Spoiler spoilers, spoiled

It was bound to happen, and it has. Elfquest – Final Quest is out in the world, and cries of “Don’t spoil it for me!” ring through the land. Once again, the conflict erupts between those who just can’t wait to talk about new surprises, and those who haven’t yet seen the issue. A patchwork of etiquette has grown up around the so-called “spoiler alert” – the notice, in bold capital letters at the start of any discussion in which key plot points or unexpected twists may be revealed. Spoiler alerts exist so that readers who have not yet seen the latest issue (or episode on TV, or movie) can avoid accidentally learning something that they’d really like to experience for themselves in context.

Let’s get this out of the way first off: Spoiler alerts are a courtesy. There’s no law mandating them. As we all fancy ourselves courteous people, we try to observe the rules. But what are the rules? A quick search on “spoiler etiquette” yields many hits. Surprisingly, most writers on the subject do agree on one point, however, and that is – not to put too fine a point on it – “Chill out!” Paul Levinson, a professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University and author of the book New New, Media says the idea that “people have a right to be free of spoilers is absurd, and it’s an absurd misuse of the term ‘right.’

“You have a right to communicate,” Levinson assures. “… If you feel like writing something you’re entitled to write it as long it’s not slanderous or libelous or breaking the law in some way. Why anyone would get into a rage about entertainment is beyond me.”

That’s one view. Another comes from Zach Ames, in his “Guide to Proper Spoiler Etiquette.” With particular reference to comic books, he says, “You can spoil comic book story lines after about a week. True comics fans are die hard and they stay up on their storylines and no amount of spoiling is going to deter them from reading the new book in one of their favorite series. I guarantee you that anyone that is a serious comic reader is going to be there in the comic shop on Wednesday getting the new issues. If they aren’t, then they’ve already read everything on the internet about what is happening.”

Granted, we keep pretty mum about what’s going to happen in Elfquest, so maybe there’s not so much on the internet to read up on. Even so, given the speed with which content can be delivered – if not in print, then certainly digitally – we think that a week is plenty enough time for anyone to tap into the latest issue. If you’re waiting for your print copy to arrive via the post from the antipodes before reading it, that’s your choice. Accept the consequences of that choice. Some of your Twitter- or Facebook-mates will have devoured the story in digital form within minutes of its availability, and they will want to talk about it. Hopefully, they will – for a week or so – remember to do the courtesy of leading off with “SPOILER ALERT!” But if they don’t, or they forget, you must realize that if you start reading a comment thread, you’re taking a risk.

So here’s the “new rule” for Elfquest: You will always know when a new issue is due, because we post its release date all over the place. For one week after each issue becomes available, everyone please use the spoiler alert. Put it at the top of new threads that you start, or at the beginning of comments that you post within a thread. After that, anything’s game. Because, in the end, it’s not fair that a few should try to regulate the freedom of the many. That’s happening right now in the US Congress, and not only does it suck, it’s wrong.