Spoiler Statute of Limitations

Last night I decided to annoy some geeks, so I wrote on Twitter: “Note to Watchmen fans: THERE IS NO CONSPIRACY. THE COMEDIAN JUMPED.” Which immediately returned a series of death threats and furious rebukes, so, you know, mission accomplished (note: no, I don’t think any of those people were actually upset). But along with those were a couple of people who twittered back, “Uh, dude? Did you just, like, do a spoiler? ‘Cause that’s not cool.”

It’s not a spoiler, since, among other things, within the first three pages of the comic it becomes evident that jumping is not precisely what the Comedian did (see above comic panel). Also, given the placement of the Comedian’s death in the novel (i.e., right at the beginning), and its being highlighted in the various movie trailers, discussing it is no more spoiling Watchmen than noting that, say, Marley was dead, to begin with — or, alternately saying that Marley wasn’t dead to begin with, he just moved to Jamaica and picked up the guitar.

That said, even if it were a spoiler, the thing is: Look, Watchmen is twenty three years old. Surely the statute of limitations on spoiling the book has run out by now. SPOILER ALERTS should not be in effect forever. Yes, they have their place: If I had run out of The Crying Game screaming “The chick’s a dude!” as people were waiting to see it for the first time, it would be a case of justifiable homicide. But now, in 2009? Sorry, man. You missed your window to be outraged.

(Funny story about that particular movie is that I actually first saw it at home: I was a movie critic and Miramax sent me a screener on tape. I remember getting to that part and going “wait, what?” and actually rewinding. And then I remember writing a very careful review.)

If there is, in fact, a spoiler statute of limitations, the question then becomes, well, how long is it? I throw that question open to the crowd, but here are my suggestions:

Television: One week (because it’s generally episodic, and that’s how long you have until the next episode)

Movies: One year (time enough for everyone to see it in the theaters, on DVD and on cable)

Books: Five years (because books don’t reach nearly as many people at one time)

So, for example, the big spoiler in Old Man’s War (gung Wnar Fntna vf Wbua Creel’f qrnq jvsr’f pybar!) should probably remain a spoiler until next January, the five year anniversary of OMW. But the big spoiler of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (Oehpr Jvyyvf vf gbgnyyl qrnq!) expired on August 6, 2000, and the big spoiler of the same director’s The Happening (Z. Avtug Fulnznyna’f fugvpx unf orra fhpxrq qevre guna n urzbcuvyvnp ng n inzcver pbairagvba!) runs out next June 13, although in that case, it won’t be that much of a surprise to anyone.

Your thoughts on the spoiler statute of limitations? I crave your input.

176 Comments on “Spoiler Statute of Limitations”

  1. Sounds reasonable, though I could see an argument for extending the statute of limitations for TV. With the proliferation of DVR technology and TV-on-DVD, I think a lot of people don’t get around to watching story-arc episodic TV within a week of its airing. For example, I loved the Battlestar Galactica reset when it first came on the air in 2003-04, but I was too busy to keep up with it after the first season. So I’ve been carefully biding my time, waiting for the series to wrap, then I’m going to rent the whole sucker on DVD and go wild. And, amazingly enough, I’ve been able to keep myself mostly spoiler-free on seasons 2-4. Hasn’t been easy. Maybe an extended TV statute of limitations would have made that easier? Possibly. Though it probably would have made it impossible to write about or discuss online. So there’s that…

  2. Reasonable, but should the clock be reset when a title hits a new medium attracting a new, spoilerable audience?

    If OMW was made into a movie in 2011: would it be OK to give away the spoiler outside movie theaters because, dude, the book’s been out for *years* now?

  3. Weird.

    While surfing over to the Whatever today, I was using my favorites, and accidentally clicked the link above the Whatever. That link goes to rot13.com. Hadn’t been there in years.

    Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K.

  4. The oddest spoiler issues I’ve ever run into:

    1. Somewhere in the discussion of Star Wars backstory, at some point in the past 32 years, it became ‘common knowledge’ that Darth Vader was in the suit because of a fight with Obi-Wan over a lava pit, and the suit was all that was keeping him alive afterwards. I’m not sure where this knowledge came from ultimately, but it was well-known.

    Or so I thought. Casual online discussion, about a week before Ep3 released, mentioned the fight on the lava planet. “OMGOMG SPOILERS!” Massive flamewar ensued, friendships severely tested, pejoratives about those who obsess over Star Wars trivia and/or those who walk around with blinders on, etc.

    2. Complaints about spoilers of live events (the Oscars being the one that triggered it specifically) from folks watching on DVR-delay. What’s the statute of limitations for something like this?

  5. You will never get a clear majority on that one.

    Accept that people will take offense if you announce that Obama is President or that Stargate Universe has moved to Showtime instead of SciFi so they could have lots of naked aliens on the show.

    People will have no clue that something was known about a long time ago and is considered a non-spoiler.

  6. Damn, you made me take 5 minutes to figure out your code for spoilers. :) Do you have a program to do that for you?

    I have a friend who hates TiVo because it makes him wait a couple of days after TV shows/sporting events etc before he can talk about them. He’s pretty much forced the statute of limitations on TV shows to about 3 days for me.

  7. It’s simple, really. It’s not a spoiler if I’ve seen/heard/read it. Otherwise it is.

    Email me if you’re unsure.

  8. There are new people appearing every day – there’s some recession-proof factory out there, I guess – and it doesn’t matter how long Watchmen has been out, it’s new to them. Which is not to say that spoiler bans must remain in force for ever. But please, think of the children.

  9. To be clear, I don’t think one should go out of one’s way to give out spoilers. But after a certain amount of time, I don’t worry if I do.

  10. Some of my friends and I use the “Television without pity” rule. If it already there, we are free to say whatever we like without fear or “that’s a spoiler” retribution.

  11. I remember back in the 90s reading someone being annoyed that Peanuts had spoiled the ending to Citizen Kane. This seemed pretty weird to me since the Peanuts strips in questions were from the 60s or 70s, and Citizen Kane of course is from a couple of decades before that.

    On the other hand, if you haven’t seen Citizen Kane, I can imagine being somewhat annoyed at having the ending spoiled in a comic strip. (Then again, it didn’t bother me.)

  12. I’m kind of running into this because I’m apparently the only person I know who hasn’t read Watchmen, but intends to see the movie as unspoiled as possible. My solution: I have a ‘back’ button on my browser for when I realize I’m reading something I don’t want to…

    In my ideal world, it’s not a spoiler once everyone’s had a fair crack at getting it on first-run. For movies and TV, the DVD release is a good time to start a one-month timer. Maybe the same on the paperback release of a book. But there’s a substantial number of people who hold the opinion that there is absolutely no statute of limitations on spoilers unless something has become a bona fide cultural reference, and in the name of not stirring up unnecessary drama, I mask spoilers on almost anything.

  13. Re: Scalzi Spoiler Decoder Ring: “Be…sure…to…drink…your…Ovaltine.” Whaaaat?

    Relevant portion of comment: Agreed on the “mixed media” aspect brought up by James Kew.

    It also matters where the spoiler occurs, I think. My wife, for example, hasn’t read “Watchmen” but wants to see the movie. She doesn’t frequent comic or movie forums or websites, so she’s unlikely to find a spoiler online. That said, movie-wise, whether the source material is two decades old or not, I think spoilers should definitely be off-limits once you’re at the theater itself. I mean, c’mon, that’s just rude.

    (Also, FWIW, having grown up in the ’80s and watched Eight is Enough, I knew what “Rosebud” was long before I ever saw Citizen Kane, and I don’t think that’s really a spoiler in the least.)

  14. Never.

    Consider each generation. Consider your recent AMC column on the next new release of the Star Wars in 3D.

    Consider leaking the spoiler for “The Crying Game” and
    my 17 year old sons reaction. Don’t deprive me of his shock.

    Spoilers should only be revealed with the permission of the recipient or with a header . Giving a spoiler without warning is not cool.

    So there is no statue of limitations on spoilers. Just a courtesy of asking.

  15. Those seem like reasonable timeframes. I have friends who watch some of the same TV shows and before we discuss one of us will say “Is it safe to talk about such and such show?” Simple way of dealing with it.

    As someone who doesn’t go to movie theaters the risk of spoilers for me is pretty high. My unintentional solution is being lazy. I don’t see a movie usually until 3-4 years after it hit DVD, so even if I’ve been spoiled I’ve also totally forgotten the spoiler by then :) This has the added advantage that I can watch the movie without the surrounding hype/anti-hype and appreciate it or not on it’s own merits or lack thereof.

  16. I’m with jp. I think TV has to be same as movies: 1 year. It’s so much more satisfying to get a show on DVD and watch the whole season within a couple weeks, ya know?

    ObThreadless: Spoilt

    But to your original point, I think that anything that’s in the trailer (movie), commercial (TV show), or dust jacket copy (book) is fair game. Though sometimes the dust jackets go too far…

  17. The time frames are pretty reasonable, but as James Kew suggests, I think release in a new medium should reset the statute of limitations.

    Release in a new medium opens the work up to a new audience. For example, I’ve never read the Watchman comic and probably never will. There’s no sense keeping me unspoiled for the comic. But I could go to the movie.

    It shouldn’t be that hard to manage, either. If I don’t want to be spoiled for the movie, I shouldn’t read anything about the comic until I’ve seen the movie.

    Another way to handle it: maybe rather than a pure “reset” of the SSOL, the SSOL should apply to discussions of the work in each particular medium. A new movie would get a SSOL for any discussions of that movie, even if the spoiler itself has long been known in another medium. That would also avoid conversations ending in, “Dude, the movie was based on an obscure novle self-published fifty years ago; don’t blame me if you didn’t know he was an alien woman’s father’s sled.”

  18. I’m trying to avoid Battlestar Galactica spoilers because, without cable, I don’t get to watch it until it comes out on DVD. I don’t know what the timeline on spoilers should be then, but I think that at the very least, I’d like it to be “not until it comes out on DVD.”

    I don’t think that’s reasonable, for the reasons you say, but that’s the way I’d like it to be.

    But yeah, I find it really irritating how the spoiler scolds come out and yell at you for wanting to TALK about a movie/book/novel, which often includes talking about the plot.

    Nick Mamatas makes it pretty clear that he’s going to talk about the entire thing, and if you don’t want to talk about spoilers, just don’t read him. Complaining about spoilers on the greatest source of information in world history seems to be a losing game. (Though it’s also fun occasionally to read Talk Pages on Wikipedia where people complain about spoilers in movie descriptions. As if even there people should accomodate your laziness and inability to get out to a theater years later).

  19. I say one week for EVERYTHING! Yes, just one week. Seriously, we are all adults or at least we are all part of a society that should be mature enough to handle a revelation on a plot point.

    There are actually very, very few so-called spoilers that that rise to the level that it’s disclosure would categorically ruin the art of the work. Maybe Sixth Sense. A few others. The spoiler in Old Man’s War was really cool but it doesn’t ruin the enjoyment or even the central storyline/theme of the book. If someone told me the Old Man’s War “spoiler” I would categorize it as a surprise but not to the level that is “spoiled” anything in the novel.

    People have gotten to the point of being extremely annoying on ramming down that nothing can be so-called spoiled anymore. It’s ridiculous. Look at it this way, does it absolutely ruin your enjoyment of Battlestar Galactica if you were given a list of who all 8 Cylons are? I mean really, would that devastate a person watching the show? I think not.

  20. If a spoiler actually spoils the book/movie whatever, then maybe you need to reexamine how good it really is.
    If it relies on that one trick, it’s not very good at all, and will amount to nothing in the dustbins of history. If on the other hand the, the thing is well done, then it doesn’t matter if you know the “spoiler”, or “twist”.

  21. I remember the secrecy around The Crying Game being so tight that I thought the big surprise was the thing that happened to Forest Whitaker, so I was like, “oh, okay, that was shocking,” so when you finally got to Jaye Davidson’s big reveal, I was more like, “Well, that’s certainly different… WAIT A MINUTE!”

  22. First, if you’re using Firefox there’s a L337 add-on that allows you to right click and convert to and from rot13 (or even morse code)

    Second, I have to personally disagree about the TV shows, because I don’t watch TV shows until they come out on DVD. So the week limitation doesn’t work for me.

    Of course I avoid any websites devoted to TV shows, so that pretty much solves most problems related to that.

  23. If you can read and write ROT13 with your bare brain, you _may_ be a geek. Wait, was that a spoiler?

  24. I completely disagree about TV…with the advent of Netflix, lots of people wait for years to watch popular TV shows, especially those that are on paid cable. I rarely start watching a show at first, for fear of cancellation, crapiness, etc. and then if I hear raves, I go back and watch the first N episodes. That’s pretty easy in the age of Hulu.

    (Of course, saying that “Caesar dies at the end of ‘Rome'” is not a spoiler.)

    Also, I don’t think the age of the book (or movie) really has a bearing. Most people would be really pissed to be told who did the dead while reading a mystery, even a 40 year old one. I think the more general rule is “has the spoiler become ‘common knowledge'” like Luke’s parentage or the identity of ‘Rosebud’? Then it’s not a spoiler.

  25. Just to elaborate on what I said earlier, I think Spoiler Scolds are the Concern Trolls of the entertainment corner of the Internet.

  26. Think of who you’re talking to. If its a friend or group of friends you can ask if there’s anyone left who hasn’t seen something and still cares to, and give fair warning. Or you can at least bring up the conversation slowly enough that they have time to say “wait, I haven’t seen the new season of BSG yet!”

    If you’re posting on a widely read site, I think its nice to give a little warning so if people don’t want to ,they can stop reading. You can do that by saying SPOILER or by just bringing up the topic slowly, not having it be the first thing you say. “The new season of BSG has some really cool stuff….” and I click away.

    I do think that if you are posting on a site that is not specifically related to BSG, and the first thing in your post is a spoiler for season 4, that’s mean. Is it really that much trouble to give a subject heading or first sentence that makes it clear what you’ll be talking about?

    Television without pity is different because people go there specifically to discuss television, and youer’ not supposed to post spoilers for one show in teh threads for another show.

  27. What you missed here is that the Watchmen is completely new to a huge audience. That audience includes me.

    The launch of one type of media in another form (in this case a comic book as a movie and video game) very much resets the statute of limitations. Using your own key, that makes you around 5 years too early.

  28. Since I’ve never read the book Watchmen, and I might see the movie, Watchmen, I hope you’ll give me at least until after opening night before you start bombarding me with plot spoilers. I do think the clock resets when a movie comes out, depending on how famous the book was. Graphic novels and comics are pretty obscure. “Hamlet dies” is not a spoiler.

    I do get tired of the “no spoilers” plea. In the past five years or so it’s gotten ridiculous. Almost every single conversation I’ve ever attempted to have in a group setting about a recent book, movie, or TV show has been interrupted by shrill cries of “NO SPOILERS!” It’s much easier to manage this on the internet, where people can choose what to read or what not to, but I think it’s really uncool when I’m excited about a great movie or something and I can’t talk about it because SOMEone in the room is also really excited about it, but have not bothered to go see it.

    I figure that for movies spoiler warnings are valid until after the 4-6 week first theater run. Then anyone who is complaining is full of crap. If you’re that excited about the movie that you don’t want to be spoiled for it, go see it. If your life is so full that you can’t, then grow up and stop interrupting other people’s conversations.


  29. Interesting question that raises– is a rereading or rewatching of a work less enjoyable than the first surprise reading? If the spoiler detracts that much value, the answer would have to be yes, but even so people gladly pay more money for DVDs than they did for the movie tickets…

  30. I’m with the ‘not until it’s out on DVD’ crowd for TV shows… too much good stuff on HBO and Showtime that I don’t get to see until a year later.

    Last year EW had a HUGE spoiler for season 5 of The Wire, tucked into the ‘news & notes’ section. I was extra-double-pissed–it’s one thing if you write an article on the last season of The Wire… I know not to read that. But hiding spoilers in with a bunch of celebrity hotness rankings or whatever? Not cool.

    Uh, not that pay attention to celebrity hotness rankings. No sir. I was just, uh – hey, look over there!

  31. cicada,

    I might suggest that sometimes with movies, we watch them over again to relive the sense of awe we felt when we watched them the first time.

  32. The rule in my group of friends is 2 weeks for either TV or Movie. If it is still relatively new, we usually warn before we say anything spoilerish. However at that point, it’s your obligation to flee the room if you don’t want to hear it.

  33. Spoilers should only be revealed with the permission of the recipient or with a header . Giving a spoiler without warning is not cool.

    This is an attitude that basically means you can’t read reviews, and that you refuse to engage in critical discussion of a given work of art. That’s your prerogative, but that also means you need to show some respect for those of us who *do* want reviews and *do* want to engage in critical discussion. Hanging out in places where critical discussion happens and squacking about spoilers is pretty rude.

    I *will* tolerate things like a friend saying they haven’t read a particular book yet, so please don’t spoil them, but we can discuss it after. It’s a minor foible, and it’s easy enough to resolve between the two or six of us. I won’t tolerate one person trying to claim that on behalf of the Whole Internet… since there are plenty of folks who do want reviews, do not mind spoilers and really resent having to jump through hoops to figure out whether a given book or movie is in fact worth event thinking about.

  34. I think that a 1-3 month buffer is appropriate for pretty much all media. For a TV show spoiler warning should be given for the first month after the first time it airs, and for 1-3 months before and after a DVD release if you are discussing content again.

    For movies The same guideline applies 1-3 months before and after theatrical release, TV release, and DVD release.

    Given the narrower distribution and wider discussion books should probably be given longer time for spoiler warnings. I think 3 months after paperback release should be appropriate. For most books this is probably a 15-18 month warning band.

    Anything outside of those time periods is fair game for discussion without warning. For example it is no longer a dick move to drive past a Harry Potter movie and shout out the Dumbledore dies, the only people that don’t already know that obviously don’t care.

  35. My wife loves spoilers, and I love to spoil things, which makes us a match made in heaven, but drives my friends nuts. I once got a guy hooked The Baroque Cycle, then told him the ending.

    I should probably just wear a t-shirt that says Spoiler Warning, since I’ve never figured out how to talk in ROT13.

  36. The OMW spoiler you gave is not spoilery at all.

    As for whether something is no good if it is hurt by being spoiled: It can hamper suspense. Also, one best appreciates a spoilable in later viewings by being able to recall the naive viewing.

    I never got to have a naive viewing of Fight Club, which was annoying. It really wasn’t the same as watching it for a second time would have been.

    On the other hand, the spoiler I read was interesting enough in its own right I consider it a net positive (I made it my website for this posting, so especially if you know the fight club spoilers, check it out). Going in the other order would have been even better.

  37. Also, perhaps those who care passionately about the outcomes of movies/books/tv shows, could exercise a bit of personal responsibility and avoid situations where spoilers might occur. I would hate to see thoughtful discourse limited by constantly having to protect people from spoilers.

  38. First off http://www.rot13.com will decode your little spoilery things with minimal effort.

    The adaptation issue is a tough one: Does Watchmen get a new year even though the comic is 23 years old? Certainly fewer people read that than will seen the fill (more’s the pity).

    On the other hand, “The da Vinci Code” and “Harry Potter” were market-saturated, I see no need to hold the movie spoilers more than a week over the original book.

    Now on the other hand, novelizations of movies may include important backstory not filmed (Ftg. Cvaonpx vfa’g gur erny Ftg. Cvaonpx)… but I’d still put it in the film’s year.

  39. ROT-13 is good, but for real protection cryptographers often go for the more secure Double ROT-13. These days, with faster processors, Dual Core Quad ROT-13 is not unheard of.

    Oh, and on spoilerish TV shows, if it’s been under a month at least ask before revealing major plot points. Some people have a few weeks of backlogged TV shows on their TiVos.

    I *swear* I’ll watch DOLLHOUSE someday — I just have to finish watching the last episode of DRIVE first!


  40. We had the unfortunate event with one of our friends who was reading Ender’s Game. We loaned her the audio version of the book and when she was done she said she liked it but thought it ended abruptly. At that point her husband, who was as puzzled as we were, asked her specifically about the ending of the book. It turned out that we had only given her part 1 of 2 and she hadn’t read the whole book. What a horrible, yet unintentional, way to spoil such a magnificent book. =(

  41. It took me a few seconds to realize it was rot13 and head on over to rot13.com. The big hint was the Z. instead of the M.

    If spoilability regenerates with new mediums, that would mean we wouldn’t be able to talk about Shakespeare whenever a new movie is released based on one of his books.

    And what about the movie, Beowulf?

    Of course, movies aren’t always completely faithful to the book, so a spoiler about the book might not spoil the movie. I mean, I could say that at the end of Notre Dame de Paris, Quasimodo and Esmeralda are skeletons crumbling to dust. I am a huge Victor Hugo fan, and assure you, telling you the end of the novel doesn’t destroy the greatness of the read. And I don’t think the endings of any of the films have mirrored the novel.

  42. Last year, Brit Torchwood and Dr. Who fans seemed to really like spoiling episodes for use week-behind Americans, probably because it is one of the few opportunities they have ever had to do so.

    I put myself into an information black hole after they spoiled some big surprises. It was weird cutting myself off from the internet just to NOT learn the ending of a television show, but at the end of the week I wasn’t really much poorer for it. Mostly it was just avoiding Twitter, and since I find cat conversations are more fun than people conversations there anyhow, it wasn’t a big deal.

    While I’m never one to spoil anything (mainly because I’m usually weeks – years behind on watching or reading anything), my belief on the Spoiler Statute of Limitations is 0.00. Spoilers suck, but spoiler censorship deprives those with very little in life the one ability they have to brag and draw attention to themselves. And if we censor spoilers, it opens up the gates to a dark path of censoring all kinds of stuff like iPhone fart-sound apps and surprise email attachments of half a wang. Then where would we be.

  43. Books: Five years (because books don’t reach nearly as many people at one time)

    By that rule, you shouldn’t’ve published Zoe’s Tale yet, because its existence (with that title!) is a huge spoiler for Ghost Brigades (which I only read a week ago). I got to the part about how little Zoe had died and was like “hey wait…”

    (I haven’t read Zoe’s Tale yet – waiting for the paperback to come out in April.)

  44. I think TV should be until about six months after the season boxed set comes out. Some of us (our household) don’t have TV at all, and watch the DVDs.

  45. I’m surprised no one has linked to the very on point Penny-Arcade about this.

    I think that any spoiler statute of limitations has to have context. Spoilers about a work in a review or discussion about that work, no statute of limitations. But spoilers popping up in other things – the statute of limitations is far too short. Like, 1 week for television? Some people don’t own tvs and watch things on dvd. Surely, there should be some sort of *spoiler warning* to help protect us (like some random guy at a comedy show who started his act with “[BSG Character] killed [other BSG Character]”.

    If I’m reading something about BSG, then spoilers for BSG are implicit. But they shouldn’t be throwing down “[BSG character discovering something] is like when Grim Shado found out he was the child of the Witchalok.”

  46. Out of curiosity, why is the burden on the possessor of the information versus the “unspoiled”?
    If someone didn’t want to know the outcome of the presidential election but insisted on going to venues where politics were discussed we’d think it was lunacy.

  47. …and besides, George W. spoiled 50 years of high school classes by constantly telling us how HISTORY will regard him and his administration as one of the greatest ever.

    If spoiling is good enough for an ex-President of the United States, then it is good enough for me.

  48. The spoiler of limitations should not run on out long-form television shows (like Lost or Battlestar Galactica).

    Such shows are difficult to watch quickly and difficult to stay abreast of. To avoid spoilers, such shows should only be discussed after first ascertaining which season each participant in the discussion is currently viewing.

  49. Let me make a correction to my earlier statement, for anyone who cares. The 1956 film, Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring Anthony Quinn does use the ending from the novel. According to Wikipedia, it is the only one that does. However, Esmeralda’s death isn’t handled in exactly the same fashion.

  50. 24. Stu: I’m trying to avoid Battlestar Galactica spoilers because, without cable, I don’t get to watch it until it comes out on DVD.

    Sci Fi Rewind has commercial-free full-length videos of each episode within a few days after airing on TV, and they keep about a month’s worth up there at a time.

  51. hm, trying to think of what the oldest story would be that you could spoil….

    Something like “Eve ate the apple?”

  52. @Brad J:

    Re: your Star Wars “spoiler” – I DISTINCTLY remember reading that in a “Dynamite” magazine (a kid’s magazine put out by Scholastic) either right around the time SW came out (IIRC, the supposition was that they were fighting on a grate over the lava pit and he was more barbecued than immolated), or somewhere around ESB’s release, so I figure it was at least “common knowledge” for almost 30 years :)

    I do love the idea of using ROT13 for spoiler text – if I really want to know, I have to work at it – can’t just highlight it like on message boards and such – no, I have to actually go to a translator and cut and paste the spoiler. (and yes, I do know people who can translate ROT13 in their heads, but they are the types that usually know the spoilers already anyway :) )

  53. This is my first exposure to rot13.com; reminds me of the classic Damon Knight story “Babel II” in which everyone’s personal alphabet is (temporarily?) scrambled a little differently from everyone else’s.

    I second what Ryan @55 wrote above.

    joelfinkle @45: What movie/novelization is “Ftg. Cvaonpx” from?

  54. Brad J @#5

    I’m fairly certain that the Darth Vader/Lava Pit thingy was in the novelization of either “Empire Strikes Back” or “Return of the Jedi.” I’m certain that I knew what happened to Darth Vader way back in junior high school in the mid 1980s.

  55. I agree with James Kew about moving to a new medium. For instance, I’m not a graphic novel reader, so am unfamiliar with the Watchmen universe, but might see the movie. But I don’t even know what you’re talking about when you say someone jumped, so shrug :-)

    On the whole, I don’t think there’s a need for a statute of limitations. I really appreciate the “spoiler alert” approach. That way I can be responsible for risking having the experience spoiled for me. Newspaper/Internet headlines are awful for this – giving away the winner of an event in the headline, etc. I travel a lot so record plenty of stuff. One outlet that’s particularly good at NOT spoiling my subsequent viewing experience is the SF Chronicle website, SF Gate. Their headlines always read “Results of Australian Open Final”, instead of “Nadal defeats Federer”. Although I guess it’s hard to tag a twitter update with a spoiler alert.

  56. If I had run out of The Crying Game screaming “The chick’s a dude!” as people were waiting to see it for the first time, it would be a case of justifiable homicide. But now, in 2009? Sorry, man. You missed your window to be outraged.

    I managed to watch only the first half of the movie on Bravo last week, so THANKS FOR THAT.

  57. What I wanna know is how’m I ‘sposed to ROT-13 those Unicode apostrophes???

  58. Sorry, that’s supposed to be:

    “Jung V jnaan xabj vf ubj’z V ’fcbfrq gb EBG-13 gubfr Havpbqr ncbfgebcurf???”

  59. I’m trying to avoid Battlestar Galactica spoilers because, without cable, I don’t get to watch it until it comes out on DVD. I don’t know what the timeline on spoilers should be then, but I think that at the very least, I’d like it to be “not until it comes out on DVD.”

    Oh yeah, and good luck with that, at least if you read blogs. Every liberal blogger in the world both watches and feels compelled to blog about that show.

  60. 52. Jacob I’m surprised no one has linked to the very on point Penny-Arcade about this.

    Thanks, man – that was great!

    We ask folks at work before talking about shows, just to make sure they managed to catch our mutual shows. I DVR stuff, and am always behind till the weekend, so I’m not much fun to talk to about TV at work.

    I get more actual *work* done at work, tho, so it has it’s benefits! :)

  61. Reminds me of a friend of mine after the last (pre-Craig) Bond movie: “Okay, I’m going to spoil it for you: Bond saves the world from a megalomaniac villain with a doomsday device, aided by a sexy superspy and a lot of cool gadgets.”

    I’m still not talking to that fucker.

    Oldest spoiler is not “Eve eats the fruit” (not apple), but Vanaan vfa’g crezn-qrnq naq fur rfpncrf juvyr Aretny vf fperjvat Rerfuxvtny. Sorry.

  62. Generally speaking, I agree with your Television/Book expectation of the statute of limitation on Spoilers. However, I’ve found that people generally don’t spoil the juicy tidbits of books as much as Television/Movies. There tends to be a more respectful, courteous attitude surrounding the printed media than movies. Luckily, I’ve never encountered the situation where someone recommends me a book and says, “Have plenty of tissues available, the hunky guy on the cover dies at the end.” That type of behavior has always been reserved for the visual media (in my experience).

    Movies, though, I tend to feel once they’ve moved from the “Big Screen” to DVD and other Downloadable, DRM’d means, the big spoiler is up. So from the time it scrolls off of my Cable, one-button Lazy Man’s way to get movies, it’s free game. That, I believe, is shorter than a year.

    If you didn’t watch it in the movies and you’re somewhat alive on the internet, you’re going to know the “Big Secret”, anyway. Some people do live under a rock, though, and want to hold onto their “Big Secrets” far too long. Like a security blanket.

  63. I remember back in Junior High at a book fair when a classmate had just bought “All Quiet On the Western Front” and I casually mentioned that the main character gets killed; believe me, no Statute of Limitations existed THAT day on a nearly 70 year old book!

    Around our household, no one really cares much about spoilers, as it is assumed that half the house (spouse and youngest daughter) couldn’t care less about sci-fi shows and the other half (myself and oldest daughter) will watch stuff over and over and over again, so knowing the end before hand really doesn’t matter. But, because of the “All Quiet On the Western Front” episode above, I don’t usually talk to anyone else outside the family.

  64. So, anyone know of a simple ROT13 addon for Firefox? There’s Leetkey but it’s an overkill and the ROT13 functionality is hidden in a sub-sub-menu. Isn’t there anything simple that can reveal rot13’d text?

  65. I’m with Torrilin and Cicada. The greater burden should be on the part of the “unspoiled.” While I agree one ought not be a dick about purposely springing spoilers with abandon, the whole idea of flagging and warning is ridiculous. Formal reviews by formal reviewers have a responsibility to be circumspect or give warnings. People carrying on discussions in forums and blogs, and people engaged in deeper analysis, not so much.

    The bottom line is, if you don’t want a new movie, book or TV show spoiled, don’t read about it. Practice safe browsing. Me, I kind of like spoilers because I’m more interested in seeing how a story weaves its way to a goal, than I am in twists or being surprised by the accomplishment of an unexpected goal.

    (On the other hand, I admit I was victimized by an inadvertent spoiler a long time ago: when we were dating, my wife encouraged me to read the Foundation trilogy, as I’d never read an Asimov novel up to that time. Halfway through she asked how I was liking it, and I replied in the affirmative. Then she says something along the lines of, “I loved the part when you find out Zntavsvpb vf Gur Zhyr,” and her eyes grew larger and larger as my jaw dropped further and further, because that development happens at the end of the chapter I was about to start reading that very evening. I still kid her about it, 20+ years later.)

    As far as Watchmen is concerned, by the way, there are no spoilers. I saw it Monday. Everything is the same. Some things are missing, but what’s left is in the book. My Twitter review, and prediction, was “A faithful, well-crafted opera of a movie, which I think the general public will avoid like it was opera.” Although, I noted, “There is proof that Carla Gugino will never ever not be hot.” That shouldn’t spoil anything.

  66. I think it depends on where you’re talking about spoilers.

    I’ve been on discussion lists for two TV shows where everything spoilerable in an episode was wide open for discussion as soon as the espisode aired in the Pacific tone zone.

    Uninformed speculation about future stuff was fine on the both lists but no concrete Spoilers until the credits rolled in California.


  67. With TV, I’m not certain 1 week is enough. Especaily for shows on Cable/Satelite. Like Stu i can’t get BSG over the air, so I have to wait to see it, althought he torrent is usually available 2 hours after broadcast. With BSG something like 1/2 season may be more appropriate.

    I mean, who want’s to know in advance that Bob Dylan is a Cylon? (Ok Dylan is not actually in the show, but if he was, he’d be a Cylon)

    I think when media transitions from one format to another there may be special rules though, depending on how closely related they are. The newer media may be close to the source material, or like Starship Troopers it may be “The movie based on the back cover of…”

    After all, If I give away the ending for The Pupetmasters (book), you are going to be really dissapointed in the ending of The Pupermasters (movie) as there is no similarity.

  68. Since my book largely compiled and distributed about 1500 years ago, I’d say the spoiler statute has most definitely expired.

    So here goes:

    The Devil did it.

    There. Did I ruin it for you?

    Too bad, ‘cuz in the sequel, I’m planning on bringing him back in an Apollo Creed-type role. After all, who better than the Devil to help Me take on the incarnation of all evil, Axl Rose?

  69. hm, trying to think of what the oldest story would be that you could spoil….
    Something like “Eve ate the apple?”

    “Gilgamesh doesn’t attain immortality”

  70. I was once accused of ruining the ending of Apollo 13. I had some choice words for the aggrieved party that day, starting with “Read some goddamn history sometime.”

  71. I run a book group at my library. The general theme is that we read books you feel about not having read… maybe you pretended you had read it, but had only seen Masterpiece Theater. Anyway, that means we usually end up reading a lot of classics which are often not the most scintillating of books. So we get a lot of people who show up at the meeting that have not finished the book. Some, not all, try to prevent us from talking about the whole book because they “don’t want to know how it ends up.”

    Some people should be taken out back and shot.

  72. One critic reported getting a handful of angry letters because of the spoilers he included in his review of Franco Zeffirelli’s version of Romeo and Juliet.

    There’s also a rare instance where more than one ending exists. Clue comes to mind as the obvious example.

    However, my favorite instance is Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. When it was aired on television as part of the Universal Showcase they edited the movie and changed the ending. So it was possible to spoil the movie for someone who had already seen it.

  73. Ah, here’s one– Odysseus never does make it back to Ithaca– he continues to roam the Mediterranean world putting right what once went wrong.

    I may be mixing my archetypes here, though. Been a while.

  74. My group of friends has adopted the ask rule. Before we give out any spoiler about anything, old or new, we ask if the person or people in the discussion have seen/read what we are talking about. If all have, then forge right ahead. If someone hasn’t, we ask if they intend to because we don’t want to give away a spoiler. If they intend to, we don’t give it away. If they don’t intend to, we ask if they mind if we give away a spoiler. Most don’t and the conversation continues. It works great. And really only takes a few seconds. Took longer to type than it takes to happen. And, honestly, is just good manners in person.

    Now for your writing in the blog, I think your rule is probably good. Especially if your title and/or sentences leading up to it are clear enough about the subject matter that I can see it is about something I haven’t seen/read yet but want to and maybe should see/read first. After a while, you know you are pushing your luck at not hearing anything you don’t want to know first…

  75. The theory that goes around my workplace is as follows:

    Scripted Television: The Monday following local airing (if you didn’t watch it over the weekend you probably won’t) and again for two weeks before and following the DVD Release

    Live Events: 90 minutes after they air

    Reality TV: 48 hours after air

    Movies: Two weeks and again for two weeks before and following the DVD release and subsequent re-releases

    Books: Five years unless, in that five years, there is a paperback edition. After the paperback edition eighteen months. If there is a re-release of the book then the ban is back from the announcement through six months after the re-release.

  76. A forum I frequent has a special “spoiler” tag that displays text as black on a black background. Hovering the mouse over this text makes it black and white and therefore legible. This makes it easy to hide text that might be a spoiler and yet make it trivially easy to read if you want.

  77. Although, I noted, “There is proof that Carla Gugino will never ever not be hot.” That shouldn’t spoil anything.

    That’s not a spoiler. That’s an immutable feature of the universe.

  78. Re Ed @ 46

    I *swear* I’ll watch DOLLHOUSE someday — I just have to finish watching the last episode of DRIVE first!

    I’m not familiar with DRIVe, are you indicating that you will start watching Dollhouse before it gets canceled or only after the entire run is available? I’m guessing that you will have 3-6 weeks to decide.

  79. I decoded the rot13 text the old-school way: “tr A-Za-z N-ZA-Mn-za-m” in a terminal window, then copy and paste the text in to see it decode. (Works if you’re running Linux, and probably Mac OS X, too. For Windows, you’d have to install Cygwin to make that work.)

    Or you can just use the Web site. I shouldn’t be surprised that such a thing exists.

  80. Eh. If I’m going to consume a culture product (book, tv series, movie, etc) of this type, I’m someone who will seek out the spoilers to decide whether I’m going to like it enough to consume the whole thing.

    I didn’t read OMW -or- Ghost Brigades until just over a year ago, by which point our host had (I think) submitted The Last Colony for publication and was working on Zoe’s Tale. Knowing approximately where a story is going to end up allows me to appreciate the nuances of the journey from here to there.

    for that matter, I didn’t see Star Wars Episode One or Episode Two, but I did go see Episode Three because I knew -precisely- and -exactly- where it had to end up (fraternal twins separated at birth, dramatic lava fight, etc) and I wanted to see how they did it.

    I don’t -dislike- surprises as such, but I enjoy stories much more on the second reading when there’s no pressing urge to find out what happens next, often to the extent that I’ll flip to a novel and read the LAST chapter FIRST, just to get a feel for the universe, then go back and read the thing. (I did that to your books, Mr. Scalzi. And I’ll do it again when the next one comes out in paperback.)

    But I admit, wholeheartedly and without reserve, to being a weirdo.

  81. Context matters, too. So if you click through on a thread titled “Crying Game reactions,” it’s a bit silly to expect spoiler reactions… AND it’s very easy to avoid.

    OTOH if it’s a random mention in a discussion or blog post that’s ostensibly about something else, then the bar is higher. If I’m reading Whatever and JS says “you know, the Prop 8 debate reminds me of when Jamal kills the gameshow host at the end of Slumdog Millionaire”, that’s a bit difficult to avoid.

    (I made up that part about Slumdog.)

  82. Ya know, I’ve been spoiled on a lot of things in advance and I’ve been annoyed with those who did the spoiling, but I’ve always seen it on some level as my own stupid fault for procrastinating on actually seeing or reading the thing.

    If it’s a good enough work, it will still hold up with the spoiler, because then you can pay attention to how things are arranged to lead up to that twist.

    Though I’ve been amused by people who put out ‘prank spoilers’ to tweak people who Haven’t Read The Book Before The Movie Comes Out. Somebody made a LiveJournal icon that claimed that a certain character dies in Return of the King (he doesn’t) and the fangirl shrieking was a sight to behold . . .

  83. “I’m trying to avoid Battlestar Galactica spoilers because, without cable, I don’t get to watch it until it comes out on DVD.”

    You should avoid them. I mean Andy Dick is the last Cylon? Wow!

  84. One somewhat-non-obvious factor with TV series spoilers in online fora is varying release dates overseas.

    I remember various brouhaha on the Babylon 5 Usenet newsgroup whenever U.S. viewers would post un-warned spoilers about episodes that hadn’t aired in the UK yet (who were often up to a year behind).

  85. Is saying a movie/TV show/whatever has a surprise ending (or a plot twist) a spoiler?

    I think it is, but many critics have no problem announcing this in their reviews.

    I end up trying to guess what the twist is and that in itself tends to spoil the surprise.

  86. For those who say just “avoid places where spoilers might occur”…that’s not the point. It’s when a spoiler happens in an unexpected venue, with no warning, that causes reasonable people to become annoyed.

    And for those who dismiss spoilers as something an adult should be able to “get over”…uh, yeah. I can get over it, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t piss me off. I can get over the idiot talking on the cell phone in the movie, too. But that doesn’t mean it’s not inconsiderate behavior.

    It’s simple courtesy….if you are about to reveal a spoiler in a work done within the last 10 years or so, whatever the medium, and the very nature of the forum does not suggest that spoilers are likely to occur, simply post a warning.

  87. The worst spoiler I’ve ever seen was for the finale of Buffy Season 5 on Sky TV in the UK.
    The trailer that ran for a week beforehand revealed how it was going to end.
    Utterly bizarre.

  88. The only spoiler that really annoyed me occurred when I was 8- my sister told me that Old Yeller dies in the end. She’s still out of the will.

    I generally figure out spoilers in advance- from seeing what the ‘spoiler-free’ reviews discuss. Million Dollar Baby, Sixth Sense, Crying Game- got them down before seeing the film. Like our host’s trick in AD with Sam Berlant’s gender- it’s interesting to watch someone pulling off a stunt.

  89. For kids, it’s different: My dad once spoiled half of the ending of Anna Karenina for both me & my sister, knowing full well we hadn’t read the book, and we were kind of annoyed about it, because it’s not the sort of pop-culture goodness likely to get spoiled. (Like, say, LOST, where it turns out gur jubyr frevrf vf nyy n qernz Flqarl Oevfgbj unq whfg orsber fur qvrq.)

    Now, obviously, Anna Karenina is a classic, and everyone reading this thread knows how the Anna Karenina portion of the story ends (the ending to the other half, the more interesting half, the Konstantin Levin half). But still–the chances were high that I could have made it to the end without knowing *exactly* what happened.

    And then, of course, there’s the anti-spoiler: three of my high school friends, knowing how intent I was on not having Great Expectations spoiled, once plotted to deliberately refer to a crucial mysterious unknown character as a gender they were not, which would’ve made things really enjoyable if another, not-quite-as-on-the-ball friend, hadn’t spoiled the whole thing before I got to the reveal.

  90. Michael, you probably won’t see this, but I bet you anything I was the one writing about my annoyance that Peanuts spoiled “Citizen Kane,” because it still drives me insane!

    My argument is that it was a special case, because I was too young to understand “Citizen Kane” but old enough to read Peanuts, and the spoiler was something of a running joke in the comic strip and thus embedded itself in my child brain. So something I read as a kid spoiled something I first watched as an adult, if that makes any sense at all.

    I still feel cheated out of the “Citizen Kane” experience. Damn you, Charles Schulz!

  91. #60 – Steve Thorn:

    Does this mean I can finally start running down the street yelling “Soylent Green Is People!!”

    You kid, but I kid you not, I know someone who got upset because she hadn’t seen Casablanca and found out who Ilsa stays with at the end. And that was less than five years ago. I damn near told her that in Birth of a Nation, it’s all the fault of the KKK.

  92. I think some reasonably media expectation has to come into play (he says, skimming 105 comments). If someone’s a media hermit, then they don’t have the right to Spoiler Protection.

    I’m gonna walk into the hail of machinegun fire here and say I haven’t read Watchmen. I tried once when I was about 11, it went over my head, and it’s been getting bumped to the arse-end of the Read Queue ever since. Should I have read it before? Yes. Have I put off reading it so I can see the movie cold and therefore not have a preconception to perhaps have spoiled for me? Yes. I learned that one when I specifically read Starship Troopers before the movie came out – it just invites dissapointment.

    Can everyone who knows me reasonably expect me to have read Watchment, knowing my comic-booky geeky background? Yes. Therefore, it’s a safe assumption that I’m spoiler-proof and therefore nobody’s getting nailed to a tree for dropping spoilers.

    Bet nobody saw it coming that Galactica was actually a giant robot dagget in disguise, though. Suck it, interwebs.

  93. I agree with your suggested timeframes, but…again with the anniversary redundancy? It’s just the fifth anniversary, unless “five year years” is some sort of physics term.

  94. One thing I don’t see reflected here (although I must admit I have only skimmed the 106 comments) is that Scalzi twittered it. Everyone going all psycho on how not having a “statute of limitations” on spoilers will eliminate all works of criticism are missing something: twittering is not like publishing a review that someone can choose to read or not. Twittering is like walking into a party where all the people who like you are assembled and shouting something. They really do not have an opportunity to discern that you may reveal something they don’t want to know and to quietly turn away. (I will for the moment ignore the people who so upset some of you by requiring that you not talk about something because they haven’t seen it.)

    By definition a spoiler is information that spoils the experience of discovery. So there can’t possibly be a “statute of limitations”, and there is likewise no minimum length of time you must wait before revealing spoilers. You can share any information you like at any time. It will, however, be a spoiler if it ruins someone else’s experience of discovery; and if you do it via the social media equivalent of walking into a room of your friends and shouting it out (or shouting it in front of a movie theater), while totally within your right to free speech, you’re also being an ass.

  95. strangely, for me, I’ve actually been sucked into watching many a tv series or movie *because* it was spoiled for me. With so so much to watch and read all the time, and with my overly full time job, I have to use my time wisely. So I might forgo a series, for instance, because I’m initially not interested. But then I read friends discussions — spoilers included — and it’s precisely because of those low level details that I decide I want to see it played out for myself. I’d 1/3 of what I watch is based on me changing my mind thanks to spoilers.

  96. And as a counterpart to #109, there are some books and movies I’ve made a special effort to go check out, because I’ve seen them discussed enough, with hints about spoilers, that I’ve thought “I should see/read this now, before I accidentally see or remember the spoiler.”

  97. News flash: Odysseus makes it home, is recognized by his old dog, reunites with his boy, kills the creeps who’ve been trying to get into his wife’s pants, and lives happily ever after.

    Romeo and Juliet, however, are still dead.

    Pictures at 11:00.

  98. In opposition to Kenneth’s consideration of the specifics of twittering a spoiler, I submit that there is no such thing as a spoiler that is a) posted on twitter b) about a comic book c) that has been made into a movie. The affected consist only of those that already knew, don’t care, or can never be satisfied no matter what you do.

  99. Personally, I didn’t see the OMWplot secret as a big spoiler-type scene- just an interesting plot twist. The one that was a kick for me was the one in the opening of Ghost Brigades- that was fun when it hit.

  100. It’s funny that a couple of people still bitched about the Watchmen stuff in this post when it was pointed out that it’s something that occurs at the BEGINNING of the story, is part of the plot setup, and is therefore NOT IN FACT A SPOILER.
    There are those who feel that any bit of plot whatsoever, no matter how early, counts as spoilers, but such people are wackjobs.

  101. I agree with everything but TV. I think the DVR does change the week time limit. Maybe a couple of weeks.

    The interesting thing is that I have never had any problem avoiding spoilers. I never go near any forum or column that is about something I am interested in. I guess it could nail me someday but so far so lucky.

  102. In my friends-group I have enough people who watch TV only on DVD that the TV statute-of-limitations is DVD pub-date plus a month.

    We never talk about TV anymore. I remember the fond days of early Buffy, or Bab 5, where the world would be alight with “OMG!” and the few grumpasaruses who VCRed the shows got snarky. But they were few, and easily drowned out. Now, the delayed-viewers out number the live viewers (at least in my friends group) so “OMG!” has to be cut-tagged or hidden below a fold or something.

  103. The thing is, some of us may not have ever read or even heard of Watchmen before they started making a movie about it. Such as me =/, keep in mind that some of us nerds come from the world of math/science having not ever read a comic as a kid.

  104. I try to avoid spoilers for anything I might watch, and to avoid spoiling things; John’s scheme makes sense, but I don’t pay enough attention to release dates to use it. Rot-M is handy, but you can just be obscure; a discussion of “what science fiction have you just read” led to my posting something like this: “I’ve been reading Iain M. Banks’ The Culture novels, the first, … , and then the third. I got to about ten pages from the end, and Whoa. Put it down for a week and thought about it. Then picked it up and started again from the beginning without finishing, I must have missed something.” Must of been a half-dozen people who responded who knew exactly what I was referring to, who managed to reply and discuss without ever revealing, to anyone who hadn’t read it, that ….”

  105. My favorite is when they spoil an episode with the trailer for next week’s ep. I want to say Who was the most recent example for me, but I don’t remember the specifics. I just know it was a case where someone was in Life or Death Peril, they cut to ad, or even end of ep cliffhanger, and ran the preview for the next weeks ep where the character was not dead even a little. Coulda been the wire, even.

    Also, i had Crying Game spoiled for me without the help of the internet, and Fight Club was spoiled for me by a guy on usenet before it even came out on DVD.
    That’s the one that truly pissed me off.

  106. Urgh yeah I hate it when the network issues their own spoilers!!! Like “next week on LOST, Kate and Sawyer will be reunited” WTF?!?!? Way to ruin the ending of your episode, ABC! And don’t even get me started on how terrible SciFi network is at this! (If you get to consult on the promos for SGU, Scalzi, make sure they don’t contain spoilers like the SGA and SG-1 promos did!!!)

    I think the TV one should be 8 days, because Fox doesn’t release their episodes online until 8 days later. I love that ABC and CBS put theirs up the day after they air!

    And movies should be longer than 1 year because sometimes the DVDs are released later than that so they can add in extra features (a la LotR).

  107. I’m not going to read the other comments because of all the “amusing” spoilers people will put in, but I don’t believe in a statute of limitations on them. My life has become crazy–I’m pressed for time and money–but when things get sane again, I’ll have a lot of catching up to do.

    And it’s not as though people shouldn’t discuss significant plot events, just let others know that’s what you’re going to do (please).

  108. It’s one thing to run out after a screening of Titanic and yell ‘the boat sinks!’ and it’s quite another to reveal the fictional plotpoints involving Rose and Jack. (Want to make that movie fun on the umpteenth viewing? Keep in mind that Rose is the villain of the film. That mindset makes it an entirely different movie.)

    USA managed to spoil the semi-surprise ending of the Burn Notice season finale this week by including a critical scene in a promo they ran during the first airing of the episode, less than ten minutes before it aired in the show itself.

  109. @114: Pam, I read the OMW series in the “Ghost Brigades”, “Old Man’s War”, “The Last Colony” order (“Zoe’s Tale” is still on the to-read list–I’m looking forward to it). The opening of “Ghost Brigades” was so awesome, it would have been half-ruined if I’d read the series in the correct order. I doubt anyone hasn’t read it, but start with “Ghost Brigades”, it stands extremely well on its own, and has the better introduction to the setting. Not that “Old Man’s War” has a bad one–it has a solid opening. My theory, and you can correct me John, is that since you[John] were writing a sequel, you knew the universe, and wrote under the assumption that the reader already knew the universe, and you hit upon something more playful that just worked. (Also, it’s spoiler proof, I re-read it the other week, and it worked just as well, even knowing that Pnvara vfa’g uhzna!)

    Anyway, I try not to be a jerk and shout spoilers (with warnings, if I feel they’re appropriate) and practice safe browsing otherwise. I figure people who complain loudly about any spoiler I post are ponces who can safely be ignored.

  110. There are those who say that being spoiled shouldn’t detract from the enjoyment of whatever it was that was spoiled. I see this said a lot with movies and tv but rarely with books. Maybe it’s because of the effort required to get through one. It’s like recording a basketball game then having someone reveal the final score before you got to watch it. Maybe objectively that game was still the best thing ever and if you watched it you’d agree. But because you now feel like that there’s no point in watching you might never find out. Again, more likely with books, especially mystery novels whose very existence is predicated on keeping secrets until they’re supposed to be revealed.

    “Character X dies!” Well, shit. Why should I get all emotionally involved with some person who’s just going to die anyway? Better do something else.

    Worse, even if I do watch or read, because I’m on guard for the death or surprise or whatever I don’t feel the impact the way the writer intended me to feel. The suspense and plot twists are supposed to feel surprising because the creator set it up that way. You don’t fully feel what you’re supposed to if you already know what to expect so some value actually is lost if you know too much. When you read or see something a second time you’re admiring the technique of the surprise but not the surprise itself.

    As far as deciding whether something is considered spoilable, I think it depends how far it has penetrated into the cultural zeitgeist. Is it a common pop culture reference? Has it been mocked on the Simpsons or by late night comics? Is it expected that you should have learned it in high schools (for classic novels)?

  111. Don’t forget, also, that the world is far, far larger than the US and the rest of us may have no or very poor access to seeing new tv – and movies – for weeks or months after a release.

    Throwing out a wild, seemingly harmless spoiler (“OMG! Lost: HKJHJK’s ALIVE!”) in a twitter feed or, ugh, a Facebook status just because you’re excited about it, ruins the fun and excitement of others, and makes baby Jesus cry. I think if you can’t be certain of who is hearing or reading something (if they have searched out a blog or review, then they can suffer in their jocks), then keeping quiet is fair.

  112. I’m really enjoying reading the daily blog-feed of Pepys’ Diary, but I’m amused by the way that spoiler warnings have shown up in that for future events. As my husband said:

    Spoiler for Pepys’ Diary: SVER! SVER!

  113. I definitely think that Watchmen is currently subject to spoiler warnings. My wife would be annoyed by the particular spoiler in this post, since she hasn’t read the book. (While a voracious reader, she never read comic books, and therefore apparently never developed the requisite reading skills to deal with long-form graphic media. I know, weird, right?)

    While the scene itself has been all over the trailers, it’s not obvious to the uninitiated that (1) the guy flying through the window is the Comedian or (2) he winds up deadified. After all, this is a superhero in a superhero movie we’re talking about, and they have an uncanny knack of surviving just that sort of predicament.

    Plenty of folks are going to see the movie who haven’t read the book; that’s sort of the whole point, isn’t it? So yeah, in my insufficiently-humble opinion, I’d say it’s a bit uncool to be publishing spoilers about the novel just as the film hits the screen.

  114. My own worst spoiler experience was reading a Houston Post review of the first Tim Burton Batman movie. The reviewer said something like, “Of course, it’s eventually revealed that Joker killed Bruce Wayne’s parents. Big surprise. Yawn.”

    I was mad enough, long enough, to enjoy a slice of schadenfreude pie when the Post went belly-up a few years later.

    This seems like a special variation on the “release in a new medium” rule: when a new adaptation departs from canon significantly, the departure is itself a major spoiler for those who know the original, and reason to reset the clock.

  115. As John Novak once said, regarding spoilers on older works: “Frodo lives. Caesar dies. Jesus does both. Hope that didn’t ruin it for you.”

  116. SPOILERS!

    For those who’ve read the comic version of Watchmen, here’s a completely spoiled analysis of its war handwavium.


    I wonder if posting the war handwavium score of a work of fiction would qualify as a spoiler. It would be sort of equivalent to saying “300 is a violent movie” I think, but slightly more quantified. (300 scored over 600 points on the war handwavium scale)

    I have a friend who defines “spoiler” in a very extreme way. He doesn’t want to hear anything about a movie I’ve seen that he wants to see. I have a movie rating scale that is based on how much money I’d be willing to spend to see the movie. full evening price, matinee, rental, free on cable, don’t bother. He doesnt’ even want to hear how I rated the movie as a whole.

    It seems a bit odd to me, but, if I’m saying somethign about a movie and he says “I haven’t seen it, don’t say anything”, I try to respect the request.

  117. Some years ago I was watching a “live” 500CC Grand Prix on TV. The race was very close. Anyone could win. The final commercial break came on with about 10 laps to go as usual so they could show the last 7 or so laps uninterrupted. There was a newsbreak during the commercial. “… and now to sport. Mick Doohan has won the blah blah Motorcycle Grand Prix…”. Bastards.

  118. It’s a spoiler if it deprives you of the pleasure of discovery. It’s not a spoiler if it’s, you know, basically the premise of the work. Given that what happens to The Comedian in Watchmen is in the movie previews, happens during the first five minutes of the movie, is referenced in the most famous version of the book’s cover, and is the starting point for any number of reviews or summaries, I really don’t see how anyone can call it a spoiler. It’s a bit like telling somebody that there’s a murder in Murder On The Orient Express (okay, slight exaggeration, but you get the idea).

    I think the statute of limitations on spoilers is something that’s more of a judgment call than a fixed thing. Citizen Kane an Psycho are sufficiently cultural-milestones and so-often-referenced in pop culture, I suspect the person who doesn’t know the twist should feel worse than the person who reveals it (a different standard may apply with kids, however). I’m not going to feel bad about saying “Kong dies,” either. But if I’m talking about a movie that’s a little obscure, age may not be an issue: e.g. Alphaville is old but it’s also a movie I suspect most people haven’t seen, so I’m not going to discuss the plot in front of somebody who hasn’t seen it, statute-of-limitations or not.

    Part of the problem with the statute of limitations comes up in situations like the one I was in last week where I unintentionally spoiled a plot twist in Time After Time the other week–I don’t feel terrible, since the movie is old, I had good reason to think everyone there had already seen it, and the particular plot point was one that anybody ought to see coming, but I wish I hadn’t said anything, all the same.

    A warning is a courtesy, in any event.

  119. @131 Alison: You are so right about Samuel Pepys and the “spoilers.” There are people unfamiliar with the history, and so it is charming in a geeky way, but some of the commenters are way too serious about it. And your husband’s comment? Hilarious!

  120. I’ve been thinking about this more, and here’s what I”ve come up with.

    There are thousands if not millions of books, movies, comics, etc, even if we only confine ourselves to English language. There’s no way that one person can possibly read/see all of them, or even all of the good ones. Even if you take only current shows and movies, most people can’t keep up with all of them if they have anything else going on in their life. And then there are issues of availability– I’m studying abroad right now and I don’t have easy access to TV, so I’m planning on Netflixing a lot of shows when I get back. I’m trying to avoid spoilers in the meantime.

    So, if I’m trying to avoid spoilers for BSG, obviously I wouldn’t go to a site devoted to discussing BSG. But if I go to a blog like this, which is not specifically about that, it would be nice to get a moment’s warning so I can skip a post that will be about BSG.

    Some of you say people should avoid sites that might have spoilers if they don’t want spoilers. I totally agree they should avoid sites specifically devoted to whatever they don’t want to hear about. But are you really saying that someone who doesn’t have time or access to a show should avoid the whole internet for years at a time until they get a chance to watch it all?

    The same goes for old stuff, since there’s no way that people can have seen or read everything that came out in the past couple hundred years. Now, if you’re writing a review on something you shouldn’t need spoiler warnings, because people should know to avoid reviews. But you shouldn’t put a major spoiler as your title, and you shouldn’t post it with no warning on a site that has nothing to do with that work. (The exception would be things that have become super common knowledge, like the “Luke, I am your father” line. But even then, there’s no reason to tell it to a kid who hasn’t seen the movie yet.)

    So, yes, you should use spoiler warnings, either explicitly or just by making it clear in your writing that you’re going to talk about the plot of something.

  121. @111, I haven’t gotten into Twitter yet and that’s a really good reason not to.

  122. Oh, and having read more of the comments, I do think its generally ok to mention things that happen right at the beginning. You should use discretion there.

    For example, has anyone seen this week’s Dollhouse? There’s a scene very near the beginning that seems to be one thing and turns out to be another, and even though its within the first 5 or 10 minutes of the show, I”d think its mean to tell someone that when they haven’t seen the episode yet. It wouldn’t ruin the whole show, but it would be annoying.

  123. I have a very nifty bit of script I found somewhere that you add as a bookmark to your bookmarks bar (the one that runs across the top of your screen in Safari, Firefox and who knows what else.

    Just create a Bookmark (I named mine ROT-13) with the URL as:


    Then highlight the text you want ROT-13’d and click the bookmark and it will open a popup window with the converted text.

  124. I don’t read many comics, so I’m not familiar at all with The Watchmen. I am planning on seeing it with some friends though. I would imagine that there are going to be a quite a few people who are in my boat (not familiar with the comics) who are going to see the movie.

    Some things are fairly common knowledge and others are less so. So I wouldn’t put a hard rule on it, but I would consider how a new medium can lead to exposure to larger audiences.

  125. Sometimes, I feel like I’m the only freak who doesn’t care about spoilers. The only time a spoiler really spoils anything is when there is a huge twist ending, as in “The Sixth Sense” or “The Crying Game”. In those cases though, I find that most people are pretty good about keeping the big twist ending a secret.

    For the most part, I don’t care if I know how a story ends. For me, it’s the journey that matters. Knowing the ending helps me see things that I otherwise wouldn’t see. Most ending are very predictable anyway.

  126. I don’t have a TV, so I watch shows on DVD. That said, I understand that I’m an oddity in that, so I consider it my responsibility to avoid spoilers for shows I’m following.

    For books, I think it depends on the book and the audience. There are a variety of factors that determine how reasonable it is for the unspoiled to expect to be protected from a given spoiler. If their expectations are well-founded, I respect them. If they’re absurd, I don’t.

    For instance, when it came to Harry Potter, I started losing sympathy for the spoiled after a couple of months. Once you can get spoiled by opening a major newspaper, it’s not my job to keep you under your rock. But there are other books for which I’d rot-13 spoilers even after five years, if I felt like people planning to read the book would have a reasonable expectation that the thread I was posting spoilers in would be safe.

  127. You know what we need? Spoilers for utterly imaginary books, movies, and TV shows.

    1. Anyone who hires an aging alcoholic investigator is not primarily concerned with finding the truth.

    2. Optical computers are not disabled by magnetic fields.

    3. “cix” is a number.

    4. The “years” are not Earth years.

    5. They are both lying.

    6. Blue eyes, blond hair, perfect idiomatic Mandarin.

  128. I took my wife out to dinner the night Titanic came out. While we were in the restaurant, a young couple came in. If I had to guess, I would say they were in the twenties. And the guy says, “Man, if I knew the boat was gonna sink, I wouldn’t have gone.”

    Movies about the Titanic, the Alamo, the World Trade Center, George Armstrong Custer, Apollo 13, Father Damien, etc… should be considered self-spoiling and therefore free game.

  129. @152 Craig


    You ruined it!

    I swear 20,000 leagues under the sea had a squid in it!

    No more comments on that!

  130. Book–until released in paperback or 6 months if released in paperback.

    I think that was the rule on Baen’s Bar when I hung out there.

    If libraries have that many people waiting for a book they buy another copy. Anyone who really wants to read something, regardless of finances, can obtain it within six months of release date, and if it’s not enough of a priority to read within six months, then it wasn’t enough of a priority to for you to complain about spoilers.

    At least, that’s my position. But I really don’t care about spoilers. I can almost always spot the plot, so that’s not why I read. (I rarely watch movies/tv, they’re just boring.) There are only so many things the auther can possibly do in a given situation, it’s more about how he does them. You know, you’re halfway through the book, the POV character is in a life or death situation, you know they’re going to live: there are 150 pages to go.

  131. For spoilers without a warning or some form of obfuscation? I think 100 years or until the medium has died out as a form of mainstream entertainment is about right.

    I’ve never seen Psycho, and likely never will, because I already know the twist and have done since I was about eight. Too bad.

    That said, “Jesus dies” or “The Titanic sinks” are fair enough, and I only know why in one of those cases. Puzzling.

  132. I just got back from seeing Watchmen, and am one of those viewers who did not read/know the comic. Since the Comedian doesn’t wear a big sign saying ‘Hi, My name is the Comedian,’ I found that John’s spoiler didn’t spoil anything.

  133. And the guy says, “Man, if I knew the boat was gonna sink, I wouldn’t have gone.”

    Knowing what happened in real life and knowing what happened in the Hollywood version are not at all the same thing. Do you really think it’s ridiculous to assume that a fiction-based movie about the Titanic must end with the boat sinking?

  134. I will never read another Christy Lemire movie review.

    “Sixth Sense” was out long enough for someone to buy me the newly issued DVD as a present after I assiduously avoided for months hearing any spoilers yet, the very same day I’m to view it , Lemire publishes a piece on “movie mistakes”, including a key scene in SS which she regards as a “mistake” [exposing the twist] because she misunderstood the scene!

    I watched the scene — where Bruce Willis meets Toni Colette at her home — three times to insure that Lemire had the brains of a retarded newt.


  135. Miko:

    If you’ve not gone to see Psycho because you “know the twist” you’ve missed what’s actually going on. The twist is the setup for the last 40 seconds of the film, where Hitchcock makes use of the most restrained use of a special effect I’ve ever seen to give you the frigging *crawls*. Most people miss it unless they single frame through the end, and I’ll be willing to bet a nice shiny dollar you’ve never heard about it–nor will you see it unless you watch the film.

  136. There are cases where knowing the actual history doesn’t help, such as in “The Madness of King George”.

  137. Your “book” and “film” time limits, I have not much problem with. TV series (or whatever the correct plural is), however… In this globally interconnected world, you can expect up to at least several months before a given episode has been initially aired in most (if not all) localities it’s likely to be aired in and having at least a smidgen of a “this contains spoliers for …” is, while not necessary, at least considerate. If I know that spoliers are upcoming, I know to avoid them, if I don’t want to see them.

    For medium-changing things? I don’t know. I lean closer to “if it’s been published in another medium for a good while, a media conversion doesn’t reset any spoiler limitation(s)”, so for the specific instance of Watchmen the movie, I don’t consider it spoilable (especially since I’ve bought the graphic novel twice and first read it in the late 80s).

  138. There’s a whole other dimension to this issue you haven’t considered. Spoilers are cyclical. “Snape throws Dumbledore from the astronomy tower” isn’t a spoiler to anyone with a pulse under forty today, but ten years from now, it’s a surprise to a whole new generation, just like the end of Return of the Jedi shocked me in the mid eighties when Star Wars was suddenly retro-rad.

    I don’t think there’s a statute of limitations. I think there’s a window of discussion before you’re just victimizing a different demographic with your spoilers…

    Though, honestly… I don’t know how the new generations who are being born with the internet already such an enormous part of American culture are ever going to find an opportunity to enjoy any media experience first-hand with so much data swim about.

  139. “Also, given the placement of the Comedian’s death in the novel (i.e., right at the beginning)”

    Evidence for rebuttal: Scream. That the death at the beginning is at the beginning does not make it any less a spoiler due to happening at the beginning.

    Still, I may have to give you a pass here. As a comment above notes, if you don’t know Watchmen, you don’t know who the Comedian is until after he dies, anyway. But that’s a bare, squeaking, pass!

    I’m afraid, however, that the margins of this blog entry are not wide enough to contain my full thoughts on spoilers in general.

  140. @Michael_GR (#78),

    There’s a very neat plugin for Firefox called ubiquity which allows all sorts of neat features, including translation in the page (so the web page is modified and you can keep reading everything else in context, without going to / from other web pages.

    My rot13 plugin for ubiquity is available at:

  141. I don’t see why it’s such a big thing to be polite. Is it going to kill anyone? I’ll go out on a limb and say NO! Ask people in a personal discussion or put stuff behind a cut on a blog – whatever. Just show a bit of respect for other folks. It’s not bloody difficult, people.

    The number one problem in the world today is that no-one believes in good manners anymore. It’s all ‘me, me, me’ these days. Show some consideration for others and we can all be happy. This is just one example.

  142. I once read a review of the movie Se7en that came out a day or two before opening night, and the first sentence was (spoilers here) “Jura oenq cvgg bcraf gur obk pbagnvavat tjlargu cnygebj’f urnq…” (or words to that effect). This was in a local weekly paper, not just some guy on Usenet.

    I am a little on the extreme anti-spoiler side, because, as another poster said, you can never get that naive viewing again. Sure, good shows you can watch more than once, but if someone spoils it, you never get to watch it the first time. (I run into them a lot more with TV/movies than I do with books, maybe because I tend to be more on top of books than video.)


    Rosebud was his sled
    To Serve Man is a cookbook
    The ruby slippers can take her home
    Laura Palmer was killed by her father
    Darth Vaders is Luke’s father
    Princess Leia is Luke’s sister
    Germany lost WWII
    The reason you a such an idiot is that you fixate on stupid things like spoilers.

  144. I really hate surprises, so I don’t at all mind spoilers. That said, I’m not sure that cryptogramming spoilers hides them sufficiently, since I compulsively solved them all (with pen and paper and continuing through all the comments) as I read along.
    (apropos de rien, the post above this one seems a little rude)

  145. Nah, close of broadcast for tv. A month for movies, two weeks if it is a blockbuster, a month for books. Spoilers are really only for pre-release information. Frankly, as soon as it goes public then it is your own look out to dodge info not anyone else’s to hide it.

  146. I agree with some the the commentors here that TV’s statute of limitations should be longer–let’s say a year. We’re in the era of Netflix and binge watching now and with so many shows and time at a premium, people wait until a season is out before watching.

    The one week rule wouldn’t apply in situations like Netflix’s own House of Cards where the entire season pops up all at once. How long do you wait–a week? Two? Is that time enough for everyone interested to see it? Even hear about it?

    The more obvious dilemma are people catching up on a backlog of queued programming that likely puts them years behind. I still haven’t caught up on all those BSG episodes! (Okay, that one’s on me. But still…). It takes a while to consume that much television (no comment on whether that’s even healthy or not). so I’d advocate for a longer statute on TV:

    **Though a single season of TV would be enough, just to be safe–let’s say one calendar year.**

  147. Little history lesson: Spoiler Alert started in the 90s with the internet. As the country of origion got shows/movies etc before others they labeled it spoiler alert out of respect to those yet to see that episode/movie/etc so it wasn’t ruined.

    Spoilers have been twisted in time to include leaks, trailers and speculation. You get people saying if it’s been shown in the country of orgin, it’s no longer a spoiler.

    It’s a spoiler as long as the person you’re talking to hasn’t seen/read it and you should warn them so they can stop you/stop reading. You wouldn’t tell a 4 year old that _____ is Luke Skywalker’s father as they get in to watching the movie unless you’re a giant jerk. The same thing applies. If you’re spoiling someone’s enjoyment of something because you’re disrespectful/too lazy to label your tweet/blog/whatever as a spoiler then you’re pretty much that person who ruined the whole Star Wars experience for someone.

  148. SPOILER ALERT: the code, a Caesar code, is called ROT13, and it simply consists of rotating the alphabet by 13. So a becomes n, z becomes m, etc. Because the English alphabet has 26 letters, it encrypts and decrypts with the same algorithm. It is commonly used for spoiler alerts because it takes a slight amount of effort to read. Unless, of course, you can read in rot13, in which case you deserve everything you get.

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