Friday, May 20, 2011


By Russel D McLean

Steven Moffat – the exec producer of Doctor Who – has recently hit out at the “fans” who post spoilers to the internet. In a rather great rant, he talks about those who work to obtain twists and turns of upcoming stories and post them out on the internet.

“So to have some twit who came to a press launch, write up a story in the worst, most ham-fisted English you can imagine, and put it on the internet [is heartbreaking].”

Absolutely. Moffat’s spot on here. I am not a spoiler-phobe, and won’t cry if someone accidentally tells me something but I do prefer to be surprised and shocked and carried along by a story. Especially a new story. Part of the fun I’ve had with Moffat’s own show has been in private discussions with other fans speculating over big game plans we can see developing in the show and how we think things are going to turn out. I haven’t had this much fun since I used to watch Babylon 5, a show which again depended on shock and surprise to pull the viewer along its narrative arc. Part of the joy of the show was the speculation and uncertainty, of trying to second guess the plot and the characters, and of often being completely wrong.

I understand that a culture has developed where people’s impatience and need for instant gratification has resulted in the need to seek out “spoilers”, but in the end I think this is what leads to much of the “grumpiness” of fandom. The foreknowledge of what is happening means that we are not surprised by a narrative in the way we might be otherwise. The shock of an emotional narrative development we didn’t see coming is diminished when we expect it. Thus, “Luke I am your father” doesn’t have that impact if you already know that the Dark Sith Lord is Luke’s daddy. Or imagine what it was to see that second Star Trek movie and have no clue that Spoke was going to sacrifice himself at the end.

To return to Who for a moment, when the series first returned in ’05, we knew in short order that the new Doctor played by Christopher Eccleston was leaving. The official announcement, as I remember it, was that he would do the Christmas special and then leave after that. So when we came to the final show of that season, I settled in knowing it was his last but thinking he’d be around for at least some of the Christmas special. Lucky I’d avoided spoilers that week because the shock of his regeneration at the end of the show really got me. “Hang on”, I said, “I didn’t expect… oh bloody hell, he’s going to die, yup and he’s… he’s regenerating.” It was impossible to hide the fact a new Doc was on his way, but the producers cleverly tried to avoid us knowing the exact details of how and when it would happen, thus creating a climax that really pulled in the unsuspecting viewer.

Stories rely on surprise on the audience not being forewarned. And yes, they should be about more than simple shocks* but I love the delight that comes from seeing a story for the first time and having – literally – no idea of what’s around the corner.

Tonight, for example, I watched the final episode of the 3rd series of the incredible French cop series, SPIRAL (also known as ENGRENAGES) with no clue as to how it would end. My friends who had already seen it respected my need for the narrative, knowing how much the impact of the show would rely on not knowing certain details. And trust me folks, I was on the edge of my seat, because there’s something pure in the being swept along by a narrative with no expectations or knowledge of how it will turn out.

So preach on, Mr Moffat, about the joy of narrative surprise and about how these eejits are spoiling the joy of audience engagement with narrative. Spoilers are a horrific thing, an impediment to one’s ability to truly interact with a story. And those who spread them with intent – as compared to those who accidentally give something away, those who innocently forget what they’re saying – are indeed, Moffat says, indulging in a form of vandalism.

*The Sixth Sense, for example, doesn’t exist much beyond that twist – repeat viewings don’t reveal much more other than the trickery that stopped you seeing the truth first time around


Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know about that, Russel. Yeah, someone who gets his jollies revealing spoilers is a big baby, but it seems to this non-author that if a story can't stand up to having a spoiler revealed, it's not much of a story to begin with.

I think The Simpsons was spot on in the episode that has Homer get up in front of an awards-show audience and say, "The chick in Crying Game was really a guy."

Er, you did know that, didn't you?
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

John McFetridge said...

It really does depend, I think, on what else there is to the story. As Homer pointed out, once you get past the secret of The Crying Game it's a very good movie about the nature of love and commitment.

It's possible that once you get past the secret in The Sixth Sense there isn't that much more.

Jay Stringer said...

I think we have two different problems.

Spoilers after the fact and spoilers before.

I think once a show, or a film, book, comic has been released -once there's been a chance for those who truly want to be swept along to have their experience- then the rules relax a bit. Then it's simply down to 'don't be a dick.' judge your audience and discuss reasonably.

If you're at an advance screening then it's a different set of rules. You're not there so that you can run to the Internet and spoil things. That's simply unfair on the fans AND the creators.

On the whole spoiler sites are there for those that want them, and those that don't can remain unspoiled. I remember how excited I was in around 1998 when costume photos from XMEN were leaked to Ain't It Cool. At the same time, I long for the age when DAREDEVIL issue 181 was released to a public who didn't know what was coming.

The Internet is what complicates things. You can't judge your audience when you're out there on twitter posting to the void, and too many people don't think things through before sending their spoilers out.

I guess as with so many things it's down to the fact that too many people seem to block out conscience or civility on the net.

People need to think before they send spoilers out there. Think if you're putting it out onto a forum or a twitter feed where people might not have gad chance to see what you have.

My better half did a blog post along these lines earlier in the week, but I can't link it from my phone.

Stringer Belle said...

This is it here.

"Don't be a dick" was pretty much the conclusion I reached too. Some interesting comments, particularly surrounding what you do if you're part of a fandom who watches things on download before everybody else.

pattinase (abbott) said...

This is such an interesting topic. I remember being introduced to Agatha Christie by someone who said, "And the guy who tells it, did it." I don't think THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD had much else to recommend it.
And there's the problem with whodunnits often.
John is right about THE CRYING GAME. If that twist had never happened, I still would have liked it. But surprises can be amazing things so I treasure them in books and movies.
Reviewing movies on CRIMESPREE CINEMA, I try hard to tell the right amount and often may tell too much. The less you know with most films and books the better. You almost just wanted a trusted critic to say yes or no.

John McFetridge said...

When my wife and I saw The Crying Game together I'd already seen it. There was a lot of buzz about the "surprise" and for the first fifteen or twenty minutes she kept leaning over to me and saying, is that to do with the secret, is that? And then at one point she leaned over and said, "Why doesn't he know that's a guy? Oh, is THAT the secret?" She said then she could just relax and watch the movie, really dig into what it was actually about.

But a lot of people are only interested in the plot and what happens and nothing beyond that and fair play to them.

Here's something I'm finding frustrating right now. I'm working on the pilot script for a new cop show for a Canadian network and they want the opening "teaser" to involve undercover cops and bad guys and we don't know whos' who. There's a lot of talk in the meetings about how it sets up moral ambiguity and draws people further into the story if they're changing their minds about who they like and don't like and all that and I say, okay, sure we can do that.

And then they tell me, all excited, that they've got a big name actor to play the undecover cop and he'll really help in the promo for the shows, doing interviews and talking about the way he chose to play the cop. So they're going to do all the spoiling themselves.

People have also ciompained lately that they see so many movie trailers with so much information given they really don't feel a need to see the movie.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Jay, that makes sense. Revealing spoilers based on an advance screening is something like quoting from an ARC in a review.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Peter Rozovsky said...

"People have also complained lately that they see so many movie trailers with so much information given they really don't feel a need to see the movie."

That could be because the movies are all flash and action.

And there the misleading trailers.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Steve Weddle said...

Movies are for people who can't read.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Except if you see trailers from years ago, they also gave far too much information. Hollywood has always valued selling over any artistic or narrative concerns.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Patti, did those old trailers really reveal too much, or were they just too long?

I find that old trailer included as DVD extras drag out the teasing and the breathless voiceover narration for an awfully long time without actually revealing much of anything.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

pattinase (abbott) said...

Entirely possible, Pete. Whenever I see one on a DVD I am reminded that the ones today are not so different. But length might be the key issue. My husband decides what to see from trailers whereas with me its reviews. He wants the feel of it; I want an assessment.

Dave White said...

If you don't think old trailers spoil more than new trailers, check out the original trailer for Carrie:

Maqsood said...

I think Jay Stringer is saying the better insight on it.

I think once a show, or a film, book, comic has been released -once there's been a chance for those who truly want to be swept along to have their experience- then the rules relax a bit. Then it's simply down to 'don't be a dick.' judge your audience and discuss reasonably.

Thanks Jay for this detailed review.