July 25, 2007
Does Peeking Spoil the Fun? (2 of 2)

In my view, there are a few observations, some echoing those made in Sam Ford's post last week that we can draw from the NY Times incident and fan behavior around the HP7 release more generally:

Reaction against spoilers aren't so much about the story as they are about community "codes." Looking at some of the fan sites and comments, I was struck by how often it was suggested that people who had a spoiler needed to warn others if they were going to share it. Even though some fans see spoilers as abhorrent, they seem to be acceptable if they are properly marked and the risk of stumbling upon them therefore reduced. That said, a great deal of objection also came from the "premature" presence of spoilers, before the book was officially released. And if the alleged copies of the book's text that were floating around the Internet were actually fan fiction, fan writing in the context of an impending and high-profile release does not seem to be acceptable. In this case, adherence and "respect" for the official release date was explained as what defined a "true" Harry Potter fan.

The teaser-spoiler distinction is one of perception. I have not read the book yet, so I am purposely staying away from reading reviews. However, as the debate on the NY Times blog demonstrated, any mention of a plot point could potentially be seen as a spoiler by some, a teaser by others.

No one really knows if something is a spoiler until the actual text is available -- and it's still all about perception. Comments on the blog were made after the book's release, but so far, I haven't seen anything post-release that indicates that anyone has looked at if the comments made in the review were actually big giveaways of the plot, although that type of analysis may well come out in the next week or so.

From what I could glean from the comments, there was no single part of the review that blew the whole series wide open, in the vein of "Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father." Any comments on this would be most welcome. This last point would suggest that the only people who know if something is a spoiler are the people who have read the actual text. By reacting strongly against the alleged spoilers and their premature revelations of the plot, these individuals could actually be spoilers themselves if other fans perceive that the unauthorized version may be the actual plot.

Not peeking is harder than it looks, and often stems from a need for small revelations. Anyone reading a review of the book wanted some sort of idea beforehand of what the book would be like. But those who were upset about the review's content wanted smaller revelations. How small? That's almost impossible to tell, and all fans are probably different.

When information is so readily available and distributable through the Internet, it is almost a given that some misinformation will be out there. Some people will inadvertently encounter spoilers, some people will seek them out, some will write their own endings that will be feared as potential rule breakers. At its core, this incident was about trust and control. Trust of a venerated media outlet, rightly or wrongly, to adhere to the code of conduct of the fan community , and a desire of fans to exercise complete control over the moment when they find out who lives and who dies.

Did the Times really publish a spoiler? Will it be Harry or Valdemort? It'll take me a while to read the book. I would flip to the back to see how many pages there are, but that would be peeking. I don't want to spoil the ending for myself...yet.


On July 25, 2007 at 9:15 PM, lynn liccardo said:

interesting that this topic should come up now. the current posting by longtime soap opera critic, marlena de la croix on jack myer's media village explores the same questions regarding spoilers on soaps, only her topic is a statement, not a question:

"Spoilers Spoil Soaps"

my thoughts:

"in total agreement in general, and with james in particular.

for me, the worst casting spoiler was on gl years back (long before on-line spoilers, the print soap media was just as bad). watching harley search for buzz's name on the wall in washington lacked any emotional payoff because we all knew that justin deas was coming back as buzz.

and laurie caso was so pissed that a planned storyline for atwt (to burn the snyder farm and bring all the snyder kids back to oakdale) was leaked that he killed the story. i remember discussing caso's decision with an editor of our (marlena's) mutual acquaintence who pretty much said that she thought killing the story was just stupid -- that soap viewers were busy people and spoilers helped them plan their schedules. but making it easy for people not to watch makes no sense.

but the bigger problem is that spoilers ignore how storylines are structured. the "climax" of a storyline is almost always anticlimatic. it's the build up and fall out that matter. for me the best parts are the conversations that do absolutely nothing to advance the plot, but let us see the relationship between two characters."


A few quick comments:

I've read both Deathly Hallows (which I've mused about on my blog) and the NYT review. The only info that approaches a "spoiler" in the review is the revelation of what the Deathly Hallows are, which is revealed midway through the book. I don't see this information, which I didn't have before reading the book, as transformative, and I imagine that a movie preview of a story like DH would certainly explain or allude to what they are, if only to justify the title - imagine if the preview for Indiana & the Temple of Doom gave you no clue about the titular temple?

In my research on spoiler fans of the show Lost (again, see my blog), the sliding scale of what constitutes a spoiler was explored. Our survey showed that 1/4 of spoiler fans thought that televised previews of the next episodes constituted spoilers, and 3/4 thought producers' "pre-hash" discussions on their podcast were spoilers. So spoilers are both slippery to define, and do not need to be "illicit" - after all, Rowling publicly stated ahead of time that one character she'd plan to kill off would survive, and two others would die instead. Is this not a "spoiler"? (And if you want to know who those people are, look at the USA Today interview.)


Lynn, thanks for the cross-post of Marlena's post. I've put some comments for her there.

To chime in on what Jason says, as I commented in some of my own posts about spoilers, the idea of what a spoiler is cannot easily be defined. I am fascinated to watch fan communities on discussion boards try and define it, as the nature on the soaps sites I post on are to mark spoilers in the entry line, but then you end up with people eventually thinking a certain actor returning is "common knowledge," only to anger others, or else debating on whether to comment about things not as spoilers once they have appeared in magazines, once they have appeared in the "upcoming" previews, etc.