So let’s talk about spoilers again, again.
In my previous blog post, I offered a counterpoint to previous points I had made on spoiler culture. The big picture is this: while I feel that spoilers can and have enhanced series for me in the past, the all-important initial impact of others have been dulled because of them. I wasn’t talking explosive spoilers like character deaths or world-changing events (although they’re certainly a part of it); my concern was that an inundation of seemingly innocuous screencaps and gifs can make a series feel overly-familiar by the time you actually get around to watching it, as was the case with Ms. Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid for me.
A few days after my post went live, fellow blogger Zeria offered a dissenting opinion in which she described her own experience with anime that has shaped her approach towards spoilers. I recommend giving her post a read as I’ll be responding to it (think of this post like a long-form comment). My main goal here is to suggest guidelines as to how the community can best handle spoilers going forward to simultaneously respect people’s wishes while allowing for the type of in-depth discussion that spoiler avoidance can hinder.
This hindrance is Zeria’s main sticking point: analytical content that concerns itself with avoiding spoilers is inherently weakened because of it. On this I wholeheartedly agree with her. If your purpose is to discuss a series in detail then don’t omit said details. The main goal of an analysis is to set forth a hypothesis that you then go on to prove and you simply can’t do that without divulging what happens. Whether you’re writing a review or dissecting a series’ themes, leaving out examples that make your case does a disservice to your points and your audience. The majority of people who will click on your piece will be those who have already seen the series in question so by cutting out spoilers you’re only impacting those who care in the first place.
I’ve outlined my own approach to this in TTM’s spoiler policy, which I believe should be the standard expectation across all analytical content. It stands as follows:
Spoilers are fair game for any series/films in the title of a post. That doesn’t mean there *will* be spoilers but the possibility is there, especially if it’s a particularly analytical piece. Err on the side of caution if you are sensitive to spoilers or feel free to reach out and ask me (the best way to do this is on Twitter). I may still give a spoiler warning as I see fit within the post but this is not a guarantee.
What aren’t fair game are spoilers for series/films not mentioned in the title of a post. There will be spoiler warnings in these instances. However, this too is subject to my own discretion, such as how I don’t consider spoiling The Lion King in my You Are Umasou post to be worthy of a spoiler tag.
Where my spoiler guidelines differ with Zeria’s are on social media. Getting blindsided by a spoiler on Twitter is not the same thing as intentionally clicking on a blog post where it’s used for analytical purposes. People go to Twitter for casual back-and-forth with like-minded individuals. There’s no intrinsic value in spouting spoilers there, especially when it’s in service of a 140-character tweet. As for forums and Reddit, a middle ground between these approaches works best: spoiler tags should be used in the context of a general discussion, but in threads about specific series spoilers should be considered fair game. Again, it’s the difference between opting into spoilers vs. being unwillingly confronted with them. I believe that with these guidelines the community’s varying wants could all be best accounted for.
I’d like to now respond to an element of analysis that I believe Zeria and many others undervalue: the intended emotional impact of a work. The common go-to for analytical types, myself included, is to pick something apart in service of finding the creator’s intended meaning. Zeria’s appreciation for rewatching series can likely be attributed to this as “deeper meanings” reveal themselves through familiarity. However, what often goes untouched is analysis of how creators sculpt their art to manipulate the audience’s emotions. That “first time” mentality doesn’t stem solely from any misgivings with spoilers but rather a fascination with such techniques. This isn’t to say that the analyzer should be solely going off of their first impressions; in fact, analyzing techniques generally requires you to rewatch something more. It’s an approach that puts extra emphasis on the oft-overlooked audience experience. For someone who does this technique-focused analysis particularly well, check out Every Frame a Painting.
When all is said and done, everybody has an approach to spoilers that works for them and likely isn’t willing to budge on it regardless of what us pundit-types pontificate. Thus, I don’t see a discussion of “abolishing spoiler culture” to be as productive as setting forth guidelines through which people can know what to expect when they seek out content. The healthiest way to cultivate a community is for it to adapt to its members instead of forcing the members to conform to it.