Spoilers, the Importance of Story, and the Value of Kindness

Game of Thrones is back on, which means one thing is on my mind more frequently than usual lately (besides dragons): spoilers. Of course in the age of the internet, spoilers are always an issue, but the more mega-popular something is, the more problematic it becomes due to the sheer volume of people participating. I can’t get on Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit these days without risking the latest episode being spoiled. I’ll be blunt: I find this infuriating.

Even people who don’t overtly post blatant spoilers still end up spoiling. I mean, on a show like GOT where so many characters die, writing a tweet that says a character’s name plus a frowny face is a pretty obvious spoiler, you know? Not to mention that if five people I follow tweet vague not-quite-spoilers they often come together to paint a clear picture of the episode. I also find this infuriating.

‘Spoilers’ has always been an important topic to me – even pre-social-media boom. Other people seem largely unbothered by them. Some people even seek them out, googling for leaks and insider gossip as to what’s coming in their favorite show or series. Obviously not everyone reacts as strongly as I do when something they love is spoiled (although to be fair, many do, because “spoil” is an inherently negative word), so why are they such a big deal to me?

After perhaps more introspection than I should’ve given such a thing, I’ve decided that it comes down to two things. 1) Story is unusually, perhaps disproportionately, valuable to me. 2) Kindness is one of my highest-valued traits in people.

Stories, by and large, are treated and talked of as somewhat frivolous and occasionally even negative things. Soap operas, notoriously looked down on, are called “stories.” Someone making up lies is “telling stories.” Even in positive lights, stories are treated as casual pastimes, easy entertainment, just for fun. I’ve realized that, somewhere in there – or maybe always, who knows? – stories became more important than that to me. I mean, really, my job is telling stories. They’re my passion, one of my primary modes of learning and communication, my favorite vehicle for art, my entire career. For better or worse, stories are not just fun for me; they’re an enormous and valuable part of my life.

Add on top of that that I’m unabashedly fond of what some might consider old-fashioned morals. I think about life and people in terms like integrity, honor, and kindness. I realize it might make me sound hopelessly sappy, but I think kindness is a form of casual love, and I think we all should strive to show it to each other. Courtesy, at minimum, is something I believe everyone deserves. I guess that’s what spoilers come down to, for me. Whether someone takes stories as seriously as I do or just gets passing joy from them, it’s still joy. Part of the pleasure is in the surprise, and when someone else (who’s already had the opportunity to enjoy that surprise) ruins it for someone who hasn’t, I find that rude. I find it discourteous, unkind, and just rude.

Now, some people like being rude or mean or whatever. The people who tweet “so-and-so dies” obviously have nothing in mind but ruining someone else’s experience, and there’s really nothing to do about that. Some people simply don’t value kindness, or don’t contain much of it, and that’s the way the world works.

But not everyone who tweets/Facebooks/whatevers spoilers is trying to be unkind. I think most people are what I think of as “thoughtless spoilers.” It’s someone who’s watched the show and wants to discuss it, which is a natural inclination, and posts their thoughts for public discussion without even necessarily thinking about the fact that other people might not have had the opportunity to see it yet. They might also occasionally be someone who doesn’t value the surprise elements of stories, and doesn’t realize that it’s a big part of the joy for other people.

The most compelling argument I’ve heard, though, for willful spoilers, is that it’s not their responsibility. Obviously, because of my stance, I tend to see this as a “not my problem” attitude, which isn’t cool to me, but I’ve heard some compelling arguments in the other direction. Some say, If you don’t want spoilers, don’t get online until you’ve finished it. It’s not my job to censor myself because you haven’t read/watched the thing in question. I take issue with this argument because the people purporting it often portray their detractors as whiny. And I guess if you want to see me as whiny for not wanting my entertainment spoiled, that’s your right (just like it’s my right to see you as kind of an asshat for wanting to spoil it).

But I do see their point. Maybe I’m just unlucky that because of my job, it really isn’t realistic for me to ‘just not get online’ for a week or two or five until I’m caught up on all of the shows/books I care about. Are those of us who can’t avoid them just flat out of luck? Still others place a certain amount of ‘courtesy time’ on the issue. Say, wait one week after something is released before allowing spoilers.

That doesn’t work for me either. I see almost no time limit on spoilers. Aside from the fact that not everyone has ample or consistent leisure time in their life, what about newbs? There are some stories (the original Star Wars trilogy, for example) that have become so famous for their spoilers that there’s no hope of saving someone who hasn’t seen them. But even then, what about the younger generations? What about someone going back to read the classics? Jane Eyre might’ve been written well over a century ago, but that didn’t make it any less thrilling for me when I got to the twist as a first-time reader in my early twenties.

I’m not proposing anything extreme. I’m not even saying that it’s anyone’s job or obligation to withhold spoilers. I’m just saying that it’s kind. It’s a courtesy. If you’ve had the pleasure of watching or reading something that brought you joy or pleasure, why would you take that away from someone else who hasn’t yet, but might? It’s still possible to discuss these shows, movies, and books without putting others at great risk of stumbling across spoilers. In my opinion, Twitter isn’t the place for it, where anyone who follows you will see everything you say. Sure, they can unfollow you if they want (and if you tweet spoilers, I absolutely will), but the timeline is too easy to trip across. Same with Facebook: unless I unfriend or unfollow, I just have to risk being spoiled. Why not save the spoiler-filled discussions for forums, threads, or blog posts with notices at the top so they aren’t quite so public, somewhere you’d have to click into to see rather than accidentally come across?

Anyone can say anything they want about any show, movie, or book out there. If you want to talk freely about surprising things in the stories you consume, no one can stop you. I’m not saying you have to think about spoilers. I’m not even necessarily saying you should. I’m just saying… why wouldn’t you? Is it really that difficult a consideration to give?

I’m not being snarky, here. I’m genuinely asking: Am I just hopelessly old-fashioned and idealistic? What do you all think? Do you agree with me, or do you think spoilers are no big deal?

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