The Rise Of ‘Spoiler Culture’ And How To Deal With It

by : Tom Percival on : 22 May 2016 12:00

We live in a golden age of storytelling and it’s a great time to be a fan of film and TV – both on the big screen and small screen.


Well, almost a great time. You see, in the last few years a strange phenomena has emerged.

The weird concept of the ‘spoiler’ – basically, when someone reveals a critical plot point to you, spoiling the show before you’ve actually watched it.


The rise of spoiler culture is a fascinating thing and quite where it came from has always been something that perplexed me.


I seem to remember, as a kid, if I missed an episode of Dragon Ball Z or The Simpsons then I was just out of luck.

You could guarantee the next day on the playground, people would be bandying about plot details without a care that they were ruining the show for me or anyone else.


But far from begging my classmates to stop, I used to revel in the leaked secrets of a missed episode.

Partially because it allowed you to get involved in chats about the show, but also because there was no way to watch that episode again, so talking about it was one of the few ways to experience it.


This was, of course, back before the rise of on-demand services like Sky Plus, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. Back in the day, if you missed an episode of your favourite show it was simply lost to the ether.

Oh, sure, it could be repeated, but you’d struggle to know when. So, if you missed it, you missed it. It was gone.


So what changed?


Well, partly, it’s down to the more dynamic nature of programming. New on-demand services mean that instead of people living their lives around TV, television instead moves around to fit them, so missing a programme is no longer the end of the world.

That means that people who miss a show no longer need to talk about it to experience it and, obviously, they don’t want to have the show ruined for them if they plan to watch it at a later date.

Hence spoilers. Add to this the rise of the Internet and social media addiction, and the potential to have a show spoiled for you increases if you choose to wait – which is probably why people get so defensive about it.


So here’s the crux of the debate. Is it fair to stop people talking about things they’re passionate about because you’ve not seen or read it yet? Or does the responsibility lie with those who’ve seen the show not to ruin it for others?

Personally, I think you’re totally within your rights to stop someone from ruining a programme that you’ve not seen yet.

But, that said, there’s a very definite time frame for complaining about spoilers.


So what is that time frame?


Well, as a quick aside, the other day in the office we were discussing the newest season of Game of Thrones. 

As we spoke about the first episode, a colleague clamped his hands over his ears crying ‘spoilers’, and explained that he hadn’t seen the episode.

Well, none of us would dream about spoiling the latest episode. That was, until he revealed that he was a bit further than just one episode behind – he hadn’t even hit season 4 yet!


And that brings us to the tricky issue around spoilers. By all rights, and in the interest of fairness, you should give everyone enough time to watch the programme or read the book that you’re talking about.

But what’s the appropriate time to leave before spilling the beans?

Personally, I live by the rule that if I haven’t seen a show or movie two weeks after it was released, I’m not in a place to complain about spoilers.

Mostly because if I couldn’t be bothered to watch it within that time, I clearly wasn’t all that fussed about seeing it in the first place.


Now, I understand that this is just a personal philosophy and that a great many people would disagree with me. Not everyone has access to shows as and when they come out, and are instead forced to wait for them to be released on DVD.

However, some people like my aforementioned colleague wait years, and then wail ‘spoilers,’ which just isn’t fair. If you’ve put the time and effort into watching a show or reading a book, then you should bloody well be allowed to talk about it!

And, let’s be honest, if you’re only four seasons into a six season (and counting) series, you can’t really expect to stay unspoiled, as unfair as that may sound.


So often nowadays our fear of ruining things means we neuter what we want to say about something for fear of spoiling it.

So much so, that it’s become an irritating form of self-censorship.

It’s even getting to the point where people are watching film trailers and complaining about spoilers.

Well, they’re spoiling the film because that’s their job – trailers are supposed to tease the audience by intriguing you.

batman-v-supermanbatman-v-supermanSpoilers: Batman and Superman are in Batman V Superman

And, for all those who complain that trailers ruin everything – like the Batman v Superman trailer – they need to know that the people who cut trailers together aren’t stupid. They know the dirty truth. Secretly, nobody actually gives a shit about spoilers.

Back in 2011, researchers conducted a study that revealed something shocking. They found that when test subjects were given given spoilers about a story and then made to read that story, they actually enjoyed it just as much as unspoiled stories.


You see, the study found that plots are just excuses for great storytelling. It doesn’t matter that you know the course of a narrative because a story that’s compelling will always be compelling – a verdict I agree with.

In conclusion, dealing with spoilers is easy, the simple lesson is – don’t be a dick.

You should never intentionally ruin a show for anyone but, at the same time, you can’t live your life promising to catch up when you know in your heart that you won’t.

It’s all about compromise and, as long as we can find a fair middle ground, then there’s no reason to spoil anything.

Tom Percival

More of a concept than a journalist, Tom Percival was forged in the bowels of Salford University from which he emerged grasping a Masters in journalism. Since then his rise has been described by himself as ‘meteoric’ rising to the esteemed rank of Social Editor at UNILAD as well as working at the BBC, Manchester Evening News, and ITV. He credits his success to three core techniques, name repetition, personality mirroring, and never breaking off a handshake.

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