How Should Critics Handle TV Spoilers?

A few days ago, Brian Moylan over at Gawker wrote up a manifesto for spoiler alerts. I’d tell you to go read it, except Moylan straight up spoils plot elements from Treme, Game of Thrones, and Lost with no warning whatsoever. To quote my colleague Matt Singer, if you spoil things in your article about the rules of spoilers, maybe you’re not really an authority on spoilers.

Before we begin, I must say I read Gawker all the time and respect many of its writers, including Moylan. But that doesn’t change the fact that this manifesto was pretty off-the-mark.

I’ve addressed this issue before, and my opinion hasn’t changed. In a world where people are time-shifting all the time and often saving up seasons worth of TV episodes, online writers have a special responsibility to prevent viewers from getting unwanted information about shows they don’t want to read about quite yet.

That being said, I do agree with a few things that Moylan has to say about the topic. For instance, Moylan writes:

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.

And:

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.

Completely agreed on these points. If you’re reading a recap/review of a TV episode, I think it’s fairly well-understood that you should expect a detailed description of the plot points contained within that episode and that knowledge of all previous episodes should be assumed.

But Moylan also opines:

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… 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.

Really? So just because I have to wait until Thanksgiving vacation before I catch up on six episodes of Justified, I should expect TV writers to have free reign on revealing all the previous plot details in tweets and headlines before then? This attitude is the absolute height of douchebaggery and betrays a complete lack of respect or understanding for how many people consume television these days.

People who regularly listen to the /Filmcast know that we treat spoilers with the utmost of care. We understand what it’s like when your viewing experience has been tainted by knowledge of the outcome, and we strive to prevent that for ourselves and for others. So how about this for a “spoiler manifesto”: Assume readers/listeners might want to know about your experience with a specific film/TV show without knowing any of its specific plot details (with an exception for above re: TV recaps). Proceed accordingly.

I think that’s pretty fair, and I didn’t even need to spoil anything to write it all out.

[Above image via Threadless.]

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