Pop Culture

Spoilers Are Totally Cool Now, Apparently

Mando comin'.
Mando comin'. Lucasfilm
Spoilers for a ton of stuff, including the first episode of The Mandalorian, follow.

The topic of spoilers — what constitutes them and when they can be revealed — is a contentious one these days. Maybe not as divisive as "Did Epstein kill himself?"*, but close.

"Professionally" speaking, movie critics have differing approaches. One school of thought says a film review should provide an opinion of the film, evaluating its various components (plot, cast, editing, cinematography, etc) while refraining from revealing elements intended to surprise the audience. We call this the correct approach.

Other critics choose to drop major plot revelations or character deaths in their reviews with little concern for how the information will be received or whether or not such information will have a deleterious effect on the audience experience. We call this the asshole approach.

But the Byzantine mores of the movie community are just the tip of the iceberg (Leo dies!). Any online community even obliquely related to movies is sure to have had a handful of overwrought discussions on the subject. How long after a movie's release should spoiler integrity be maintained? Ten years (Bill Murray dies!)? Twenty (Bruce Willis was dead the whole time!)? Forty (Rocky wins!)?

Assholes aside, some of the more commonly agreed-upon conventions include not spoiling movies in their first couple weeks of release, or posting "spoiler warning" before any potential damaging info (*cough*). Some sites also employ [spoiler] tags, which I've frankly always found to be even more tempting, like putting a big, red, candy-like button in front of Stimpy.

TV spoilers are a similar, though not identical, conundrum. Because so many people are in the habit of offering real-time commentary on programs as they air, avoiding spoilers isn't just a matter of skipping reviews or avoiding certain message boards. When certain anticipated television episodes air, you pretty much have to disconnect from the internet entirely until the episode airs in your time zone or — if you recorded it — you finally have a chance to watch. If you could stay off social media and the main entertainment sites/news aggregators for a few days, you might be safe.

Which brings us to The Mandalorian.

If you haven't seen the first two installments of the first live-action Star Wars show, currently airing on Disney+, well ... it probably doesn't matter, does it? By now, unless you've been dropped down a well to wait for Saw Gerrera (who dies), you're well aware of the big reveal at the end of the first episode:

SPOILER! It's Baby Yoda (doo doo doo doo doo doo). At least, it's a juvenile (50-year old) version of whatever species Yoda belongs to. "Baby Yoda" has a nice ring to it, though.

I was lucky enough to get a screener link to the first episode and saw it before the memes started and Werner Herzog lost his shit, so that was fine. Still, I should have seen the reaction coming, given that both my kids immediately rewound the ending and paused it so they could take pictures and make him the desktop on their Kindles.

We're now two weeks removed from the airing of the first episode, and you can still see pics of Baby Yoda on Google's trending news page. Other articles don't even hide the spoiler in the text, offering speculation right there in the headlines (fun fact: the above linked GQ article has a spoiler warning directly underneath a banner photo of the little green dude).

And this may be a function of Disney+'s decision to eschew the usual streaming strategy of dumping an entire season at once. In the past, popular shows like House of Cards, Stranger Things, and Man in the High Castle** usually enjoyed the mystery for at least that first weekend required by die-hards to binge the entire thing. With a week between offerings, The Mandalorian is seeing what happens when you choke off the grist for the perpetual content mill.

More worrying is the very real possibility that spoilers aren't A Thing anymore. I've bitched in the past about having Citizen Kane spoiled for me by Charles Schultz (something of a habit of his, as it turns out), but it was a 35-year old movie even then. Now, in the rush to get clicks or ride the adrenaline rush of a fleeting viral sensation, even the flimsy conventions of yore appear to have gone out the window.

And the bad news is: there's nothing you can do about it. Not really. Disconnecting isn't an option, unless everyone you interact with in meatspace also obliges, and it still only takes one blabbermouth. In the meantime, you're left with what happened at this week's Knives Out screening, which was preceded by a clip of writer/director Rian Johnson pleading with us not to ruin the whodunit.

Given his ... healthy relationship with online trolls, I'm not optimistic.

* He didn't. Or did he?
** Just kidding,
Man in the High Castle was never popular.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar