BILL HARRIS, QMI Agency
The extent to which the word "spoiler" has been stretched became personal when I wrote a story off a phone conference with Simpsons exec producer Al Jean. In it, he divulged that they plan to kill off a character.
Almost immediately, I received an email from a furious reader calling me all sorts of things I can't print here.
Wow. The goalposts have really been moved. It's a spoiler when the creators themselves reveal that -- sometime this season or early next -- one of dozens of possible characters will meet his or her fictional demise.
(I can safely predict, when the time comes around, the show will "tease" this event ceaselessly).
Accept those parameters, and I'm pretty much paralyzed. I can't tell you anything about anything that hasn't happened yet, at least not without a 72-point "SPOILER ALERT!"
There was a time I thought I understood the concept of spoilers. You didn't give away the ending, or a major "reveal" a la The Crying Game or Million Dollar Baby.
That's been understood for a long time. It's been 61 years since Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap opened in London's West End, and the twist ending has been one of the most zealously-guarded secrets in theatre.
But "spoiler" has fallen prey to subjective interpretation and hyperbole, much like, say, "socialism" -- a word that has a precise dictionary definition, but through political punditry, has come to mean "government doing anything."
And now, with shows like 'Breaking Bad', and the perfect storm of tiers of viewing (premium channels, specialty cable, basic), PVRs and "binge viewing," the definition of spoiler is also slouching toward "anything" territory.
Our policy is that once something's screened publicly, it's in the public domain. However, we know enough not to go the route of the New York Daily News, which splashed the fate of Walt White on its front page as soon as the Breaking Bad finale ended. (We had the info in Bill Harris's review, with the de rigueur "alerts").
To be honest, if I'd subscribed to the Daily News, it might have been a spoiler for me, since I PVR'ed the show and watched it the next day. But knowing things ahead of time has never bothered me. I'm more an "it's not the destination but the journey" kind of guy, I guess.
But let's consider what this means. Should we stop reporting hockey scores because people have PVR'ed the game and it would spoil the experience for them if we did?
Should we just slap "Spoiler Alert!" where everybody's byline used to be?
So let's make a deal. I will not reveal shock twists or endings (except for Citizen Kane -- that was a sled).
But all bets are off if your definition of spoiler is wide enough to include basic plot information -- or if you can't get around to your PVR queue until weeks or months after the event.
In Walt's words, I will "tread lightly." But tread I will.
STEVE TILLEY, QMI Agency
Believe it or not, there was a time when people went to movies or watched TV shows or read books without knowing more than the basic details in advance -- the actors or director or author, maybe a vague idea of the story, and that's about it.
And I daresay those people had way more fun consuming their entertainment than we do today. Or if nothing else, they were more surprised by it. And isn't that kind of the same thing?
As someone who was berated for giving away the twist in 'The Sixth Sense' more than five years after it came out, I also think our spoiler intolerance settings are way too high.
But there also has to be a certain amount of sensitivity, especially when it's something like the 'Breaking Bad' season finale, or the Red Wedding in 'Game of Thrones' (yes I know it was in the books, but that's another medium and is thus disqualified from spoiler immunity.) In the era of cutting the cord and cancelling the cable, you've got to give people a week or two, minimum, to get caught up.
A good rule of thumb online is to put at least one mouse click between the audience and the potential spoilers, making it clear (to anyone with common sense) that what they're about to read could dampen their enjoyment. If you click on a link about a Walking Dead finale and you haven't seen it yet, you're the one who needs some braaaaaaains.
What irks me, though, is that the biggest spoilers in the world aren't your blabby friends around the watercooler or newspaper columnists who ruin twist endings. (Thanks Jim, now I know what Rosebud is. Guess I can toss out my as-yet unwatched Citizen Kane DVD.)
The most unapologetic spoiler-spinner out there is Hollywood itself. Want to see the new superhero movie or sci-fi spectacle with fresh eyes? As if. Enjoy having all the best lines and biggest action setpieces revealed in the never-ending stream of previews and trailers that we, the impatient audience, lap up without question.
Sure, the journey is more fun than the destination, but that's because the journey is where the surprises lie. If you sit in the car with Google Maps open on your iPad, checking out every detail down the road before it slides by your windows, why are you even taking the trip in the first place? Surprises in entertainment are already an endangered species. Shouldn't we be nurturing and protecting them, not hastening their extinction?