What is a spoiler, and what can you do about them?
PLEASE NOTE: This is an examination of spoilers in pop culture. It’s not a self-help article.
Spoilers are more divisive than they probably should be.
On one hand, people who care about spoilers should be engaging with the material they don’t want spoilt for them as soon as possible. On the other hand, it’s not always possible due to work commitments or issues relating to resources (like how tight money for a lot of us right now).
Here’s an article on the difference between a spoiler and a plot twist, and how to deal with things being spoilt for you – either by accident or on purpose. Just so you don’t get too excited: There’s no way to unspoil something. OBVIOUSLY. This is more about the mental fallout and how to deal with it.
So I don’t actually spoil anything for anyone, we’ll be using an imaginary zombie-epidemic film called ‘This City Has Gone To Hell’.
And I’ll be using random screenshots from Dying Light (because you can’t get screenshots from an imaginary film).
Wait, I don’t care about spoilers. Like, at all.
Cool, it must be awesome to be like that. This article isn’t for you, so here’s one about that celebrity you like.
For the rest of us, though…
What is a spoiler?
First, let’s discuss what a spoiler isn’t.
Regardless of what I implied in a previous article, a spoiler isn’t ‘something that happened in a movie that you didn’t already know about’. For the record, I still stand by the article – it’s just that I’ve educated myself on what a spoiler actually is.
Let’s use our imaginary film. This City Has Gone To Hell features 4 survivors and their struggles to get to a safe zone run by the Army. The survivors are named Allen, Betty, Charlie, and Dianne. They each have a certain skillset based on their pre-apocalyptic fields of employment. Allen is good at building things, Betty is able to cook a good meal from almost anything, Charlie is a parkour artist, and Dianne is an expert at making homemade explosive devices.
We now know who the main characters are, and what skills they bring to the table. We now have information that we didn’t before, so why isn’t any of that information considered a spoiler?
A spoiler is something that changes the viewing experience because it creates a new context for the viewer, especially on a second viewing.
If you find out there’s a scene where Allen and Dianne have their first kiss, that’s not a spoiler.
If you find that Allen and Dianna have been hiding supplies away this whole time because they were having an affair, well – that’s kind of a grey area. I’d personally consider that a spoiler, but it could be argued that it’s a plot-twist and not technically a spoiler – because it doesn’t really change the overall plot (4 survivors try to get to the army HQ).
If you found out the movie changes to a musical half-way through? Still not a spoiler. Sure, only a total troll would deliberately ruin that surprise for you, but it doesn’t change anything about the movie if you watch it again.
But what if you found out, in one of the last scenes, that Charlie was an undercover agent working for the bad guys of the film, so he could kill the last three survivors and collect their DNA, so he could deliver it at the army HQ?
That changes everything. The weird side-glances he gives every character are no longer perceived by the viewer as ‘Charlie beings suspicious of other people’ – now they’re perceived as ‘Charlie considering killing them on the spot’.
When you spoil something, you take away that first experience – the one that gets turned on its head – and force the viewer into the second experience. It’s like stealing a whole memory from someone before it even gets a chance to form.
Or what about if they get to the army base and it’s overrun by zombies? If you tell someone about that, is that a spoiler – or is it a reasonable assumption due to the fact that zombie films/shows are incredibly predictable because nobody ever does anything new with it nowadays?
I’d consider that a spoiler. Others don’t.
And that where the problem lay – different people with different perspective and expectations all have an equal say in this.
Yes, even the trolls.
How to Deal with Getting a Spoiler
Sadly, this won’t work for everyone. It does work for me, so I figured I’d share it. If you can adjust this technique to better suit your needs, go for it!
Let’s say I’m sitting down to watch This City and I don’t know anything about it. Someone says ‘How about that twist where Charlie was working for the enemy the whole time?’ and everyone else in the room groans audibly and says something like ‘OH MY GOD, JEFF – WHY ARE YOU LIKE THIS?’
As with anything else, you don’t get to choose if you get annoyed at people, but you do get some say in how long it lasts for. If you’re in a decent mood (or simply not a trash person, like me) then you might choose to forgive Jeff almost immediately.
This is where you add your own plot-twist. Plot-twists are great because they reframe things for us, and that’s what we’re going to do here.
Sure, Jeff might have spoilt the movie for you, but the movie was going to be naturally spoilt when you watched it. Simply put: Within 2 hours, the movie would have spoilt itself anyway.
You might need to change that ‘2 hours’ to ‘6 months’ or whatever, but you get the point.
Or, as I like to say…
PLOT TWIST: THE SPOILER WAS INSIDE THE CONTENT THE WHOLE TIME!
How to deal with people that always spoil things for you
Remove them from your life, if you can. If they’re at school or work, minimise your contact with them. Whatever you do, don’t react to them spoiling something for you. These fools are just looking for attention, and the only way they know how to get it is by negative reinforcement.
If it’s more along of the lines of ‘I’m sick of seeing spoilers everywhere’ well, I hate to say it – I genuinely do – you’re going to have to care less about pop culture in general. I know it’s hard, but NO content is worth your mental health. NONE.
Either that or get into sports – that’s the one thing left that people actively try not to spoil.
End-of-credits scene for This City Has Gone To Hell:
The meat that Betty’s been cooking for the crew always comes from infected zombies, so all the survivors are already infected anyway. She assumed it was safe because she figured that cooking the meat would remove all the zombie-creating proteins.
But she was wrong.
(See, now THAT’S a spoiler.)