general technology

NO SPOILERS!! Star Wars: TFA and the Clash of Civilizations

[NOTE: This is a departure from my normal posts about bardic. I’ll say right now that if you don’t care about Star Wars or find the whole issue of spoiling movies online ludicrous and unworthy of discussion…You don’t need to see this post. This isn’t the topic you’re looking for. You should go about your business. Move along, move along… But also note that NO details about the plot of the new movie are revealed here, so it’s safe to read.

ADDITIONAL NOTE There’s no way the last line is meant to be taken seriously, it was satirical. Apparently that wasn’t obvious to some  readers.]

It’ll be two more days before I get the chance to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the theaters, by which time the movie will have been in the theaters eleven whole days. We’re down in Florida visiting family, and my wife sets the schedule for these sorts of things. So we’re going for my son’s birthday with everyone who’s down here with us. (I should note that she is not the Star Wars fan that I am, but in principle I was content to wait this long to see the movie. In principle…)

In the time I’ve been waiting to see the movie, there’s been a phenomenon happening on Facebook around this movie and people posting spoilers about it. It has gotten heated. I have rapidly emerged as a rabid “No Spoilers” partisan, posting numerous times and commenting on a number of threads about it. Indeed, the whole thing is getting very trollish, and I’m one of the worst offenders. I don’t like being accused of being trollish (I much prefer when people just give me lots of “likes” and compliment my razor-sharp wit, and my opponents immediately acknowledge the error of their ways and pledge to reform themselves), so I’ve taken a step back. (I have a bad feeling about this…)

A fascinating social experiment is going on this month, in which 21st-century social media norms are coming into conflict with 20th-century moviegoer norms. Various posts and memes are put out by people who haven’t (or hadn’t) seen the movie, asking as nicely as they can (for the most part) that people who’ve seen it not post plot details. Others mention that there are major plot twists in it, and they wish that people hadn’t ruined those twists for them by revealing the twists before they got to see it. And there are various posts from what I have been thinking of as “the dark side”: either people warning those of us who haven’t seen the movie hurry up and see it opening weekend if we don’t want it spoiled (not they they are going to spoil it, mind you, but someone is bound to, and if we don’t see it right away, it’ll be our own fault if it’s ruined), or taking the temperature, trying to gauge how much time can reasonably elapse before they’re allowed to start spoiling the movie and not have to be berated or feel guilty for doing so.

I of course courageously started jumping on anyone who suggested “two weeks is long enough” (even though it is long enough for me), or “everyone who really cares about it has seen it by now, right?” (I care, and I haven’t seen it yet, and even after I’ve seen it I know some others have to wait for whatever reason). I audaciously proposed that I, for one, will not post any spoilers as long as the movie is in first-run theaters (which, for this movie, is of course going to be a very long time–months, even!). I pointed out that on Facebook, there is a tradition for people who want to post details about a new movie or TV show without ruining it for people who haven’t seen it: “spoiler space”, wherein you announce that your post will contain spoilers, then hit the Enter key four or five times, then make your daring comments. Facebook invariably doesn’t display a post that tall because it takes up so much real estate, and thus puts a “click to expand” link after the first three lines or so. Thus, only duly-warned people will click on it and get to the goodies you’ve so cleverly hidden. (This of course doesn’t address that the Facebook mobile app randomly displays one comment beneath most posts, so if you open things up for spoilers and one of your friends makes a particularly juicy reply, innocent eyes may still be befouled by precious spoilers they meant to avoid.)

Things grew more heated as the counter-arguments became pointed. “What’s so special about this movie?” people wanted to know. “People posted spoilers for the Marvel movies and the new Star Trek movies, and nobody got butt-hurt like this over them.” It was an interesting point. But I wasn’t making this up–there are whole meme series about this movie:


It is a period of civil war…

This movie is special to many of us. The idea of a good Star Wars movie for the first time in a generation (yes, George Lucas, that’s my shade you’re sensing)–it takes many of us back to when we first saw the movies as kids. I’m remembering sitting in a packed but quiet theater in 1980 at age 11. The applause when each of the Big Three made their first onscreen appearance. And the hush, the thrill, the shock when Vader cut off Luke’s hand, then the even bigger shock…when Vader confronted Luke with the truth that Obi-Wan had never told him. Surprises matter in storytelling. You can appreciate a movie without being surprised by it (I’ve seen Psycho, and it was released years before I was born, so of course I knew the big secret), but it’s not the same as actually falling through the trapdoor.

Of course, at this point, I’ve had so many people comment about how they saw the surprise coming long before it hit, that it’s going to be hard to keep my head in the movie and not spend a lot of the time second-guessing. I have to trust that either the movie is good enough that I’ll enjoy it anyway, or get caught up in the rush and forget to keep looking around the corners, or it’s been over-hyped, and I may walk out slightly disappointed. But I want it to be my experience, my own authentic Star Wars experience, and not have it spoiled by some snotty jerks who want to show off about it before I get to experience it for myself.

And then…I remember a couple of inconvenient things. For one, how I came home from that first viewing all fan-boy breathless and blurted both those big Empire reveals to my next-door neighbor, who snarked all over me about how he didn’t care what cool things were in the new movie, but was probably just really pissed at me for being such a jerk and ruining it for him. (Yes, the fact that I was a spoiling moron at 11 doesn’t mean it’s okay for other people to mess with me now that we’re all adults and know better.) And for the other…my family was very late to see the original Star Wars (yes, yes, call it A New Hope if you must, but I got to watch it on a bootleg VHS tape a few years later…the “EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE” subtitle wasn’t even in the title crawl when it was originally in theaters), months late. My neighbor (different neighbor) had broken down the whole plot of the movie for me before we saw it–though, since I didn’t know the characters at all, I muddled it all in my head, and thought that Vader choked Luke to death, and kept waiting for the movie to turn tragic, but it never happened. Also, we were 20 minutes late for the start of the movie, and only saw it from the point where C-3PO was introducing himself to “Master Luke”–which of course we didn’t really miss anything plot-wise, but we stayed through the second showing part way to make sure we’d caught everything. And we still loved it.

So perhaps the movie experience isn’t as sacred and untouchable as I’ve tried to make it in my mind.

But a piece of my reaction to this current thing going on with the new movie isn’t so much about Star Wars as it is about our new assumptions about seeing a movie in the theater. I really resent the idea that if I want to see a new movie, and don’t want the plot ruined for me, I have to either (a) get right out and see it the weekend it opens, damn any other plans I might have, or (b) stay off social media completely until I do see it. That feels obnoxious and ridiculous. I don’t go to Facebook for movie spoilers. I go to see what’s going on with people I don’t get to see that often, to keep up with social events and organizations I’m part of (in my case, the Society for Creative Anachronism), and to trade irreverent humor and find and share interesting or amusing articles.

And okay…maybe I, like most other people, go to show off my pop culture cred. Which means sharing cool memes and mash-up T-shirts, and my own witty posts, about the latest movies and TV shows…even though a lot of those would probably be spoilers for people who haven’t seen it yet.

I’m part of it, aren’t I? In this 21st-century world, we all get to create our own content. We get to own the content we enjoy, to re-slice it, to fan-edit and write (and sometimes film) our own fanfic, to put our own stamp on it. Is my insistence that people not spoil this one specific property really reasonable? Is the stress I’m trying to induce in people who want to be able to slice-and-dice the new movie in their shared posts really any more tolerable than the stress they’ve created in me of trying to avoid spoilers? After all, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering…

Maybe I should just give in to this new way of dealing with content–it’s quicker, easier, more seductive. If only I fully understood the power of the dark side…(shudder)

Search your feelings, you know it to be true. It’s a brave new world. We get to use social media to share our joys and sorrows, to ask for and offer support, to connect, make friendships, fall in love, promote our pet projects (cough cough)…all for free.

Okay, not really for free. We pay by being targeted for ads, and the risk we run that our personal information will be sold or hacked. By giving up our privacy and anonymity.

But risking our full enjoyment of the new Star Wars movie? That’s a jump to light-speed too far. You do that, bro, and you’ll feel a tremor in the force of a million voices crying out in terror, and being suddenly un-friended.

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