Home Against Spoiler Culture

Against Spoiler Culture

I’m more sensitive to spoilers than most. When I recommend shows to people, I lie to them. If they want specifics, I give false things that carry the same vibe.

WHen I recommend Andor to people, I talk about how the stakes are refreshingly low. In the first episode, Andor gets drunk at a bar and punches a cop (to my Star Warsy friends, I’ll say he punches a stormtrooper). That’s not what happens. But I’m not going to tell you what happens if I want you to watch it. Being surprised is part of the fun.

I have seen research that some people enjoy spoilers, the same way I know some people like to re-watch the same shows over and over again as comfort, as a lack of surprise. That’s not me, and I would never make that decision for someone else. For me, spoilers undercut dramatic tension. They make things uninteresting, and undermine the stakes. It’s the exact same reasons prequels struggle to stay engaging.

I have one friend who will actively look up spoilers for the books she’s reading, looking up plot summaries on Wikipedia, and then asking me for details how it plays out. I pull out my hair and tell her to keep reading. For books and games with especially great twists, I have to beg her to just go in blind, please! I half fear that that’s as bad as people who say that there is a great twist (a sin almost as bad as saying what the twist is, especially for a 90-minute movie), but I know the alternative is that the book is lifeless and bland without any unexpected turns at any point.

I have another friend who will recommend a movie, and as we put it in start describing what his favorite scenes are, or how the heroes finally overcome the villain. After several interjections of “Don’t tell me!” or “We’re about to watch it!”, he’s learned to curtain this habit, at least around me (a fact for which I am extremely grateful).

Still, I know some people defend spoiling media on end. Here are some rebuttals to the most common arguments I see.

Objective Time

The common argument for spoilers is that you’ve had almost 60 years to read Dune, or 20 years to play Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic. This is laughably false. I feel like I shouldn’t even have to point out that no one has had 400 years to read Hamlet or thousands of years to read the Odyysey.

As I write this, I am 29 years old. I haven’t had 60 years to read Dune, I’ve had less than 30. I have read Dune (or most of it; I put it down 2/3 of the way through — in the same way I don’t like knowing how books end, I also don’t like being told what’s going to happen in a chapter right before reading it. I’m reading a book not a high school essay).


Related aside (spoilers for Dune ahead): There’s a part in Dune where an assassination attempt is described in detail. This scene had exactly no suspense, as we’d already been told that the potential victim survives in one of the pre-chapter preludes. Arrgh!



Related aside (spoielrs for Inkspell ahead): When I was young, I read Inkheart and loved it. Then I read Inkspell, the sequel, and hated iit. Why? Because at the beginning of the book, the main character’s dad catches her sneaking out of bed. Then there’s a line about an artifact hidden in the room. Something like ‘it wouldn’t be until many years later that he [the father] would learn that the artifact was in this room the entire time’.

The REST of the book is about the dad getting poisoned and being unsure whether or not he would live. There was no mystery,no drama, no stakes! I only kept reading because I wanted to see if the author herself had made a mistake with the earlier line. Bah!


The fact that people can’t read books before they’re born is directly related to the next point:

Interest Time

Yes, I could have tried to read Dune when I was 10. It would have been extremely challenging! Most likely, I couldn’t read it until I was 12-14, and even then I’d have had to be looking for a sci-fi book AND have someone recommend it to me. No one is born knowing about Dune.

So I haven’t had 29 years to read Dune, I’ve had 15 — the time since I’ve been old enough to care and first learned it existed.

But 15 years isn’t enough to read every piece of media I’m interested in. The proof of that is in the fact that I still have a “want to read” list, and it’s not growing shorter!

But I get wanting to discuss media, especially old media. I’m not saying you can’t — earlier in this post, I dropped (vague) spoilers for Dune and specific ones for Inkspell. You just gotta consider the context.

Context is key

There’s a big difference between dropping Dune spoilers (I wasn’t really planning on talking about Dune this much, but here we are) on a random Tuesday in 2017, and talking about those same Dune Spoilers the day a movie is announced, or a Dune trailer drops.

If you can reasonably expect a big uptick in people being exposed to this media for the first time (like if there’s a major remake, sequel, or adaptation), then don’t drop spoilers. It’s that easy!

After the first Dune trailer came out, I saw many comments sections where people were defending their right to talk about spoilers freely (“You’ve had 50 years to read the book!”) when it should be painfully obvious that this is going to bring in a new audience.

It’s the same thing as going to a movie on opening night and talking about the big twist in your car vs in the lobby next to the people standing in line for the next showing. Be considerate of your environment, that’s all.

Things that can’t be spoiled

People like to joke about spoiling the bible. No one is reading the bible for leisure, or for the plot, and no one who is reading the bible is unaware of Jesus’s resurrection. People act like this is some kind of “gotcha” when it’s really not.

I mentioned the Odyssey above. True, few people are reading that for fun either, but if you do know someone who is (or a student who has to work through it), why lessen the experience?

Spoilers as a recommendation

I will say there’s one exception here: I had a friend who hated Star Wars. Thought it was dumb, didn’t get the appeal at all. One night, she mentioned this fact, and a couple people prodded her to find out why (the rest of us quite enjoyed it!). She couldn’t really articulate why, and when pressed, revealed that she didn’t know anything about it at all.

So we started to share what we did like about it. At one point, someone summarized the plot of the first few movies, which grabbed her attention, and turned into a 30-minute long group storytelling activity and re-enactment (I want to stress that we knew this person very well, and she was very engaged. Please don’t explain the plot of Star Wars to random people, in any amount of detail. Please.) that left her laughing and genuinely curious to know more. That night, we played through the entire campaign of Star Wars Battlefront II (2005), and I believe she went on to see and enjoy some of the movies (but I can’t say for certain; I don’t think I ever followed up).

The point of this story is that she would have never seen Star Wars if we hadn’t spoiled it. By telling her what she was missing, and telling the story our own way, we were sharing our love. I don’t know for sure if she saw Star Wars, but she understood why we liked it, and at least for a night, she became a fan. That’s a gift.

I feel the same way about movie trailers. I don’t watch trailers. They give too much away. The best jokes, the plot, the twists. If I want to see a movie, I go in blind. I cover my eyes at the movie theater (or play a game, which is to see how they creatively edited the trailer so that no person technically points a gun at another character, something you can’t do in a green band trailer). The only time I watch trailers is if I have zero interest in watching that movie. If it’s spoiled for me, I’ve lost nothing. But if it looks good? Well, maybe I’ll see it anyway.

That’s what I did for Thor: Ragnarok. I didn’t like the first two Thor movies, was going to skip the third. The trailer made me laugh, so I saw the movie and had a roaring good time. Spoilers: They can convert ya!

An entreaty

All I really ask is that you understand why some people want to enjoy movies or books without preconceptions. Why we might relish in the surprise.

Be mindful of your environment (physically and culturally) when discussing spoilers — remakes and adaptations reset the clock in a way. Remember that no one has had as much time as you think to have read a book.

And above all else,

Just spoiler warn things. It’s that easy.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.

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