SPOILERS: HOW SOON IS TOO SOON?
How soon is too soon to publicly talk about a major book/movie/TV show spoiler? Ah, that’s the age-old question. I think we as a book community tend to be a little bit more aware of how we talk about spoilers because a reading experience is so much more time-consuming than a (single) viewing experience and we understand that not everyone will have finished a book by the time we’ve finished. I feel like it’s also more common to read a book long after its release date, where spoilers will still need to remain secret. And even though I feel like reading has never been more of a social experience as it is now, I feel that it can still be the least talked-about media when directly comparing books, movies, and TV shows.
No matter the form of media, there’s always a window where fans refrain from revealing any spoilers so other fans can also enjoy the experience (well, we hope everyone is so considerate. I think we have a fairly good track record with this in the book community). So how long should fans wait before openly discussing spoilers? A month? A year? Forever? I don’t think we’ll ever have a definitive answer. Personally, I try to avoid all spoilers at all times, because you just never know who is going to be a new member of a fandom that’s exploring these stories for the first time… BUT I’ll also admit to openly discussing major spoilers for major MAJOR series like Harry Potter, where the books have been out for decades and the movies have been out for a number of years so I assume the spoilers have already been revealed to whoever may be exposed to them. That still may not be safe though. I still know quite a few friends who haven’t read or watched Harry Potter and some who just did so for the first time and managed to avoid major spoilers before they did so. That just tells me that it’s really never safe to speak openly about these things because there’s always someone who will be starting this journey for the first time.
I do understand that the media may not feel the same way, but I also feel like some forms of media are being way too cavalier about throwing spoilers around. I’ve read all of the books in A Song of Ice and Fire but I’ve only made it through the first few seasons of the TV show, and as most Game of Thrones fans know, the TV has gone in a few different directions from the series and has also started progressing beyond the books. I personally would rather read the books first, even if they are different (and that’s not the reason I’m still behind on the TV show) because even though the show is different in a lot of ways, it still might have parallels to the book series and I’d rather experience those twists while I’m reading versus watching. I finally came to the point where I knew I was going to get spoiled because I was so many seasons behind so I didn’t go out looking for what happened but if there was something major, I willingly acknowledged it instead of being upset and trying to hide from it.
Where I get upset is the media maybe being bit too jumpy to hang onto those spoilers to use them as attention grabbers. A major magazine had posted about a big show spoiler the day after it aired. Now that was just way, way, WAY too soon. Even if you’re someone who watches the show, maybe you were on vacation, away from the TV, or taking care of something more important the night that it aired and you didn’t have time to watch the show that night. That magazine just took that experience away from many, many fans who happened to not watch the show live and I think that is a definite no-no.
Where the lines blur a bit starts around a few months after a show has aired or a book has come out. I think for a book, I’d tend to wait until around six months to a year before I would even think about revealing a spoiler on social media but not everyone feels the same way. For TV shows, it seems to be even less. It’s been a few months since a big Game of Thrones reveal and a major wireless network used the twist in one of their recent commercials. The “star” of the commercial is quoting lines from major movies and TV shows in his regular life, proving that he’s experiencing the network’s features for movies & TV, but no other quote was a spoiler except for this major Game of Thrones one. He then says to his comrades in the elevator after dumping this spoiler on them, “You guys watch Game of Thrones, right?” Well, buddy, if they didn’t, you just spoiled something major for them. I guess if you don’t watch the show, it doesn’t matter to you one way or another. But if you’re behind and in the process of catching up, then your experience just got ruined. This was one that I found out about shortly after it had happened because people couldn’t stop talking about so it wasn’t a huge spoiler to me, but I also felt like it was still too soon to use in a major commercial.
This really all came up because this past week’s Modern Family also mentioned the same Game of Thrones spoiler and even described it in more detail, not just referenced the now-infamous line. Even though I knew that it happened, now I know even more about it that I didn’t get to learn by watching the TV show. To a certain extent, I know it’s my own “fault”. I could find the time to catch up with the TV show and being seasons behind, I logically can’t expect all spoilers to stay hidden forever, especially with such a popular series, but at the same time, I do think more precaution could be taken to at least not reveal spoilers in another form of media as a passing comment.
Spoilers come in all shapes and sizes, and through many different forms of media. Whether it’s a family member who doesn’t understand what a spoiler is and reveals a twist in the new Star Wars movie, a character aesthetic on Tumblr that reveals a character death, or an article in Shelf Awareness spoiling the last season of Downton Abbey for you (and yes, these all happened to me), it may never be possible to avoid all spoilers all the time. I do the best I can to keep the surprises alive. I like to go in blind to most of my books, not looking back at the synopsis before I start it to try to keep the reading experience totally fresh. I try to avoid Goodreads until I’ve finished that super popular series-ender so I make sure I don’t see someone else’s reactions that may reveal a secret or two that I haven’t experienced yet. I try to skip over images, memes, and aesthetics that might have a little too much about a book or show that I haven’t yet experienced… but there’s only so much a person can do to stay totally in the dark when we’re all so constantly connected.
Again, I think the book community has the best track record for keeping spoilers locked up, or maybe it just seems like that to me because I’m so personally invested in this community. I’m not sure how that really differs from a TV or movie fandom — or maybe it’s just because I’ve been spoiled for more movies and TV shows than I have books, even though I read many more books than I watch TV. It’s just a theory of mine with no real details to back it up!