Sunday 27 August 2017

The Feeling Fuzzier Guide to Spoiler Etiquette

Navigating spoilers on social media and at work can feel a bit like creeping through a minefield – but it doesn’t have to be such a stressful and strenuous task. 

A lot of people will joke that they didn’t know Bruce Willis was a ghost at the end of The Sixth Sense if you bring it up, such is the notoriety of that film-altering twist. But then there are those who act annoyed or even angry if drop spoilers like that, which is just plain ridiculous – the film came out in 1999.

So what’s the shelf life for spoilers with a film? How long does one have to wait before discussing spoilers is socially acceptable? When does a twist like those seen in The Sixth Sense or The Empire Strikes Back become accepted as ‘common knowledge’? Until it hits DVD? A month? A week? A weekend? In my mind, it varies depending on their potency.

For a major blockbuster film, you really don’t have long before something is everywhere; a week at most. For something like Logan (spoiler alert: Logan dies), Wonder Woman (spoiler alert: Chris Pine dies) or Rogue One (spoiler alert: everyone dies), I’d wager you get even less, possibly only the opening weekend. If you really cared about spoilers, you’d be there for the midnight screenings to be honest. 

For other stuff, that grace period starts to grow. Films like Hidden Figures or Lion can sit on the shelf unspoilt for maybe a month; some people might even seek out spoilers so that they can rest assured that everything and everyone gets a happy ending. 

TV is where things start to get a little trickier. By definition, television offers a shared viewing experience unlike that of a blockbuster film – for example, you and a dozen other people in the office might have seen which generic blonde girl was booted off The Bachelor last night, but there’s always that one person who doesn’t want to know because said episode is still sitting, waiting on their DVR.

TV can be live-tweeted and recapped; it’s pivotal moments immortalised into GIF form within minutes. Trying to avoid spoilers for TV shows is inherently trickier than film, which by and large is kept within the cosy confines of the theatre.

Arguably the ultimate watercooler show right now is Game of Thrones. The 48-hour period after each episode is rife with detailed examination of what just happened and wild speculation about what will happen next, which is why avoiding spoilers (or even the faint whiff of a spoiler) is so gosh darn hard when you spend even as little as two minutes on social media.

Didn’t get the chance to watch the 9am Foxtel simulcast? Better stay of Twitter until you get home. Decide to flake on your mate’s viewing party that night? You’re in for a rough time trying to sidestep spoilers the next day my friend.

Opposed to film, TV has a much, much shorter life span when it comes to spoilers. Fail to watch Game of Thrones when it airs and you might as well start calling yourself Jon Snow (because he knows nothing, har har). However, Game of Thrones is its own worst enemy when it comes to spoilers in recent times; as the show moves towards its crescendo, HBO has been plagued with damaging leaks, with entire episodes such as The Spoils of War and Beyond the Wall leaking online long before they actually air on television. 

Given Australia’s affinity for pirating and torrenting content, it was probably too idealistic to think people would wait until the show had actually aired legally on Foxtel to watch and start discussing major plot points on social media. 

Quite the opposite in fact, which changes the game entirely; spoil a show that aired last night and I’ll be a tad grumpy, but spoil something that hasn’t even aired legally and I’ll cut you.

The third and final prong in this equation is streaming. Platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, Stan and SBS OnDemand have changed the way we consume content by popularising the strategy of releasing all episodes for a certain season like House of Cards or The Handmaid’s Tale all in one go. It’s a strategy popular with those of us who have no self-control and love to gorge on episode after lethargic episode, but not so great for those of us who actually have social lives and/or jobs to go to. 

But it also means no one is on the same page; how can you blather about the cliffhanger of episode eight if everyone in the office is still languishing on episode five? How long are you expected to sit on that particular juicy nugget of spoiler-filled gossip before you just have to share it with someone? Streaming has created a world where we’re on different pages and moving at our own pace – which you’d think would help solve the issue, but only serves to muddy the waters further.

At the end of the day, the basic principle undercutting my argument is this; don’t go around being a twat. If you’ve stayed up until 3am watching every episode of The Defenders, don’t waltz into work the next day and lord it over everyone. No-one (and I mean no-one) likes that guy. 

And don’t be the guy who expects to everyone around him to simply not talk about the final season of Breaking Bad even though it ended four years ago. No-one can go through life wrapped in spoiler-resistant cotton wool and you are bound to stumble across something you wish you hadn’t on Facebook from time to time. It happens. 

So whether it’s the latest summer tentpole, HBO drama or Netflix show, just try and respect that not everyone has the same time, resources or dedication to 1am binge sessions that you do. No-one will give you a medal for watching every episode of The Defenders in a weekend; just as the world won’t end if last night’s episode of Game of Thrones gets spoilt before you’ve seen it. The world will continue to spin regardless. So stay sharp, be smart and please ­don’t be a twat.

What are your thoughts on how to handle spoilers? What do you think is an acceptable time frame? Let me know if the comments section below. Thanks for reading. 

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