Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy learned the hard way this weekend that spoilers carry penalties. McCoy angered fans after he posted a reaction on Twitter and Instagram to a key moment in “Avengers: Endgame,” and is now facing backlash from an angry online mob.
McCoy wasn’t happy with a character’s death, and shared the details of that spoiler to flummoxed online users. In one video, he even proclaimed that he was “done with Avengers.” But now others are done with McCoy, including one man who started a petition to demand that the Bills fire McCoy — and have Twitter ban him as well.
On the other side of the world, Asia One and TVBS reported that a Hong Kong man was beaten after exiting an “Endgame” screening and loudly sharing spoilers near the theater entrance.
Pop culture spoilers have been a hot topic for years, given the now-ubiquity of social media. But this weekend may have been the apex, as record audiences flocked to “Avengers: Endgame” this weekend and a pivotal episode of TV’s No. 1 series, “Game of Thrones,” aired Sunday night. Fans who hadn’t seen either faced a spoiler minefield by Monday morning.
And thereby lies the age-old spoiler debate: How much, and when, is it OK to discuss key TV and movie plot points once something is released? “Endgame” broke all box office records over the weekend, which means the majority of die-hard fans have already seen the film. If pretty much everyone now knows, well, the endgame, can’t we talk about it now? HBO’s “Game of Thrones” enjoys hefty time-shifted viewing via on demand or the network’s streaming app — but the majority of viewers still catch it the night of air. Days later, is it safe to spill the beans?
As the weekend ended, “Game of Thrones” spoilers were easier to find online, as users perhaps treated it more like a sporting event and felt it was OK to compare notes once the show aired in all time zones. “Avengers: Endgame” audiences (with the notable exception of people like McCoy) have remained more cautious — knowing, perhaps, that not everyone could get into sold-out showings over the weekend, and also maybe influenced by a “#DontSpoilTheEndgame” campaign pushed out by Marvel.
But that doesn’t make it clear when, if ever, it be OK in the wild to discuss [redacted] on “Thrones” or that [redacted] in “Endgame” without ruining it for someone. And just as there are no specific spoiler rules, there are no perfect spoiler answers. “I feel like spoilers should be treated the same way people talk about religion and sex in mixed company,” said comedian Paul Scheer (“Black Monday,” “Veep”). “You have to know if you are on the same page first. Always gauge your audience. Are they caught up? Did they see it? It’s your responsibility to check in when it’s a brand new piece of info. Don’t use a spoiler as the opening line to a conversation or as a gif to punctuate a text message thread.”
There used to be no such thing as TV spoilers post-air. Once a show ran, it was like a sporting event — the people who were going to see it saw it, and there wouldn’t be another chance until reruns — so discuss away. But time-shifting changed that, and streaming media brought a whole additional on-demand habit to TV viewing.
Of course, that means now anything that has been produced at any time in history could potentially be spoiled — even years later. Some audiences may just be getting around to watching “The Sopranos” or “Mad Men” — and perhaps don’t know about those shows’ iconic endings. Young fans may not know what happens to Ross and Rachel on “Friends,” or what’s inside the “Lost” hatch.
Those shows likely fall way outside any statute of limitations, however. “After two months it’s all fair game,” Scheer said. “If you really wanted to see it that bad, you would have.”
“The Good Place” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” executive producer Mike Schur clocks the average spoiler window at about a week. But it depends on the circumstance: “If it’s ‘Endgame’ or ‘Game of Thrones,’ and you know people are dying to not get spoiled, err on the side of caution,” he said. “I mean, a legitimate question would be, why are you discussing spoilers at all? Why risk spoiling someone? But an equally legitimate question would be, why are you looking at Twitter if you’re worried about being spoiled? I know some people have to use social media for their jobs, but when I’m late to something I just stay off it.”
Until the Internet, avoiding film spoilers was also simple — just bow out of any conversations about a movie until you’re ready. In more recent times, “Avengers” studio Marvel has become well-known for its secrecy, to the point that it spends a lot of resources to hunt down leaks pre-release and avoid the early dissemination of spoilers at all costs. Once a film is released, however, it’s a different game — and up to fans to police themselves.
“Because so many of you have invested your time, your hearts, and your souls into these stories, we’re once again asking for your help,” directors Joe and Anthony Russo wrote in an open letter to fans. “When you see ‘Endgame’ in the coming weeks, please don’t spoil it for others, the same way you wouldn’t want it spoiled for you.”
Schur said his writers’ room is “very conscientious about announcing we are going to discuss something, so people can get up and leave. Our writers assistant Dana couldn’t see ‘Endgame’ last weekend, so she had to walk out of the room like 30 times today.”
“BoJack Horseman” creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg said he has a simple rule of thumb when it comes to spoilers, which he also applies to life: “Just, you know, try to look out for each other.”
Spoilers, he noted, are subjective. “Just because an off-hand joke or a reveal or a news story doesn’t spoil something for you doesn’t mean it won’t spoil something for someone else,” he said. “This is pretty basic, but I still see people litigating what does and doesn’t constitute a spoiler as if there are hard and fast rules inherent in nature just waiting to be discovered and adhered to.”
Bob-Waksberg said he now makes it a habit to avoid any reviews or trailers for films and TV shows that he wants to see, and may even stay offline until he sees a certain episode.
As for his own show, Bob-Waksberg has been frustrated by some reviews — even the “very thoughtful and well-written” ones — that give away too much.
“I’ve read reviews of ‘BoJack’ that are posted pre-launch, with no spoiler warnings, that give away the ends of episodes, full character arcs, and late-season reveals,” he said. “I think sometimes critics and journalists forget that they often get to enjoy and discover things before the hype so they’re a little spoiled, when it comes to not being spoiled. On the other hand, I know they have a job to do, and, hey, we’re all doing what we can.”
That’s why some publications have now made it a habit of offering two different reviews of a TV series or film — One, a non-spoiler version that offers advice on whether a project is worth viewing, without getting into the nitty-gritty details. The follow-up review dives deeper into specifics and is meant for fans to either digest after watching — or, for the spoiler-agnostic, to get a better read on whether to commit their time to it.
“Community” alum Yvette Nicole Brown, whose fan bona fides include a regular seat discussing “The Walking Dead” on aftershow “Talking Dead,” takes a hard line on spoilers. Waiting a week to discuss plot points isn’t nearly long enough, she said.
“Spoiling is such a jerk move,” she said. “Seeing something early is a blessing, don’t make it a curse for other people… I never want to be the reason someone doesn’t enjoy something they’ve also been looking forward to.”
Brown takes such a hard line that back on “Community,” she would often refuse to share info in interviews even when NBC and Sony gave her permission.
“We have to find a way to share our joy while being respectful of other fans who deserve to experience cool things untainted,” she said. “Not everybody can go opening night. Some folks have kids or jobs that prevent them from seeing things right away. We all have to think of others when it comes to spoiling.”
That even includes avoiding facts that might be found on industry sites like IMDB, but aren’t widely known to the general public. “I had people send tweets that say, ‘No spoiler! But I loved seeing you in [redacted spoiler]!’ To which I replied, ‘That IS a SPOILER!’ Anything you didn’t know that you found out by watching the film or TV show is a spoiler. If something caught you off guard or made you smile because you were surprised, be kind and preserve that surprise for others!”