The Spoiler: an examination

What are spoilers, anyway? Their history in nerd chronology perhaps goes back to the premiere of RETURN OF THE JEDI, when the New York Post, I believe, revealed that LEIA WAS LUKE’S SISTER DAYS BEFORE THE MOVIE OPENED. The young Beat read that spoiler but still went to see the movie opening night, for the Post had not spoiled the magic nor the fact that the Empire would be defeated by weeping teddy bears. Actually The Post had mentioned the teddy bears, just not the weeping.

It was that wonderful surprise that enabled us to still enjoy ROTJ. Honestly, what is it with all the spoilers nowadays? We don’t mind a few hints and clues, but why do you think they call it SPOILers? They SPOIL things! We heard the secret of THE SIXTH SENSE before we saw it and instead of the delightful mind trip everyone else had we saw a dull, plodding movie.

We’ve gotten pretty good at avoiding spoilers since then, which is hard in a world where every movie trailer gives away absolutely EVERYTHING good in a movie. But then if its a movie we really want to see, no amount of spoilage will ruin it. But today’s tricksy tv shows and real life contests are not as simple. The only thing that’s really enjoyable about LOST is not knowing what the hell is going on. Come on now, admit it. We were shocked to find out that certain websites had laid out the entire plot of the third season finale in gruesome detail. Why would anyone look at such a thing? What is the fun of that? We went in not knowing much, and enjoyed a pleasant jolt halfway through when we figured out the twist. Now THAT was fun.

Comics have a big spoiler problem. Even well policed websites seem to revel in spoilers, leading companies to ever more desperate measures. (See out next post.) But spoilers are more complicated in other mediums, as this article at The Trades relates:

Highlighted by all this is that there seems to be a genuine appetite for detailed spoilers, something that other media have taken advantage of — with rare exceptions. Book publishers release advanced reader copies — ARCs — to reviewers sometimes months in advance of the title’s street date. But for every hundred or so titles that go out every season, there’s the inevitable Harry Potter novel, veiled in secrecy and hidden from everyone until the official date of publication. … Movie distributors release stills from the set — sometimes showing unannounced characters — or publish details of a plot, in order to keep the fan interest stirred up until the film hits theaters. They often put out previews open to the public to drum up word of mouth, exhibiting no spoiler control at all. Didn’t seem to hurt “Spider-Man 3″, even with the spate of negative reviews that circulated.

In point of fact, comic publishers do open themselves up for word of mouth spoilage. Many retailers participate in what is called a “Sneak Peek” program through Diamond Distributors, where they receive a sampling of comics a full week ahead of time, allowing them to judge whether or not they should ramp up their order numbers for some of the titles.


This “Sneak Peek” program seems to have led to a major problem in comics, when a message board poster known as MazingMan728 posted spoilers all over the place, until, according to Rich Johnston, DC got alarmed and found out the culprit’s shocking identity!

It appears that MazingMan728 was a prominent figure working at Diamond Comics, the sole direct market distribution agent for DC Comics. DC Comics were moved to track MazingMan728′s IP number and use further clues to identify him. It appears that DC were happy for MazingMan728 to post what he did regarding some books, and there is evidence that such posts increased interest and sales in the series. But when it came to major series, high profile built up event spoilers, it was a different story.


MazingMan728 pulled up stakes and disappeared from message boards. But he was only part of a system that the current comics market has created. The love of multi-part epics and crossovers has led to a reliance on Shocking Surprises! to sell comics. (Simple fun has been banished but that’s another story.) Not all stories are so vulnerable. It’s hard to imagine a spoiler warning for FUN HOME or AMERICAN BORN CHINESE, and NARUTO has already been published in Japan but people still seem to lap it up. (However catching up with Japan may be one of the reasons for Viz pumping out a ton of Naruto books this fall, so perhaps they are concerned about the spoilage.)
Hpatgh
There are some things that aren’t worth spoiling, and some things that just shouldn’t be spoiled. Like Harry Potter. We have only a few weeks to go, and the minutes are counting down with a headlong finality. For this Harry Potter fan, at least, it’s a desperate bid NOT TO SEE ANYTHING SPOILERISH!!!! But we’re not alone, Time magazine reports.

The real product is something that Scholastic executives call, in hushed, reverential tones, “the magic moment.” This is the moment of ineffable, intangible ecstasy that occurs when a reader opens his or her brand-new $34.99 copy of Deathly Hallows for the first time. “All the way through the process, everybody who touches this [manuscript] has the same goal in mind,” says Arthur A. Levine, Rowling’s editor. “Midnight. Kids.” The magic moment is a rare and delicate thing: it occurs only when the reader comes to the book in a state of pure ignorance, with no advance knowledge of its contents. For the magic moment to happen, the theory goes, the reader’s mind must be preserved in a state of absolute innocence—it must be, in Internet parlance, spoiler-free. So to preserve the magic moment against informational contamination—via the Web or watercooler conversation or the Rita Skeeters of the global media—Scholastic has created an infrastructure around Deathly Hallows unlike anything the publishing world has ever seen.


Pleasant speculation is one thing — that’s part of the reason for enjoying this hot stove league of muggledom — but why let it ruin things? The NY Times reports that eternal vigilance is the price of innocence.

Hosts of MuggleNet.com, another of the biggest Potter fan sites, learned about the death of Sirius Black, Harry’s godfather, a few weeks before “Order of the Phoenix” was published, when someone sent in some scanned pages pilfered from a manuscript. And before “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” the sixth book in the series, was published two years ago, someone reportedly working on a Malaysian military base e-mailed a summary, the first page of every chapter and the whole final chapter to The Leaky Cauldron, revealing that Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, the boarding school where Harry and his friends train in wizardry, dies at the end of the book. “There are usually a few people who get their hands on a book and get some rush in spoiling the details for us,” said Emerson Spartz, MuggleNet’s founder and Web master. “They get some sick satisfaction that they’re sticking it to the man.”


We feel that they are only sticking it to themselves, frankly. But even we couldn’t refrain from reading what Keith Olbermann has to say about DEATHLY HALLOWS and his logic seems sound.

Theoretically, Voldemort and Potter could kill one another, like those two boxers from the Golden Gloves 20 years ago, who connected simultaneously and knocked each other out. But this would be too cheesy to fool even the most devoted Potterians. And they would not like Harry’s death much either.

Consider it from the marketing standpoint. Book number seven, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows ,” reaches sweaty palms on July 21st. But the movie reaching theaters July 13th, “The Order of the Phoenix” is only the fifth film. What is the box office going be like for that one if eight days later Potter is killed off?


We don’t know. And that’s just how we like it. Or as Scholastic’s Arthur Levine puts it: “All of us are doing it for that intense moment when we see the realization of our whole lives right in front of us!”

Comments

  1. >It’s hard to imagine a spoiler warning for… AMERICAN BORN CHINESE.

    Um… what?? Are you saying that American Born Chinese can’t be spoiled? Have you READ American Born Chinese? It completely has a twist ending (ala the Sixth Sense) that could very easily be spoiled.

  2. One of the best movie going experiences I ever had was with THE MATRIX. At the time, I didn’t own a television (too busy, what was the point?) and honestly knew NOTHING about it other than it had Keanu Reeves doing Kung-Fu.

    Boy, was I surprised…

  3. That’s very interesting, I wonder if people got mad if say, Dickens got spoiled? Or Lil Orphan Annie? I think it’s funny that what Scholastic calls their “magic moment” with kids wandering in at midnight, wide-eyed, fails to mention that within seconds they’ll turn to Mum or Dad for their gold card for the ‘magical’ $34.99 pricetag. Sure, it’s discounted, but I think that’s the magic moment for Scholastic.

    My first spoiler (awwww) is so cliched it has action figures: 10, waiting in line with my younger brother and Dad for Empire Strikes Back. I can see the guy RIGHT NOW walking out talking to his buddy. He hesitates a second and then says “I can’t believe Vader is Luke’s father.” I can see that guy’s face RIGHT NOW in his gimpy Member’s Only jacket. If I ever see him again I swear I am going to STRIKE HIM DOWN IN ANGER. I hate spoilers. Hate ‘em.

    The WORST offender comicswise is Newsarama. They even call one column “Spoiler Alert” and it always is accompanied by a spoilerish image that by the time you read the warning title you have already seen it. The problem, for those of us who don’t read their comics at 12:01 on Wednesday, is that there is no lag time between the actual publication and the spoiler itself — the earlier the better, it seems. They seem to revel in it.

    I think spoilers are some weird way of professing dominance — “oh yeah, I know that already, you moron.” It’s really strange, must have something to do with low self-esteem? I have spoiled before if people beg me and it feels good for some reason. Like I’m in on it, though I’m really not. Is that it?

    I’m going into suspended animation for Indy 4 though, I’ll tell you that. he has a whip!

    BR

  4. If knowing the end of a story makes it not worth watching (6th Sense) then maybe the story really wasn’t that good to start with. There are books and movies that I’ll go back to over and over agian, even though I know them by heart. If people don’t want to know, then don’t go to the sites where people are going to talk about it. I don’t see what’s so wrong about wanting to discuss this stuff, on line. How long must we wait before we can unzip our excited little yaps? The world does not revolve around those who haven’t found the time to read or watch something yet. I don’t know. Maybe you’re right about spoilers being a kind of dominance, but it’d be a petty one at that. It’s only art. There are no spoilers in real life, and no one can take that away from us.

    Ooo, that comes off as a little bitchy. Didn’t mean it to be, but there it is.

  5. I was coming out of the theater after seeing “Presumed Innocent” and someone on line asked if who did it. I leaned up to him and whispered the answer.

    The idiot.

  6. Thanks for ruining Return of the Jedi for me, Heidi. Thanks a lot.

    But seriously, I remember back in the day National Lampoon used to have a regular column called “Spoilers” where they would ruin a movie’s plot in a humorous way. I remember the Spoiler for The Deer Hunter was “Mike returns to Saigon too late to keep Nick from shooting himself.” I just about plotzed.

  7. Jonathan says:

    This goes back to movie marketing, I believe. From approximately the mid 80′s to the mid 90′s the trend in movie marketing was to actually show footage in the trailer that did not appear in the final cut of the film (the worst example being for DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS where Steve Martin pushes an old lady off the dock in the trailer). Somebody somewhere halfway through the final deck of the last millennium decided that the better plan was to tell the entire story, every major plot point, from beginning to end, in the trailer itself. In fact, I wish I could dig up the article form The Wall Street Journal where they interviewed some Manhattan advertising jackhole that was pleased with himself, and glad that they were marketing movies that way.

    To me, that’s when this tidal wave of spoilers become fashionable. Occasionally I’ll pick up some rag like Entertainment Weekly when I’m in the airport newsstand and it appears they routinely ruin twist endings and the like.

    To segue viciously for a moment, I really just don’t get the fascination with Harry Potter. I love fantasy stories and there’s been several the past few years that have sucked me in, not the least of which being LORD OF THE RINGS, but I just don’t get the attraction to grown-ups of a pubescent wizard. I see kids liking him, sure. But actual adults?

    Secondly, does anyone else think it’s actually incredibly inappropriate to have a midnight reading for kids the day the book comes out? It’s an arbitrary time of day so why not pick noon time and not attempt to teach kids that lining up in order to shell over 35 of your hard earned dollars is an appropriate habit, and that mass marketed entertainment warrants staying up to ungodly hours just so you can one day sit around in the home with the other old folks and recite tales of “I remember where I was when Harry Potter came out” ala some weird parallel to JFK being shot? It’s incredibly unoriginal and marketed squarely at children (that they know will force their parents to succumb). I’m glad that Harry Potter has sparked a passion for reading in so many kids (though I highly doubt that most of the kids read anything else or will continue to read anything other than these books), however it’s hard to see any of it as just a scheme to get rich off of kids.

  8. Jonathan says:

    And as soon as I write all of that……I see an article on yuppie types lining up to buy an iPhone later today.

  9. Oh, come on, Jonathan. There’s no thrill in waiting up ’til NOON to buy a book. You might as well say why not have New Year’s countdowns at three-o’clock in the afternoon so we can all get to sleep at a decent hour. Half the joy is being up past your bedtime, with the only other people around at this ungodly hour being other freaks and fans who adore this thing as much as you do.

    I’ve done the Harry Potter Night thing, oh, heck, three times, now, and I love it. I love seeing the kids all excited and dressed up in their cloaks and chattering about their favourite books and wondering what’ll happen next. I love seeing the older lady who dresses up her little dog in a wizard hat. I love that kids are spending the evening in a BOOKSTORE for a fun and exciting night out, of their own free will.

    I love the whole thing, personally, and I’m going to miss it when it’s gone, because I don’t know if we’re ever going to have this kind of excitement and anticipation again over the release of a book. There will always be loony nerds waiting up to all hours at the movie theatre for the release of Big Geek Movie, but it’s a rare event for people to get that excited over a novel.

  10. My own mother was notorious for ruining the plot to Psycho 2 for me. She snuck off and saw it herself while I was in school- and then told me the whole freakin’ thing from beginning to end at the dinner table.

    I never forgave that woman.

    This type of chicanery has been running in my family for generations.

    ~

    Coat

  11. Hey – you wanna know what really happens at the end of Harry Potter?

    His magic wand gets a vasectomy.

    And they all lived happily ever after.

    ~

    Coat

  12. charles foster kane says:

    It’s a sled.

  13. CBrown says:

    I don’t think Heidi is asking for an indefinate moritorium on discussing plot twists online. I mean, I was p.o.’d when I found out on a blog which Firefly character was killed in “Serenity,” but I couldn’t get that mad because the movie had come out, like, two years earlier. What she’s talking about is work that hasn’t even come out yet. I think it’s pretty crummy, and I don’t get why some people seem to derive such pleasure from leaking information.

    Like, Kneon, I went into The Matrix absolutely cold, and really loved it for that reason. I can still enjoy that movie now, even knowing the ending (and the story of the sequels), but I think part of that enjoyment is my remembering the initial surprise when I first saw it.

    I do read spoilers for things that I don’t actually read or watch. Like, I could care less about Thor, but maybe I want to have a sense of what’s going on with Thor, so I’d read a spoiler about that. But for the books, comics, movies, and tv shows I do watch, I really don’t want spoilers. It makes me wonder what people who follow a series but have to read the spoilers before the material is even released get out of getting the actual thing.

  14. Torsten Adair says:

    I was first Spoiled by Charles Schulz. In a Sunday strip, Linus is watching Citizen Kane. Lucy ruins the ending. Never forgave him because he could have done the same joke with a generic murder mystery.
    When I left the first showing of Phantom Menace and walked past the people waiting in line to see it, I blurted out, “I can’t believe Obi Wan and Qui Jon are gay lovers!”
    As for HPatDH, my store at Lincoln Center pioneered the Midnight Magic madness with book four. The crowds are fun and well behaved, Scholastic sends out swag for us booksellers, and it doesn’t stop until Sunday night. If you do not wish to stay up early, Miss Gran Pre, the American illustrator, will be signing copies at our store on Saturday.
    Now, if I could just get people to read the Oz books… SPOILER in the movie, she wakes up at the end. it was all a dream. dorothy is crazy. no journey south, no porcelain city, no chance for her to leave gray dreary dustbowl Kansas and live happily ever after in Oz. grr.

  15. Scott Worley says:

    Wait a minute. Leia is Luke’s sister?

    Actually, I remeber reading the Marvel Super Special for Empire Strikes Back a few weeks before the movie opened and so that whole other reveal regarding Luke’s family was ruined for me. I was a bit disgruntled over that.

  16. Jonathan says:

    I can’t even fathom watching PSYCHO *without* knowing the twist ending. That movie had been spoiled and become a part of pop culture well before I came around so as far back as I can remember I knew the ending. I still watched it and I can respect it, but I can’t ever remember that moment when I was shocked to find out the terrible secret of the Bates Motel! Similar point with THE CRYING GAME. It was out and ruined well before I ever could have seen it (I was very young when it was released and my parents were letting me nowhere near an R-rated flick).

    There’s a whole group of films that I’ll never watch because what’s the point when the whole movie hinges on a twist ending that’s already been ruined. And another group that I’ll watch anyway because they’re well made even though they’ve been spoiled for me. Sigh.

  17. There is a great Honeymooners clip on youtube sort of on this subject

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBEOauyrpWs

    I remember waiting on line 7 hours to see Empire, and as we were walking in this woman was walking out “you’ll never guess who Luke’s father is! Darth Vader!!!”

    Wanted to kill her.

  18. I remember having JEDI spoiled when I flipped through the Marvel movie adaptation that came out like a month before the movie. I just wanted to skim the art, but of course landed on the page where Luke tells Leia they’re related. Grrr…

  19. Worst spoiler story ever?: I took a friend who’d managed to make it to college without seeing PSYCHO to a revival at an old downtown theater. We sat in front of a chatty pair of old ladies prone to making comments like, “Cars sure were big back then!” and “Gas sure was cheap back then!” Annoying but benign. Then about halfway through the movie one turns to the other and says **SPOILER WARNING** “Aren’t he and his mother the same person?”

    BadMike: I spoiled JEDI for myself (at the age of 10) by reading the novelization before seeing the movie. Why? I have no idea. But isn’t it strange that novelizations and comics adaptations used to come out so far in advance of the film? (Maybe novelizations still do. I wouldn’t know.) Things sure were different back then! And the cars were bigger, too.

  20. Sphinx Magoo says:

    I can understand Heidi complaining about Spoilers: with her duties on The Beat (and in her day job) she must have all sorts of people coming to her with “secret knowledge”. Probably more than I would just sitting here at home and web-surfing when the kids allow me to.

    But I find that people only spoil certain things but not others. For example, with Empire Strikes Back, people may have spoiled about Luke’s parentage, but not about the dramatic way it was done. Or with the bit with Dumbledore in Harry Potter 6 with the dramatic parts that Malfoy and Snape played in it. Metaphorically, spoilers only go for the exclamation points but not for the sentences and paragraphs leading up to it.

  21. CBrown says:

    “I was first Spoiled by Charles Schulz. In a Sunday strip, Linus is watching Citizen Kane. Lucy ruins the ending.”

    I totally remember that cartoon! Though I’d already seen the film, so it didn’t ruin my world.

    I, too, was a wee lad eagerly awaiting The Empire Strikes Back when Marvel released their adaptation days early. In my case, it was MY OWN MOTHER who, at the dinner table, said, “I read in the NY Post today that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father.” I went into the movie trying to pretend that maybe it wasn’t true, that the newspaper had just gotten a rumor wrong.

  22. Alan Coil says:

    I never saw Crying Game because the surprise was revealed before I could get to the theater. Same with 6th Nonsense. It just takes all the magic away.

    I think a month or two of silence is fine for a movie, maybe 2 weeks for a comic.

  23. If people don’t want to know, then don’t go to the sites where people are going to talk about it.

    Sometimes it’s hard to avoid, though. In the case of Presumed Innocent, I remember a radio host revealed the twist on-air shortly after the movie came out. He got plenty of complaints, and apologized on air the next day… by saying, “I’m sorry I revealed that it was so-and-so,” thus managing to spoil it again for anyone who had missed the first round.

    I’m currently trying to decide just how much to post on my Flash fan site. It’s mainly a reference site, and I’m caught between the “Why don’t you have anything on Flash #13/JLA #10″ camp and the theoritical camp that only hits the comic store once a month and avoids forums.

  24. Spot 1980, I think it’s pretty obvious Heidi hasn’t read American Born Chinese (and proabably Fun Home too) and proabably just guessed with all the literary awards it’s got and its subject matter that it’s just some navel-gazing slice-of-life book. Which any of us who have actually read it know it to be anything but. That book might wear the crown for the biggest twist ending in comics history. So those you that have read it and know Heidi, please don’t tell her so she can fully enjoy it, unlike her viewing of the Sixth Sense!!

  25. I saw the Sixth Sense without knowing the twist ending. I later saw it again, and this time I noticed all the clues that was laid out, and I therefore enjoyed the movie in a totally different way. Maybe you don’t look for the clues if you know the ending when you see the movie for the first time. I still think it’s a good movie.

    The earliest examples of the word spoiler being used among nerds was in this Usenet thread from 1980 -> http://tinyurl.com/234e6d

  26. Jim Caldwell says:

    In the case of Presumed Innocent, I remember a radio host revealed the twist on-air shortly after the movie came out.

    I have a hard time working up much outrage for this one. After all, the book had been out for good while before the movie was made. I’m treading into a whole different argument, though, right?

    On the other hand, I do get annoyed when a magazine like Entertainment Weekly casually spoils movies (and teevee shows, though I can’t whine about that category as much), presuming everyone reading the magazine went out and saw it on opening weekend – much like the comment above about 12:01 Wednesday for comics.

    Personally, I really, really don’t want Deathly Hallows spoiled right away, since I’m going on the road on the 20th, and I’ll have to scrounge a copy somewhere that weekend. I figure the longer I wait, the greater my chances are of getting spoiled.

    In regards to the Midnight release, I agree with Dani. I did it once, with my sister and niece, for Phoenix. Once was enough for me. But the appeal is something I can’t disagree with. I just don’t need it myself.

    As for “famous” spoilers, I read that Peanuts strip as a kid. It did spoil the movie for me, but it also made the strip that much funnier. In regards to “Psycho,” I had it spoiled a couple of years before I saw it by Donnie “Ralph Malph” Most on Happy Days. He spoils several movies the Cunninghams are thinking about seeing.

  27. I deal with most spoilers by deciding that they’re lies. At one point a major humor website “named” the character who died in one of the HP books, everywhere on its front page and new articles, but of course, it was the wrong character. Unreliable spoilers often creep out.

  28. charles foster kane says:

    The talk of Presumed Innocent remains me of the Kids in the Hall sketch with Hecubus. “EVIL~!”

  29. Brian Spence says:

    Heidi, I COMPLETELY agree about the spoilers ruining the Sixth Sense. If you know what’s going to happen, that movie really sucks. I know my old boss at the Comic Cubicle was pissed because I showed him the soundtrack to The Phantom Menace, which has a song title “Qui Gon’s Funeral”. He was trying to hard to avoid spoilers, too. Wouldn’t even watch the trailer. I hadn’t even noticed the song title until he mentioned it!!

  30. sjelly says:

    Someone up above was kvetching about adults’ delight in Harry Potter and what he (she?) perceives as kids being manipulated. I’m a librarian and I can’t begin to tell you what a joy HP is to me. There a number of reasons for this but chief among them is this: children excited to the point of frenzy by READING BOOKS!!!!!!! Excuse the screaming, but given all the opportunities available for kids NOT to read, it moves me almost to tears everyday to talk to a child who has read all the thousands of pages of Potter several times over and would like other fantasy books, books about English public schools, books on alchemy, any damn book at all so long as it’s at least as interesting as HP. I’ve had the inexpressible pleasure of introducing kids to LeGuin’s Earthsea books, to Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising books, to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, to Eragon, Wind Singer, Lightning Thief and countless others all thanks to HP hysteria. Long may it reign.

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