A Social Justice Argument For Spoiler Warnings

With the impending release of a certain Long Awaited Movie, there has been an uptick in concerns about spoilers on social media. In response, some people have posted pledges not to spoil the Long Awaited Movie on their Facebook and Twitter accounts, or have promised to use spoiler warnings before doing so.
In response to this phenomenon there has been some pushback. The arguments for this pushback have come in two parts. First, advocating for spoiler warnings while arguing against trigger warnings is hypocritical and emphasizes the desires of fans over the needs of people who have experienced trauma. The second bit of pushback has been pointing to a study that indicates that people’s enjoyment of media does not suffer when the media is spoiled for them.

The first argument is one I agree with in the sense that it makes sense to point out that some people are hypocrites about warnings, objecting to them for spoilers while simultaneously being jackasses about ones for triggers. That sucks, and this hypocrisy is absolutely worth pointing out. However, I’m not persuaded that a significant portion of the people who ask not to have a brand new movie or TV show spoiled for them are opposed to trigger warnings, and even if that were the case, it’s not an argument against spoiler warnings, just an observation of inconsistency in the attitudes of jerks.

The second argument cites a small study done on college undergraduates reading older stories about which they had no prior emotional connection. This study, while interesting, has no real relevance to a big social event like the Long Awaited Movie.

In the real world, some of us both like or need trigger warnings/content notes and also prefer to avoid spoilers. Personally, research that says spoilers don’t hurt my ability to enjoy media is less important to me than the experience of disappointment I have when someone spoils something I’m excited about. I especially don’t appreciate being patronized for having a preference to avoid spoilers, as I don’t appreciate being patronized about wanting trigger warnings.

Spoiler warnings are an intersectional social justice and accessibility issue. For example, I am rarely able to experience media right away. I don’t get to see movies when they come out because I work a lot of hours, I’m a student, and I’m usually totally broke. Spoilers are a constant reminder that I’m too poor to have the benefit of seeing movies opening weekend (or even in the theater usually), too poor to watch shows on cable, or too poor to read books right away. Helping me to avoid spoilers by labeling them helps me to experience media the way people with more money and time than me get to experience that media. When I’m angsting about not wanting a movie spoiled for me, it’s not because I’m a hypocritical jackass. It’s because I’m a poor college student who has to wait a few weeks to see a movie I’m excited about but cannot afford the time or cash to see yet.

From an accessibility perspective, there are many people with a wide variety of disabilities who may not be able to see a movie when it is in theaters, or who may not get through a book quickly. While sensory-friendly movie environments are becoming increasingly popular for children’s films, they’re non-existent for PG-13 and R rated films, under the incorrect assumption that autism and sensory processing disorders are limited to children. People with PTSD, agoraphobia, or a myriad of other concerns may be unable to see a movie in a theater but will be thrilled to see the same film in their living rooms. I love to watch movies with my friend with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome, and would hate to have those movies spoiled for her just because her condition makes the loud sound systems of movie theaters intolerable. Should I feel free to spoil a book that my dyslexic friend is in the middle of reading just because I read it faster?

Over on Heinous Dealings, Heina discusses their own reasons for spoiler warnings as someone raised in a fundamentalist environment.

Trigger warnings are essential for making our writing, classes, and world more accessible for people. Spoiler warnings are, too. Let those of us who, for whatever reason, get to a piece of media after you enjoy it the same way you do. I know you’re a mega-fan who got to see Long Awaited Movie on opening day, but I have to wait until payday. Then I’ll go to the theater, with a pair of earplugs for the loud bits, and with your help I’ll get to experience it the same way you did on opening day.

Edit note: On 12/19/2015 this post was updated to correct the link to Heinous Dealings, which was originally incorrect.

Benny Vimes

Benny Vimes is a queer polyamorous transman, curious skeptic, and enthusiastic seeker of knowledge. He's an undergraduate student in his 30's and loves teaching people about alternative sexuality and gender issues.

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  1. Excellent post and definitely hits home. In recent years with my schooling that I’ve not been able to get to as many movies as I used to in the theater, or get to see them right away like I used to (I’ve still not seen the last two Marvel movies). Spoiler warnings have been extremely important to me, especially as I’m someone who loves to stay on top of the movie news and business.

    I’ll admit, until recently, I didn’t really think about the a/v sensory issues that some people may have (including some of my friends who I didn’t know had some of those issues) being reasons to skip the movies in the theater and wait for home viewing. Definitely something I will keep in mind for the future!

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