Someone recently criticized a review of a book I wrote because it contained spoilers, particularly about the ending. I won’t mention the book because, frankly, it doesn’t deserve any more of my attention, but I wondered whether I had been wrong about posting information within the review that might have “spoiled” the ending for others.
Then I thought, No, I wasn’t wrong.
What was “wrong” was that the person didn’t want to read a review they weren’t prepared to agree with, or at the very least consider my arguments.
Of course, I wouldn’t have wanted people, say, telling me what the big “twist” in “The Sixth Sense” was about, but when I went to see it (after many friends gushed about what a huge surprise it was) I was disappointed more to have guessed the twist in the first ten minutes of the film. Had I been warned that the entire film was based on a premise that the audience wouldn’t be smart enough to guess the twist in those first ten minutes I would have been more entertained, because, honestly, I felt the fuss over that film had more to do with how easily people could be fooled by a simple lack of visual literacy than it did some great narrative surprise. You want a real spoiler? Go into a deep philosophical discussion about the meaning of the ending in “Inception.”
Here’s where I find many people wrong about the notion of spoilers: What they want is to be reassured the book/play/movie is going to meet their expectations without being told how. By this very reasoning, it is impossible to write a critical (i.e. negative) review of any narrative form because a reviewer would need to discuss specifics in order to explain and justify their point. What is spoiler to some is a critical examination to others, and thus we come to the great truth about media reviews:
You should be reading them AFTER you’ve seen/read/experienced the thing in question if you don’t want spoilers, because who knows exactly WHAT is going to be a spoiler for any given individual?
People use reviews online to help them make decisions, and with a service like Amazon, reviews and their subsequent ratings (another topic, a question of pure evil) can determine the success of a product.
For example, earlier this summer I bought a car-top carrier for our family vacation and of all the warnings I read, all the positive and negative reviews, NO ONE mentioned this top-rated item had a zipper that was not properly stress rated for this design. It isn’t really a “spoiler” to say “There are design problems” or “I had problems with the zipper” but if someone had said “I have pants with stronger zippers than on this item” I would not have bought it, I would have been “spoiled” from making a purchase that in the end upset me.
So if I’m reading a book with an ending that is full of problems, and I simply say it was “weak” and “didn’t meet my expectations” you would not get as full a sense of my criticism as if I’d said “There are serious errors in human behavior that, in the real world, would have made this happy ending implausible, if not impossible” followed by a brief outline of the issues at hand. Does it reveal too much to be thorough? For some people, perhaps, but there’s still a larger issue here, one i came to many years ago when i began reviewing movies for radio.
See and read everything that interests you, and judge for yourself.
Don’t let a reviewer or a critic ruin anything, simply go out into the world and read the reviews AFTERWARD. If you felt cheated by the story, angered by the implausible, or otherwise burned by the experience, you have performed a very valuable service for yourself: You have gained insight into what does or does not appeal to you, and you have gained the insight without the aid of being told what to think by others.
And in light of recent concerns over reviewers accepting pay for positive reviews, perhaps that isn’t such a bad thing.