When is a spoiler a spoiler?

I suppose I should say here that because I’m talking about spoilers, I may unintentionally spoil something for you? (Book/movie spoilers revealed/discussed–Game of Thrones Book/Season 3, Walking Dead, The Sixth Sense, Harry Potter 6, Downton Abbey Season 3)

About a week ago the internet lost its collective mind over a Game of Thrones episode that ended with King Joffrey’s death.  People who saw it immediately started talking, blogging, and creating memes.  People who hadn’t seen the episode were furious about posted spoilers. 

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 9.43.22 PMStephen King’s spoiler tweet and reaction to those upset with him

Is it really a spoiler if there’s a book?  Is there a statute of limitations on spoilers?  Is it even possible to avoid spoilers, given social media?  How do we follow Wheaton’s Law (“Don’t be a dick”) regarding potential spoilers?  I began to think about these questions and asked on Facebook and Twitter to get other’s opinions.

Is it really a spoiler if there’s a book?

I’m of two minds about this.  I’m generally a firm “read the book first” type of person, although I’ve broken that rule.  I didn’t read the Walking Dead comics before I saw the show and became interested in doing so; I’m not a comic kind of person anymore.  I didn’t read World War Z until after I saw the movie and my friends all started screaming about how the movie was a travesty and I had to read the book.  On the other hand, my husband and I are both avoiding Game of Thrones because we haven’t read the books and we feel like we shouldn’t watch it until we do.

My friend Rosemary pointed out that “You should cut people a break on book vs. tv/movies.  I’m never going to read the GoT books, so the show is new to me, even though the books have been out for a while, so don’t spoil it for me.”  I think she makes a valid point. Is the attitude of “you should’ve just read the damn books” just plain rude? I’m not going to be a jerk about it.  I feel bad if I spoil a twist someone didn’t know about because they didn’t read the book.

Stephanie has a more gentle take on this book v show war.  “If watching the show is your first introduction to the books, nothing is a spoiler. It’s just catching up to everybody else.

Of course the tv show/movie isn’t ever going to be 100% faithful, so in spoiling, you may be spoiling something that isn’t in the books.  The Daryl character on Walking Dead, isn’t in the comics and the show has departed and often toned down the comic’s storylines (the Governor is nowhere near as sadistic in the tv show–he doesn’t rape Michonne for one).  So there is often a divide–essentially creating two works with the same name which may or may not reflect one another.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 9.56.41 PMfound in a google search, credited to icanhazcheesburger in the photo

Is there a statute of limitation on a spoiler?

There was consensus that there’s definitely a statue of limitations on a spoiler and that some people take it way too far.

Jennie said “I went to a class at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival last summer and we were seeing Cymbeline, a very complicated play… But the instructor wouldn’t tell us any of the plot points because she didn’t want to “spoil” anything. Certainly Shakespeare has exceeded the statute of limitations on spoiler alerts…”  But there’s a difference between just over 400 years ago and a book that’s only been out a few years.

 Vinitha says “I rarely read books the year they are released – would prefer a *spoiler alert* warning if you plan to spill the beans.”

We also agreed that at this point The Sixth Sense (1999) has been out long enough not to consider the twist ending that Bruce Willis’ character has been dead all this time a spoiler.  Or that Dumbledore’s death (book 2005, movie 2009) shouldn’t need a spoiler alert.  However, no one was brave enough to name a number as to how many years a twist needs a spoiler alert.  Joffrey’s death is in book 3 of the Game of Thrones series, published in 2000 but the scene everyone is so upset about wasn’t shown until April 2014 on the show, so the 14 year difference doesn’t seem to apply.  Maybe both the book and media have to have been out for X years?

There’s also the unintentional spoiler.  Certain tv shows come out earlier in some countries than others–the UK gets something like a six month head start on Downtown Abbey, for one.  So when my UK friends started freaking on twitter about about Sybil and Matthew’s deaths in Season 3, I found out long before the season had even begun in the US.  Finding it out in advance didn’t really lessen the emotional impact of those death scenes for me, as an invested viewer.  But I would rather not have found out–so I think it’s still a spoiler when other major markets haven’t had the chance to see/read it yet.

While I don’t worry about the Sixth Sense or HP spoilers with someone my age, I’m also going to be careful about what I reveal to Elanor and Rhi.  I know that she hasn’t had the exposure to either, and at some point in the future I want them to see/read them respectively and have the full impact of the shock.  So there may be reason to justify a double standard based on the age of who you’re talking to.  Goodreads has a box you can tick off if there are spoilers in your review, no matter how old the book is depending on how you feel about the statute of limitations.

Of course, then there’s the Romeo and Juliet clause.  My friend Amy points out “Hell, Shakespeare himself “spoiled” Romeo and Juliet in the 6th line of the prologue.”  You can’t get mad at someone for spoiling a book that gives away its spoiler first.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 9.58.46 PMsource

Is it possible to avoid spoilers, given social media?

Consensus is no, not realistically.

People should get over it or stay away from people and the internet until they see/read whatever it is,” says my friend April. 

“The whole book/movie spoiler debate is silly.  I have a hard enough time avoiding spoilers for Miami Dolphins (American Football–ed.) games for 24 hours,” muttered my husband when asked.  He does a complete facebook/twitter/google +/news site blackout so that the games aren’t ruined for him.  I did a complete media blackout when waiting for the How I Met Your Mother series finale, and threatened the friendship of anyone who ruined it for me, only to have it disappoint me in many ways (not Neil Patrick Harris….NEVER Neil Patrick Harris).

“Keeping ANYthing under wraps in the social media age is an accomplishment all by itself!” Stephanie has a point. Paula notes that “News sites post within minutes of the episode airing.”  It’s not just books or television.  I often get news from twitter first and then have it validated by traditional media later.

“I feel the need to talk about my various shows, but always do it in the comments of a post clearly labeled as a spoiler.”  Rosemary notes. I appreciate
these fb posts of hers, which say something to the effect of “let’s talk about the most recent episode of show x in the comments.”  It’s a good way to talk about potential spoilers without putting said spoilers out into the world.  You can’t control what other people do, but you can choose how you handle spoilers on the internet.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 10.34.11 PMOf course, not every spoiler on the internet is true… (source)

What do you guys think?  What are your opinions on spoilers?  Do you follow Wheaton’s Law or are you the person going around ruining it for everyone else?

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