Let’s talk about spoilers (and anxiety)

I have a confession, Internet. Okay, I have a lot of confessions, but one in particular stands out today.

Getting spoiled isn’t a big deal for me.

There. I said it.

I understand why other people get upset at hearing major spoilers. Maybe knowing the plot twist ending ruins things for them, and that’s valid. People can take in their media however they want. But if they’re reading an online article that’s clearly about a given book or movie or whatever and then complain about getting spoiled, well, that’s on them. It’s like complaining about mixed nuts containing nuts.

In fact, even if someone does reveal a twist, that doesn’t spoil everything. It doesn’t explain how the characters got there, or how the story developed, or even why the twist is such a big thing in the first place. A good story will surprise me with the circumstances that lead to the ending. This discovery is part of the experience for me, and this doesn’t change with knowing end details of a story.

For me, spoilers are a source of anxiety. Not the idea of spoilers themselves, but the idea of accidentally ruining something for some stranger. Has this person watched or read whatever I’m talking about? Heck, sometimes I haven’t seen or read whatever I’m discussing, but I know about it through Internet osmosis. I once posted a tweet showing off my newly-acquired TARDIS notebook. Someone replied with “Spoilers.” I hadn’t watched the show at all at the time and genuinely thought I was spoiling something. It took awhile to realize this was an element of the show (and specifically, one of the characters) and not a genuine spoiler.

But what is the statute of limitations on a spoiler? I once accidentally revealed the big death in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to someone who hadn’t read that far… two weeks before the seventh book came out. Considering those past two years were filled with discussion on this death and its impact on the seventh book, I’m impressed that he managed to avoid finding out for so long. I know people who get upset over spoilers from ten years ago, not to mention ten days.

And what’s the proper etiquette about publicly discussing spoilers in public forums, anyway? On sites like Twitter, you can use a hashtag. That way, people who don’t want to be spoiled can use a client like Tweetdeck to mute that hashtag. But this assumes people have enough characters remaining in a tweet to include the hashtag, as well as remember to use it in the first place. It also assumes everyone has a way to mute that hashtag or keyword, which isn’t necessarily true.

So is the solution to avoid talking about the thing publicly? Of course not. Word of mouth is one of the most effective forms of getting the word out, and for good reason: people want to talk about things they enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy). While private messaging–whether through Twitter’s DMs, email, or instant messaging) is an option, it leaves out the fun in discovering who else likes the thing you’re talking about. When someone jumps in on a Twitter conversation and I discover they like the book or movie or whatever, this creates another bond between that person and me, along with another person I can make joking references to about that book or movie or album.

And even bigger: What IS a spoiler, anyway? I keep thinking back to that tweet about someone not knowing Hamilton gets shot in the end. (To be fair, this is kind of understandable for someone not familiar with American history.) Are trailers spoilers? What about the circumstances of the story? Heck, even competition shows and sporting events can have spoilers–who got eliminated, who won, what someone sang or cooked or danced to. Math can have spoilers, for Baty’s sake. Yes, there are more infinities and more geometries, and the complex numbers aren’t the end.

There is so much media out there that if I tried to avoid spoilers, I would be avoiding almost everything with the remotest chance of revealing spoilers. I haven’t read the Lord of the Rings books or a bunch of those so-called classics associated with high school and college literature classes. I haven’t read or watched all of Game of Thrones. I haven’t read everything by Shakespeare (nor do I particularly want to, to be honest). If I’m never going to consume that media, then why stress about spoilers? There are bigger (and smaller, let’s be real) things to worry about.

This isn’t your invitation to spoil me on everything ever. Yes, I know Rosebud is the sled and Han shot first. But I can’t live in fear of avoiding spoilers, nor in fear of spoiling someone else.

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