We have robbed ourselves of something wonderful: the joys of experiencing major entertainment events without prior knowledge of them.
The biggest twists, the best surprises and even some of the subtler things added to movies and TV just to please fans are laid bare on the internet for all to know before the film/programme is even available. It means we’re increasingly unlikely to ever experience a moment with as much impact as “No, I am your father” ever again.
I use the Star Wars example because that has largely what has prompted this rant (yep, another one). We’re just days away from the release of Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens – which is shaping up to be a more promising prospect than any previous cash-grabbing unnecessary Hollywood sequel/reboot – and while I still know very little about the plot, some crucial details seem to be falling through the cracks.
I shan’t spoil for you what has potentially been spoiled for me, but let’s just say there’s a lot of speculation around a major detail/plot twist concerning one of the main characters. Headlines have declared this twist in a way that reading the article has not been necessary – I’m now going into The Force Awakens with an expectation/pre-conception about this character. Initially, I could attempt to dismiss this as just gossip and fan theories but when a headline then declares “Rumours confirmed by new Star Wars TV spot”, it’s the final nail in the coffin of what should have been an absolutely incredible experience for me.
“Well,” I hear you scoff, “you shouldn’t be reading those articles.”
I’m not. The headlines alone have been enough to spoil things.
“Then just don’t go on those websites.”
In the age of social media, you know longer have to seek out such news. It’s forced upon you by friends, family and random followers through your Facebook and Twitter feeds. In fact, I’ve seen so many of these spoiler-stuffed headlines, I can no longer tell you where I was originally exposed to the revelation.
“Then just come off Facebook/Twitter for a while,” some have suggested.
A while? Speculation about Star Wars has been running all year. It’s impossible to know when or where spoilers will strike. And in the meantime, I would be missing out on social media’s original intended purpose – keeping people in touch. Even if I took the last few months away from Facebook, I would have missed news of births, engagements, marriages, house moves, milestone birthdays and other life events for people with whom I can only stay in touch via social media.
I once got in an argument with a friend on Facebook because they had spoiled a show I hadn’t had time to watch within minutes of the episode airing. Their argument was they were at perfect liberty to post whatever they wanted on social media without having to think about every possible sensitivity their dozens of friends may have – and perhaps that’s a fair point. But they still ruined something for me.
Perhaps some sort of customisable spoiler filter would help, but there’s no way to prevent spoilers all together. Even if I blocked all posts with the words ‘Star Wars’, ‘Force Awakens’ and ‘Episode VII’, something would get through – plus I’d then miss out on other articles I’m genuinely interested in, such as updates on Star Wars Battlefront.
The problem is not with the platforms or the people sharing these spoilers – it’s with the source. And no, I don’t mean the press reporting such info.
We have developed an insatiable and often unnecessary need to know everything as soon as possible. Or at least, that’s what we think we want. Take Game of Thrones, for example. The end of the previous season saw a major character seemingly killed. It comes as a shock, and there is a compulsion to find out if said character is okay, but there was a time when people would have to wait until the following series to find out. Now, there’s speculation on Facebook, Twitter, forums and more about “Is Character X really dead?” – within hours of the episode even airing.
We won’t find out until the series returns in April (or perhaps even later than that), but that prominent public hunger for answers compels the press to run articles based on speculation and tidbits of interviews, trying to eke every possible nugget of information out of the show’s creators when the fate of this character is now just four months away.
Have we really become that impatient? Was JK Rowling picked apart this much in the run-up to the later Harry Potter books? No, because we waited – and the books were all the sweeter for it.
Let’s use another Star Wars example: remember when Han got carted off in Carbonite at the end of Empire? The only way to find out what happened was to wait years for Return of the Jedi.
Anticipation is fuelled by ignorance, not by an in-depth knowledge of what you’re about to experience. I admit I spoiled the full experience of the latest James Bond film by myself by actively reading some of the Bond fansites, and watching every trailer. Official marketing can be just as big a spoiler as press coverage. Even then, the biggest spoiler about the film’s villain came via social media – although I can’t quite remember where. It meant that the film I’ve been longing for since the end of Casino Royale, let alone in the three years since Skyfall, became a checklist experience for me: I knew Bond would start in Location A, then move to B, then C, then D and a finale in E.
I don’t have a solution to this, obviously, but think about your own experiences. What was the biggest surprise for you in a film, TV show, book or game? I imagine it was before spoilers swarmed the internet, before marketing thrust every major event of an upcoming product at us through every possible platform.
I want the experience of the new and unknown back. I want producers of this entertainment to trust that I’ll enjoy it without spelling everything out for me months ahead of release. I want the press to think more carefully about their headlines; not just in terms of what will gain clicks and grab attention, but in terms of what will ruin things for unsuspecting browsers. I want people to think a little harder before they share spoilers.
And most of all, I want Star Wars to surprise me.