America loves having its movies and television shows recapped, reviewed, and regurgitated back to them, but the one thing that it hates more and more is having the events of those things spoiled by reviewers. It's time for a guide on what constitutes a spoiler and what does not.
We live in a world where every moment of every television show is dissected on the internet. We also live in a world of DVRs, digital downloads, Hulu, YouTube, and Netflix, so not everyone is watching TV at the same time. And, sadly, we live in a world of shrill, self-righteous jerks who will fire off a salvo of emails and tweets full of "Thanks for the spoiler alert" bitchiness if you so much as mention that Kim Kardashian got her millionth manicure on an episode of Killing Yourself with the Kardashians from a week ago.
The final straw for me was reading this review of the second season of HBO's Treme by Emily Nussbaum. She gives a spoiler alert to the suicide of John Goodman's character at the end of season one. Yes, she spoiler-alerted something that happened more than a year ago, in a piece about the show's almost-finished second season. If you're three-quarters of the way into a review of a show's second season and you don't expect details from season one to be discussed, you're an idiot. It's like being pissed at the people in your book club for talking about the ending just because you didn't read the assigned book. So here are some rules for when to expect and when not to expect a spoiler alert.
- Just like the TV networks get credit for everyone who watches a show on DVR a week after its initial airing, that is how long you should keep the details of a scripted television show a secret. One week. After that you can tell the world that Ross and Rachel finally got together, that everyone on Lost went to heaven, and that Ned Stark dies at the end of Game of Thrones. One week. That's all you get. If you can't stay on top of the conversation, then you shouldn't be having it in the first place.
- Competitive reality programs don't get an entire week of silence, they get one day. That's it, especially because the eliminated contestant almost always goes on a media blitz after they're kicked off and you can't expect everyone to go on radio silence for too long. And if you haven't watched the show two days after it was on, you don't really care about who got sent home all that much anyway, so don't yell at me because I make a joke about Pia Toscana being sent home. You should know by now.
- Neither of these apply to anything that appears in a recap. If you are reading a recap of a show and don't want to know what happens, then you are an asshole of the highest order and you should have your internet privileges taken away.
- When discussing a television show in advance (like when someone reviews the new season of a returning show), any discussion of what happened on the show in previous seasons is fair game. You can't talk about season 89 of House unless you remark that in season 88, Harold (or Kumar, whichever) killed himself so he could go work at the White House.
- When discussing a new television show before it's aired, basic information about the characters, setting, and plot details are permissible. Having said that, everyone knows that critics get several episodes of a series in advance and they should refrain from saying stuff like, "by episode three, you'll be hooked." That's not a spoiler, it's just annoying. It is just rubbing readers' faces in your privileges as a critic. No one likes that.
- Background information about a well-known or established characters is never a spoiler. Everyone knows Batman is a rich kid whose parents get killed, and telling us they get killed is not a spoiler. Neither is saying something like, "In this reboot of the Batman franchise, his parents don't die." That is naturally of interest, because it totally subverts what we already know about the character.
- Movies get a longer duration of silence. Other than basic outlines of what happens in the movie, details of the ending shouldn't be openly discussed until the movie is out on DVD. I think that's a long enough window. This is especially true if there is a shocking ending. Reviews of the movie should also avoid mentioning that there's a surprise ending because knowing a shock is coming is like going up the hill on a roller coaster: You may not know how steep the hill is, but you're waiting for it the whole time. After a movie comes out on DVD, just say that the kid sees dead people, that Jaye Davidson is really man, or that Leonardo DiCaprio's top may or may not stop spinning.
- Movies that are overly formulaic are exempt from this clause. It's not a spoiler to say that Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks fall in love in Larry Crowne: Old People in Love 3D. That hasn't even opened yet and I know they end up together, because it's a stupid romantic comedy. If you haven't figured that out, you need to sit at home and watch every Katherine Heigl movie in succession. But that might kill you.
- Nothing in a movie or TV show that is based on the life of a famous person, events that already happened, or history can be a spoiler. If there is a TV show like, say, Mad Men, that is set in 1963 and a reviewer remarks that President Kennedy is assassinated, that is not a spoiler. That is American History and you should have already learned it in the 10th grade. Don't blame us that your schooling totally sucked.
- Anything shown in any trailer is never a spoiler. Ever.
- People need to deal with the fact that a review cannot exist if it doesn't get into some plot details. No writer should ever have to start off with "light spoilers ahead." That's like warning people who buy a pair of pants that there is going to be button to keep them closed. Reviews by their very nature have "light spoilers" and if you don't want to know them, then stop reading reviews before you watch the goddamn show or see the goddamn movie! The same goes with casting news or other news about things that happened on the set. If you are reading that, you are, possibly subconsciously, looking for spoilers. It's like walking through a cow pasture and being pissed when you step in a turd.
That's all I can think of for now, but I reserve the right to amend this manifesto at any given time. Oh, and if you don't want any spoilers whatsoever, maybe you should stop reading for good.