Spoiler policy: a refresher

A lot of people seem to have little understanding of what is appropriate regarding spoilers. True, we live in a time that makes spoiler policy more complicated. We can’t rely on people having seen the show as it airs; the word ‘airs’ is becoming irrelevant. We also have social media, where you can post a comment that gets seen by hundreds of your friends whether they wanted to see it or not. It’s time to go over exactly what you should do when you’ve seen episodes of a show that someone else may not have.

Discussion of episodes is a marvellous thing and we should have more of it. And letting people know which shows you’re excited about is a great way to help them spread. But if you do it in a way that screws up people enjoying the show, the whole exercise is self-defeating.

So what do we do?

First, it’s important to get one thing very clear, as it underpins this spoiler policy: you are an idiot.

You are not smart. You are not clever. You are not Joss Whedon or George RR Martin. You have no idea what you are doing.

Now we can proceed.

When is it acceptable to talk spoilers?

We don’t have the simple “X days from air” scenario we used to have. Not only is it irrelevant in a post-broadcast world, but people watch TV differently now. Many save up episodes and binge a whole series at a time. You never know where people are up to.

So here’s the new rule:

  • You can talk spoilers with people you have directly established are up to the same point as you.
  • Otherwise, shut the fuck up.

That’s basically the end of the policy. Nice and simple, isn’t it? Just don’t say anything. It’s pretty obvious, but because people are stupid, they try to circumvent it. Here are some methods they use.

Making cryptic references

Just don’t do it. You don’t know how. It’s like having a beautician rewire your house. Leave electricity to the electricians, and leave the storytelling to the storytellers.

People find it fun to throw tiny bits of information they think doesn’t actually spoil anything, for some reason. Some kind of bizarre “I know something you don’t know” urge they have left over from being 6, and haven’t moved on from.

You need to understand it doesn’t work. It just makes you look like an idiot, and anyone with a passing understanding of story can reconstruct the entire episode based on your one “cryptic” hint.

I have no idea
This is you.

The same rule applies here: just shut the fuck up.

Level of importance

You might think some kinds of spoilers are harmless. You think you can get away with dropping facts or hints about the story that aren’t clear plot elements. You can’t.

Because you’re not a storyteller, you don’t know what does and doesn’t matter. You don’t know what elements intrinsically point the story in one direction over another. Storytellers put all these things in for a reason, they’re not just filling space.

Don’t think you know how that works. Just shut up.

For dumb shows

Sometimes a show turns out to be really stupid, or have a really stupid twist no one likes. When this happens, people tend to relax about spoilers. It wasn’t enjoyable for me, so why does it matter if it’s ruined for someone else? They wouldn’t have enjoyed it either.

Let’s go back to first principles: you are an idiot.

Maybe you didn’t understand the twist. Maybe you individually didn’t like the direction that takes the show. But you are one person. One idiot. Don’t assume your response to it will be the same as everyone else’s.

You may have noticed people have different tastes. You may, if you’ve been paying any attention while on this planet, have come across a scenario where you hated a movie and other people seemed to like it.

There’s a familiar rule you should apply here, can you guess? It involves shutting the fuck up.

Whether spoilers matter

Much like someone who has kicked a puppy complains that the puppy shouldn’t have been in their way, you’ll often get numb-nuts trying to justify spoiling people.

They’ll usually point to one of those studies that find a lot of people’s appreciation of a story is increased by knowing what happens.

Nope. Doesn’t work.

Firstly, yes, re-watching something knowing what happens is a good experience. But it’s a different experience. If you haven’t been spoiled, you get two good experiences. If you have, you only get one.

Secondly, studies give you an average. They don’t dictate what everyone enjoys. Pushing spoilers on to someone because a study says they might enjoy it more is like demanding someone eats fish when they’re allergic to seafood. Most people like fish, right?

Keeping everyone happy

There’s a reason we use the word ‘spoiler’. Regardless of whether or not you’re meaning to spoil it for someone, that’s what you’re doing. Giving away a key plot point to a good series is like taking a crap on someone’s dinner. It’s a pretty horrible thing to do to the person who wanted to eat that dinner, and it makes you look like a dickhead.

You’ve seen the episode and enjoyed it. You want to communicate that enjoyment, and that’s great. But don’t destroy that enjoyment for others.

Don’t assume people have seen it. Don’t make cryptic references you will screw up. Don’t assume what is and isn’t safe. Don’t decide what others prefer. Just shut up, and let people enjoy the series.