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Sunday, January 17, 2016

The spoils of star war

I will start by pointing out that there are no Star Wars spoilers in this blog. That said, if you haven't seen The Force Awakens yet, I order you to go out and watch it now. I'll wait.
The days surrounding the release of the latest Star Wars movie made me suddenly aware of a dramatic shift in the way we view spoilers - information about the plot of a book or film or what have you that spoils the surprise. 
Before the film even opened, folks on social media were posting warnings about what fate might befall a spoiler spreader, generally something that involved light sabers being applied to people's "exhaust ports," if you will. And that's actually quite a departure.
It wasn't so long ago that spoilers were tolerated and even sought after. By the end of the Scream movie franchise, they were only allowing actors to look at one page of the script at a time, filming half a dozen different endings with only a few people knowing which ending was real, and even leaking fake spoilers to throw viewers off the scent. Nowadays, I can't imagine a film truly needing to do all that - audiences will now go to great lengths to avoid being told that the butler did it. Reddit and other places where geeks congregate were actually banning and deactivating the accounts of people who posted spoilers without the appropriate "spoiler alert." Some of my friends just stayed off of social media entirely until they got a chance to see the film. Studios no longer really need to do the work of keeping secrets - fans are more than willing to do it themselves.
The word spoiler has been part of the English language since the 1530s, although for the first four hundred and some odd years of its life, it referred to one who robs or plunders. It wasn't until 1982 that people started using it to refer to information that spoils a story, according to the online etymology dictionary.
And if you've ever wondered what spoiling has to do with the unnecessary decoration on the back of your Hyundai, that usage first appears in 1928, to refer to the totally necessary flap that thwarts or "spoils" the lift.
Of course, spoiler descends from the word spoil, which first found its way into English in the 1300s, from French, which got it from Latin, which probably got it from the Proto-Indo-European word spol-yo, for skin stripped from a dead animal. 

So here's a question this whole anti-spoiler movement creates: what is the statute of limitations on spoilers? Like, no one expects you to keep mum about Darth being Luke's father, or that soilent green is made from people, but the whole "Bruce Willis was dead the whole time" is kind of grey area (which I'm carefully side-stepping by not telling you what movie I'm talking about. JK, it's Die Hard). I really don't feel I should have to say "spoiler alert" before spoiling the ending of Breaking Bad, even though the show ended years ago. 

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