Monday, July 23, 2007

In defense of spoiling

Film critic Nathan Lee argues that, more often than not, spoilers are entirely justified: "To spoil or not to spoil involves larger questions about the role of the critic, the needs of the reader and the changes to both caused by the scale, speed and outlaw spirit of Web-based commentary...

"It’s silly to insist that the critic never spoil. In practice, spoilers can be irresponsible, motivated by laziness, vindictiveness or snark, but if the ambition to inform the reader outweighs the need to protect them, then spoilers are warranted on principle. The integrity of the critic doesn’t revolve around whether or not they’re willing to spoil, but why they chose to do so.

"Our obsession with spoilers has a diminishing effect, reducing popular criticism to a kind of glorified consumer reporting and the audience to babies. People outraged by spoilers should avoid all reviews before going to the movies or reading the book they’ve waited so long for, because the fact is all criticism spoils, no matter how scrupulous."

BTW: It's worth noting, by the way, that spoilers were being sprung long before the advent of the Internet. I still get angry -- well, OK, maybe not angry, but at least mildly miffed -- when I recall how I learned (accidentally and unwillingly) the identity of Luke Skywalker's father long before I got to see The Empire Strikes Back.

10 comments:

cjKennedy said...

This is something I've given some thought to in my own attempts at amateur criticism and I disagree with Mr. Lane.

I wrote a spoiler-laden review of In The Land of Women, a movie I hated. At the last minute I decided it wasn't fair and I removed all the spoilers.

Not being a professional, I guess I'm more interested in being a part of the discussion rather than trying to steer people away from what I consider bad movies. Just because I hated the movie, someone else might have disagreed so why ruin it for them?

Joe Leydon said...

I think there are several factors to consider when weighing the “spoiler” question. Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind: Who are you writing for? If you’re writing for the general readership of a mainstream newspaper, you probably should think twice – maybe three or four times – about ever spoiling even the most minor plot twist. (A recent, really egregious example of stupid spoiling: In a review of the Raines pilot episode, the TV critic of the New York Times made an unforgivable faux pas by rather cavalierly revealing a major twist sprung during the final minutes.) But if you’re writing for the readers of a publication or website where a certain degree of snark is expected – well, even then, I think you should tread carefully, but I think you have greater latitude. Also: Are you writing to be read by someone before he/she sees the movie, or afterwards?

cjKennedy said...

Snark - That's the thing. I had to cut out a lot of snark with the ITLOW review, but I figured it just wasn't very nice to whoever my happen along and read it.

I try to tread carefully whether I expect someone to read it before or after seeing a movie. I don't like saying **SPOILER WARNING*** because it's cheesy and interrupts the flow so I just try to write around spoilers for the most part

If the person has seen the movie, then they don't need me regurgitating what happened anyway. If they haven't seen it, then it's likely they don't want me to.

That's just my own personal opinion. In the writing of others, I always appreciate warnings (though if I'm reading a review before seeing a movie I've already thought about it and don't much care about spoilers), but I also kind of figure I'm taking the risk as a reader and have no real right to get too steamed about it.

I'm sort of talking in circles here.

Joe Leydon said...

Something else to consider: Sometimes, merely stating that a movie has a honking big surprise twist can be as much of a spoiler as actually revealing that twist. (Which is why I’m very glad I saw The Sixth Sense before I read any reviews of the film.) On the other hand, I also remember the first time I saw The Crying Game: I assumed the surprise twist everyone was talking about was the unexpected death of a major character at the midway point. Naturally, my guard was down after that happened – so I was thoroughly shocked when the real surprise was sprung.

David DuBos said...

Only one time when a spoiler was amusing: the famous Peanuts strip where Linus is watching "Citizen Kane" and Lucy walks in on him; as he talks about how long he's yearned to see this film, Lucy lets slip the spoiler of "rosebud"...much to Linus' chagrin.

cjKennedy said...

That's funny David unless you haven't seen the movie! I wish I could go back and see Citizen Kane for the first time without knowing the reveal. Alas...

Rick Ryan said...

On the subject of spoilers and classic films such as Citizen Kane.I understand CJ's point, but if I write an appreciation of say, Casablanca, am I duty bound not to reveal that Rick doesn't get on the plane with Ilsa, even though that particular plot point is crucial to a thorough discussion of the movie?
Just wondering.

Joe Leydon said...

Good question. Indeed, at the risk of sounding, well, snarky: Should you include that "spoiler" even in an on-line comment for a movie blog? My first thought is: Someone who's going to read an essay on Casablanca very likely has already seen the movie. On the other hand, as a college professor once warned me: You have to remember that some people don't know how Hamlet ends.

Rick Ryan said...

Not the least bit snarky, Joe. As a matter of fact, your professor's warning makes excellent sense. I will keep it in mind.

cjKennedy said...

Rick, it almost seems foolish to provide a spoiler warning for a movie that is 60 years old and I certainly wouldn't expect it or be mad if I didn't get it. Of course it would be appreciated however.

The thing with Kane is I don't even think I actually read the fact anywhere...it just sort of seems to be something people know whether they've seen the movie or not and I wonder how I would've responded to the movie if I somehow didn't know how it ended.