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Living in a world of spoilers

This column won’t reveal plots of ”The Walking Dead,” ”Mad Men,” or any other show you care about. But can we talk about spoilers for a sec?

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Spoiler Alert! Superman is on the cover of this week’s ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. I realize that you have presumably already seen the cover of the issue you’re holding, but you can never be too careful these days. That’s the lesson I’ve learned as we all continue to navigate the tricky minefield that is revealing details of things that have, in fact, already been revealed.

Blame technology, people! Blame the DVR and the DVD and the fact that folks now wait not only days but years to watch a TV show that has already aired. A typical morning-after watercooler discussion these days features two people breathlessly breaking down the latest episode of Scandal while another co-worker runs by with her hands over her ears yelling, ”HAVEN’T WATCHED YET! NOT LISTENING! I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

And an electronic version of that conversation happens pretty much every day on EW.com, with people raging at what they see as spoilers in headlines and copy, even if the plot developments took place days or weeks beforehand. That rage is followed by even more rage, this time from people who are telling those first posters to stop complaining about episodes that have already aired; after all, it’s the job of an entertainment website to recap TV series and movies. (At least that is the toned-down, PG-13 version of what occurs.)

I understand the frustration on both sides. There’s nothing worse than finding out who was voted off or killed off your favorite show before you’ve had a chance to watch it. But how long exactly should that chance last? And what responsibility does the individual bear in terms of taking precautions to protect him- or herself from being spoiled? Is the onus of not being spoiled on the people having the conversation, or on the people trying to avoid it?

As for me, when I am trying to avoid spoilerage, I put 100 percent of the onus on myself. I don’t go to certain websites, don’t check text messages or emails, and never, ever check Twitter. Basically, I stage my own one-man-band version of Revolution by instigating an electronic blackout. And if I am inadvertently informed of what happened on a show that’s already aired, I don’t pout about it. To me, that’s the cost of doing business by not watching something when it happens.

But, as clearly evidenced by the emails and message-board comments we receive at EW, not everyone feels that way. Last fall, one EW.com commenter weighed in on a post about a Sons of Anarchy character dying in the middle of season 5 by writing, ”You guys are real jerks for putting this in the headline. I am only on season 4.” This poster wasn’t an episode behind — he was a whole year behind! But this is a fact of modern entertainment consumption. While one person is up-to-date on Game of Thrones, another is just beginning The Wire. Should the latter be afforded the same opportunity to enjoy an unspoiled experience as the former?

If so, when exactly does the statute of limitations on spoilers expire? Judging by one letter I received, the answer is…never. A particularly perturbed EW reader once wrote in to complain that while discussing Citizen Kane I had — SPOILER ALERT! — revealed that Rosebud is a sled. The movie is more than 70 years old! This is AFI’s top-rated film of all time, not an obscure little indie. Nevertheless, the reader made me feel like I was downright evil, like some sort of Darth Vader — who, incidentally, also happens to be Luke Skywalker’s father, in case you didn’t know. WHOOPS!

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