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on spoilers

Since Sherlock’s third series is about to be released in the UK next week but won’t be available to American viewers until mid-January, Pinterest is trying to figure out how to handle the spoilers question. Specifically, people are taking it upon themselves to post things like this:

For my non-fannish friends, a spoiler is a detail about a movie, book, TV show, etc. that people wouldn’t want to encounter before they’ve had the chance to see it themselves. It’s important when people discuss these things because no one wants to be the person who told a kid that Santa doesn’t really exist before they discover it themselves. So it’s customary, when you’re discussing something that’s just been released (or e.g. the later parts of a book that’s still having its movie version released serially like with The Hobbit or The Hunger Games) and when you want to discuss specifics, you put in a spoiler warning. Usually you type something like


or just put the spoiler-containing text behind what’s called a cut, where someone must click a link to read the rest of the entry. The point is to give people who don’t want to read such things a chance to close their eyes and scroll past what you’re about to say.

I don’t have any problem with this. It’s basic courtesy, I think. I actively sought them out for Sherlock’s series three myself since it gave me something to speculate about and helped me anticipate the show a little bit more. But I can completely understand why someone who’d waited TWO WHOLE YEARS and had a Brit give away the episode endings before it was even available in your country. I’d be rightly frustrated. I’d be a little less rightly frustrated (but still understandably so) if I was American and so was used to being the first to get this kind of thing. Add to that the fact that Pinterest, the site these images are appearing on, really doesn’t give you a way to insert spoiler warnings. It’s just a set of images with text at the bottom. No way to warn someone about spoilers that I can see, until they’ve already seen it.

So I have a lot of sympathy for American Sherlock fans worried about spoilers on Pinterest. I understand why they’d urge their UK counterparts (and those clever American fans who exploit viewing options of a dubious legal nature) to do what they can to hide spoilers. I can’t promise I won’t be one of those clever Americans, so I plan on taking some steps to mark my spoilers as well as I can. Posting a notice that the board may contain spoilers come January 1, changing the board name to reflect that, etc. Like I said, I’m on board with letting people choose whether they want to see spoilers or not. This meme, though, does something rather different. It tells people not to post spoilers at all – that doing that makes them a jerk.

And that’s just not cool.

It’s telling people how they’re allowed to use a public site, which strikes me as chutzpah in the extreme. It’s calling them a jerk, and name-calling of any sort just doesn’t sit well with me. And it’s doing a somewhat milder version of what those “jerks” who post about episodes before other people have had a chance to see them are doing. If anything, it’s crueller or at least cruel in a different way: if you think waiting three more weeks is tough, imagine having seen the episodes and not being allowed to react to them publicly.

I suppose on the scale of global atrocities, this is small potatoes. Still, it really does bother me because it’s some people telling others how they can use a public board. That seems really very manipulative, getting close to bullying to me. But then I sometimes think we bend over a bit backwards to accommodate spoiler-warnings. It makes sense to do that a bit because it really can be a huge letdown to look forward to something and in most contexts (not Pinterest, but other sites) it’s not so hard to slap up a warning.

Still, if you’re really that concerned about being spoiled there is a way to avoid that: unplug from the site for the three-week window when some people will have been exposed to the new series and will be (we can only hope justifiably) so over-the-moon excited that it’s physically painful not to share the wonderfulness. It’s realistic to ask for as much accommodation as the technology allows; it’s not to call people jerks for not using it in a way that works well with your situation.

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.



( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 30th, 2013 06:00 am (UTC)
Or, you know, people in the fandom could be considerate to all and do what some corners of the Game of Thrones fandom have done, and have 'spoilered' and 'unspoilered' boards/locations. In that situation the only jerks are those who deliberately post spoilers in designated unspoilered space.
Dec. 30th, 2013 06:18 am (UTC)
That's a really great idea, Nath. I'd thought of taking a current board and labelling it as one that might contain spoilers, but what you're suggesting sounds even more considerate to people who need to avoid them.

I'm still peeved that some people would tell others how to use the space, because it strikes me as very presumptuous. But practically speaking, I think that suggestion is a good way to go.
Dec. 30th, 2013 01:25 pm (UTC)
I often think that sometimes (and only sometimes) fandoms place too much emphasis on the person in the know and telling them what to post or not post. Sometimes it's up to the spoiler-allergic person to take responsibility for avoiding them.

I'm one of those folks who not only doesn't mind spoilers, but in some circumstances will go looking for them. And yet there are times when I'd rather not know. In that case, I take steps to minimize my exposure to likely spoilery material. The onus is on ME to avoid looking where spoilers are likely to lurk.

BUT unless it's someone who very clearly has deliberately set out to spoil people (rather than someone posting in an excess of enthusiasm) I'm not going to get all mad at her/him.

Because, let's face it, that is the nature of modern communications and technology--spoilers are everywhere. If I get spoiled when I'd rather not be, then I may be annoyed or disappointed, but the anger some people show over it is all out of proportion to its importance.

Also, there is the fact of what some people consider "spoiler" material. To me that would consist of revealing a key plot point, or the resolution of a mystery. To others it even extends to pictures of an episode or the revelation of who is playing what role. I've heard some people who don't even want to see trailers for movies or shows.

Those who are that sensitive to spoilers are going to have to spend their life with their eyes shut, fingers in their ears, singing "la-la-la".

Dec. 30th, 2013 06:09 pm (UTC)
With Sherlock, those little details can be quite spoilery indeed because we're dealing with a show that's based on a series of books that many of the fans know quite well. For instance, (and SPOILERS...) if I told someone that Amanda Abbington had been cast to play Mary Morstan, if you know your Doyle canon it's no great leap to think that Watson's about to get a love interest which could be quite spoilerish. On the other hand, being told that Martin Freeman had been cast to play Bilbo reveals nothing more than the face that will be playing the character, because the people who know who Bilbo is have probably already read the book. We're dealing with an adaptation, but it's not a straight adaptation, so there's still a question of when certain elements of the Doyle books will come into play.

That said, I really, really agree with you about the responsibility of people to avoid spoilers if they want it. It's like warnings for stories. I have a past history with suicide and so am very sensitive to stories depicting it. More often it's not suicide per se but the way it's so often done spectacularly badly. And I appreciate warnings so I can give a story extra scrutiny before deciding to read it (some authors I trust to handle it well; others I'll probably take a pass on.) But if an author doesn't warn for suicide and I come across it, I may be upset but I'd hardly blame the author. Just as I wouldn't blame Rowlings for playing with that theme in Deathly Hallows (more martyrdom than suicide, and she did it very well, but I had to set the book down and continue it the next day). Because that's the risk we run when we engage a fictional world, just like when we engage reality. It's the same with spoilers. It's the cost of taking part in the lead-up to a film.

Another point: so much of the discussion of cultural phenomena occurs before the phenomena itself. We anticipate The Hobbit for months, react a bit, write fanfic making sense of the parts that annoy us maybe, and then move on to anticipating movie #3. Sherlock is a bit different because there's such a dearth of new material, everything gets over-analyzed. But I think that if we're anticipating more than reacting, engaging in spoilers makes a lot more sense and will always be a lot more common. Doesn't mean we shouldn't warn for them when we can, but I do think there's a good reason why some people might choose to do them.
Dec. 30th, 2013 08:23 pm (UTC)
The Doyle canon has been around well over a century, but the Sherlock series, while riffing off that is not going to be identical. Still, if someone's familiar with Doyle, they will make the leap you indicated; still, it may not necessarily be a spoiler, because the producers just might be planning to pull off something completely different and are trying to fake viewers out. Either way, I wouldn't call it so much a spoiler as an educated guess.

With The Hobbit, there's a story that's been around over three-quearters of a century. After TH:AUJ, a lot of fans began to write book-movie-verse blends in fanfic. Some of that fanfic included the aftermath of the Bo5A. On one forum there was an outcry of "SPOILERS!" most especially by those who were fixated on three particular Dwarves, and were outraged to learn their ultimate fates. Knowing PJ, it's very unlikely that's going to be changed.

An argument raged around whether people needed to be warned for spoilers if a fic anticipated events that had happened in the book, but were not yet depicted in film.

The general consensus seemed to be that people could, out of courtesy, warn of such spoilers, but that if a story is proclaimed to be mostly (or even partially) book-verse no further warning should be needed. When I post at Tolkien only archives, I rarely make a mention. But in re-posting much of my fic at multifandom sites, I have begun proclaiming my stuff as "Book-verse!" as a warning.

As for me, I've never written purely movie-verse for TH, though I've blended some elements into some book-verse fics. (One was an AU for both book and movie, so there weren't really any such warnings needed as the events didn't follow either canon.)

With Sherlock Holmes, whether the modern version or the Doyle version,as a reader I'd consider spoiler warnings superfluous. Over a century of existence--most everyone should be more or less familiar with the original source anyway!
Dec. 30th, 2013 09:48 pm (UTC)
Like you say, Sherlock is in a slightly different position than you get with The Hobbit, because we're facing a retelling and reimagining of the book canon rather than a retelling of it like people expect from The Hobbit movie, I think. So I can see the concern that revealing small details could lead to probable speculation about larger details that's probably true and which some people may not want to have worked out beforehand. I'm not so concerned. If the past series and the minisode are any indication, I will be so overwhelmed by all the new things to even miss the bits I learned beforehand, even if I miss that kind of thing. I watched the minisode for the sixth time this morning and still noticed new things.

On The Hobbit, I think it is reasonable to imagine not everyone would have read the books. I came into LOTR without having read the books and didn't actually read them until between TTT + ROTK - at which point I decided to make up for lost time. But I wouldn't have appreciated it if someone had casually told me Gandalf came back halfway through TTT, and the claim that the book was a half-century old wouldn't have made me feel any better about that. So I can get why a fan of certain young dwarves wouldn't appreciate learning their eventual fate beforehand. But if a book is labelled as bookverse, surely that should be more than enough warning. And even then, I'd never dream of telling people they can't discuss or write about said eventual fates because they might spoil it for other people. We're talking courtesy, not obligation.
Dec. 30th, 2013 09:32 pm (UTC)
What really perplexes me about this is how thoroughly TPTB seem to fail to understand the international nature of fandom.

Does anyone actually think, that, after waiting for two years for the resolution of a cliffhanger and an emotional reunion on such a popular show, that American fans will actually passively sit and wait for two and a half weeks, just to see a version on PBS that's edited for length, ffs? Casual viewers might wait, but I don't think anyone who actually cares will, especially since those channels of dubious legality are so widespread and so easy to use.

(This particular American fan will be at a party specifically tailored to this purpose on Wednesday afternoon, thank you very much!)

And it's not just impatience for the show. It's unwillingness to totally disengage with the fandom for three weeks to avoid spoilers. Am I really supposed to unfriend all my Sherlock fandom friends in the UK for that whole time? Drop every Sherlock-related Tumblr blog? Block everyone on Facebook who also loves the show? And miss out on all those exciting early initial conversations and squee and feels and rage and fics and art? I THINK FUCKING NOT.

Sooner or later, it has to be acknowledged that different international release dates for something like this are just untenable. The makers of Doctor Who realized this when they made the 50th anniversary special available in theaters as well as on BBC America. PBS in particular are really shooting themselves in the foot here. If they want to draw in a younger audience - which they do, and Sherlock would be great for - the way to do it is not to alienate every viewer who knows how to use the Internet.
Dec. 30th, 2013 09:40 pm (UTC)
I'm hosting a party. E-invites have been sent. A friend is bringing over her TV with the HDMI setup so we can watch it on more than just my laptop. You're right, it's not just impatience, it's a drive to experience this thing as a group. And given the way Sherlock fandom has become almost a self-supporting entity over the hiatuses, it's very reasonable that we experience it together. A one-day delay, like with the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special, might be appropriate; two weeks is not. You're absolutely right on that.
Dec. 30th, 2013 09:49 pm (UTC)
Btw, VW, I saw your AU Sherlock story and have downloaded it to read on the plane. Looks like a nice read. Thanks for writing!
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )



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