Spoilers, Sweetie: How to Survive Them

I think I can actually recall the first time I encountered a spoiler.  I must have been in elementary school, watching an episode of The Simpsons (I don’t think I was actually allowed to watch the show early on, but somehow I managed anyway. It’s a common tale in my generation).  Completely randomly, completely casually, Mayor Quimby revealed a major surprise from the movie The Crying Game.  Now, I was too young to have seen it, but I’m pretty sure it was still a relatively recent movie at the time; there were Oscar nominations and that song was everywhere.  To this day, I’ve never gotten around to actually watching it.  Partly that’s because it’s dropped out of popular rotation (hence why I’m not spoiling it now, just in case), but partly because, well, I know the important bits already.

There’s not really much a nine-year-old can do to ward against drive-by adult spoilers from TV shows – and in fact, that sort of thing is more common than one might think, as even cartoons aimed at children are loaded with references for the parents or babysitter.  However, we are not children any longer, and the potential for spoilers is around every corner.

These days, I personally dodge spoilers like Helen Hunt in Twister.  I’ve ditched cable and currently don’t even receive broadcast channels, so I have to wait for hours or days before things show up on Hulu, iTunes or the actual websites of various channels.  I give particular thanks to the site for CBS; Vegas is typically uploaded within a few hours after broadcast.  In some instances, the shows I love are aired first in other time zones, hours or even months ahead.

The difference of a few hours might feel insignificant, and in fact the delay for some shows is not a problem at all – I’m not a slave to my TV screen, so I might only think of it days later.  But for certain shows, I have to undergo a virtual media blackout.  Since I’m becoming quite the pro, here’s my personal primer to surviving spoilers.

Time zones exist.

Sure, your favorite show is set to air at 7pm – but you live in California and even before dinner your Twitter feed is screaming over the unexpected death of your favorite character.  Your scheduled viewing time does not exist in a vacuum, and if you want to avoid any unpleasant surprises it’s best to just plan for this sort of thing.

Case in point: Doctor Who.  The show typically airs in the UK a good five hours before the first US showing.  And Who fans are among some of the most enthusiastic, meaning you can see quotes, real-time reaction, and discussion of plot points immediately and obviously.  What this means for me is that I basically avoid the Internet as a whole until I can watch the episode myself.

Oh, and I used to think I was safe to browse until the show ended and the reactions began pouring in.  Silly girl.  That was before live-tweeting became a thing.

You’re probably never safe.

So as I may have mentioned before, I watch Degrassi: The Next Generation.  Yes, I’m an adult.  Yes, it’s an addiction I’ve had for about ten years.  Anyway, the episode that aired last Friday was a pretty big deal.  I knew it probably would be, but I still had to wait until the next day before the site for the channel uploaded the video (a bit of a disappointment; it’s usually good about uploading shortly after airing).

I knew I had to avoid Twitter, but I also knew I’d probably be safe on Facebook, as I’m the only dork I know who watches this show.  And I was.  Then I went to Pinterest – the strange lovechild of HGTV and Tumblr – and was blindsided with images depicting a pretty major plot point.  Just FYI (spoiler alert!), there’s not much context needed when you see “RIP Character Name.”

I only had myself to blame, though, because You’re Probably Never Safe.  Even if you think you know your audience, you don’t.  Just two years ago I was literally the only person I knew who watched Downton Abbey.  Now my Facebook news feed is flooded with it.  Seven years ago I was trying to get friends to watch Doctor Who.  Now they own more merch than I do.  And whether or not they realize it, they’re a potential source of spoilers.

Be an adult about it.

The thing is, even though your loved ones may make you want to claw your eyes out when they innocently reveal the jaw-dropping plot twist you haven’t yet seen, it’s not their fault, really.  Yes, you can try to make arbitrary rules about a “buffer period,” but these rules are not recognized worldwide and honestly, once it’s aired somewhere you have to be prepared for the possibility of spoilers.  Once, I almost inadvertently revealed a plot point in a beloved show because I’d seen the UK airing months before and, in the middle of the US airing, I thought it had already occurred.  Thankfully I caught myself just in time, but accidents happen.

I do have some self-imposed “buffer rules,” though.  If I’m in a conversation with someone and I find out they’re a fan of a show, I try to ask how far along they are before I start discussing major plot points. I know I’m one for discovering and devouring a show years after it’s aired, especially with Hulu and Netflix, so this isn’t an unreasonable courtesy.

If I’m “broadcasting” on social media, I try not to jump on the instant something has happened and discuss it in detail.  I may give a hint in terms of the general tone (“Yay!” or “Nooooo God why”) but I do attempt to avoid specifics.  But ultimately, if it’s been at least a few days and it’s fairly common knowledge, I have to just assume that anyone else reading is also an adult and if they’re going to be that bent out of shape about spoilers, they’re being responsible for themselves.

For example, if the Doctor regenerates unexpectedly in an episode, I probably wouldn’t specifically talk about that for awhile, or at least give a spoiler warning. However, if it’s been planned for months, press releases have been given, we all know this is the last episode, etc, I might say something like, “I can’t wait to see the new Doctor!” the next day.  I still probably wouldn’t mention anything immediately, because I have some Whovian relatives who really don’t go hunting up press releases and just watch the episodes as they air, so I’m probably unnaturally sensitive to that.

When in Rome…

Now, prior to now we’ve just been discussing spoilers in the sense of people who blurt out key points that have aired already.  But what about genuine spoilers, the sense of plot points that have not been aired?

Everyone has a different threshold, and that’s important to remember, because it’s likely that your definition isn’t the same as the person’s with whom you’re interacting.  For example, I tend to be good with anything that’s gotten an official press release, even if it’s not widespread information.  The identity of the newest Doctor Who companion is a prime example: my mother is staunchly anti-spoiler, so even though articles had been written for months before the Christmas Special, I knew she’d consider that a spoiler and didn’t clue her in.

The Internet may be a worldwide entity, but specific forums are often primarily geared for one country or another.  Some have specific subforums or threads to discuss a show as it airs in various countries (Australia, for example, might be a season or two behind in their airing).  Some have sections specifically dedicated to spoilers before they’ve aired; others are very specifically spoiler-free.  This is where you pay attention to the rules and follow them!  If you accidentally spoil someone, or get spoiled yourself, you only have yourself to blame.

…and just walk away.

If you accidentally spoil someone, the classiest course of action is to apologize for it and move on.  Do not get involved in a big blustery argument about the six-month rule for movies and the one-year rule for television and books.  Do not get defensive.  Even if the person is clearly being unreasonable because you’ve just blown the ending of The Empire Strikes Back – just don’t.  It’s simply not worth the energy.

Similarly, if I find myself accidentally spoiled, I try not to lash out.  First of all, most spoilers are due to general excitement, not maliciousness.  And if it is malicious, well, again, it’s not worth the energy.

But also, it all comes down to personal responsibility: if it’s really that important that I don’t know anything beforehand, I can and will avoid the internet altogether.  I’ll try to watch the show or movie as quickly as I possibly can, but until then, it’s blackout. I close the laptop, and just walk away.

If it’s something I really love, it’s an easy choice.  And if I couldn’t stay away from Facebook even with the threat of the potential spoilers, well, the experience wasn’t really “spoiled” for me, was it?

What about you?  Do you care about avoiding spoilers, or is it part of the excitement of being a fan?  Do you have any self-imposed “buffer times” or rules? 

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