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The "spoiler" debate: EW's critic-at-large jumps into the fray

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Roger_lSeems like every week, we here in the EW Critics Clubhouse (Lisa Schwarzbaum usually brings the water balloons, while Owen bakes yummy cookies) take a few arrows in the neck from readers outraged that we have, in our reviews, revealed a detail some of you out there consider a “spoiler.” You know what I mean: a movie or a TV review that, in order to make some point about plot structure, mentions the content of a key scene.

Increasingly, some people seem to think that the revelation of any climactic moment amounts to a betrayal, a crushing of any possibility of pleasure. And it is increasing; I’ll give you a personal example: A year ago, I wrote one of EW’s patented “fauxbituaries” — a fond obituary of a fictional character — the week after 24’s Edgar was killed. Back then, the response was overwhelmingly positive, with readers writing in to thank the magazine for paying tribute to a beloved character. This season, I wrote a fauxbituary when 24’s Curtis (pictured) was killed, and a whole bunch of readers went ballistic, frothing that they hadn’t seen this week-old episode yet and how dare I reveal a major plot development! Oh, the outrage, the anger, the (this being the Internet, where the hostile hide behind their pseudonyms) crude insults!

Now, I do understand that, even over the past year, people’s viewing habits have changed with the growing ubiquity of the DVR and TiVo; even the humble DVD has had an effect — I hear people say they don’t watch 24 or Battlestar Galactica in real time, but wait until the DVD boxed set comes out, to enjoy an entire season, hours at a time. And I do understand that it could be a little annoying if a reviewer told you who the killer was in a murder mystery whose ending climaxed with the revelation of the murderer.
But most critics are sensible enough not to give away too much, and does the “spoiler” mentality mean that the rest of us have to wait until every person in America has watched something before writing about it?

I say: No.

I say: It’s time to take a stand before the “spoiler” becomes a new American taboo, ruining the pleasure the majority of us — and by “us” I mean you as well as those of us hunkered down in the Critics Clubhouse (that Gillian Flynn: she’s got sharp elbows!) — who enjoy discussing and dissecting plot-points and details.

And there’s a larger point to be made about the very idea of what a“spoiler” is. It’s just one element of what TV- and movie-makers use tocreate their entertainment or (if they’re really good) art. But knowingthe way something turns out shouldn’t ruin anyone’s pleasure. Here’s anews flash: In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth ends up with Darcy.Oooohhh, spoiler!! Now, are you seriously going to tell me you’ll neverread that Jane Austen novel, and that Austen’s artistry has been ruinedforever by your knowing how the story ends? If your answer is yes, itmeans you’re not appreciating the prose, the dialogue, thecharacterization — in short, the essence of what makes a complete work ofart/entertainment.

Things have gotten out of hand. Some of you havebeen complaining that, when I write my TV Watch about 24, I shouldnever mention the coming attractions shown at the end of every episodebecause that’s a “spoiler.” Some of you say you close your eyes andshut your ears when they air, and what gall I have in ruining yourpleasure for what’s coming up on one of your fave TV shows.

Listen,“spoiler”-mavens: These are24-sanctioned snippets that the producers assemble, and which thenetwork airs to get you to watch next week’s episode — they are not“spoilers.” (Because in case you haven’t noticed after five frakkin’seasons, the coming attractions are sometimes actually artfullymisleading — i.e., a further bit of fun to take apart and for all of usto talk about!)

So here’s the deal: The rest of the Clubhouse gangcan decide what he or she will do about spoilers. For me, I took atime-out in the 24 TV Watch that was posted for the March 19 episode anddidn’t talk about the coming attractions. But it was a one-weekdispensation. I’m looking at the message board and seeing a lot ofpeople who agree with me that not writing about the full experience ofwatching an evening of 24 — including the final moments — is just, for lackof a better word, wussy.

Please, let me know what you think. Areyou terribly offended by the revealing of plot information? Do you seesome cases where it’s justified, and some cases where it’s not?