Hey, you: Come here. Lean a little closer. I've got something I'm burning to tell you.
That Rhett Butler guy? He dumps that Scarlett O'Hara at the end. What's more, he tells her he doesn't give a damn.
What? Too soon? You had "Gone With the Wind" at the top of your Netflix DVD queue?
Sorry. Hope that doesn't spoil it for you.
In my defense, we are talking about a movie that is 80 years old, one that for all its flaws, has become deeply embedded in popular culture. (When you adjust box-office returns for inflation, it remains the No. 1 film of all time, with an estimated tally of some $3.7 billion. "Avatar" is No. 2, a mere $500 million behind. "Avengers: Endgame" has just managed to crack the top 10 on this list, with its paltry $2.3 billion.)
So you can argue that the shocking ending of "Gone With the Wind" probably is general knowledge by this time.
These "spoilers" are back in the news these days, thanks to a pair of a remarkable pop-culture happenings occurring at the same time: The first one, of course, is "Endgame," the superhero flick that wraps up the first wave of films in the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe. The second is "Game of Thrones," the popular HBO fantasy series that is now wrapping up its run with a six-episode final season. (If you're worried that this column will contain spoilers about either one, fear not: I haven't seen them. I can tell you, however, how that Aretha Franklin documentary, "Amazing Grace," ends.)
In any event, the producers of both "Endgame" and "Game of Thrones" have gone to great lengths to preserve secrecy around their productions, with the idea being to avoid spoilers that might detract from people's enjoyment when they finally get a chance to see them. If you go to a movie theater these days that's showing "Endgame," you'll find it plastered with signs urging people not to discuss plot twists as they're leaving the movie, lest someone waiting in line might overhear.
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That seems reasonable. But it hasn't stopped people from shouting out plot points as they leave a showing.
These people are jerks.
Other people have been somewhat more clever about leaving spoilers, such as the person who recently wrote out key "Endgame" plot points and left them on the deli counter at a Corvallis grocery store, where customers could see them but staff members could not. Despite points for creativity, this person still qualifies as a jerk. The bad news is that jerks will always be with us — and it often seems as if social media exists just for them. And, of course, cat videos.
But what is the etiquette for the rest of us, who are dying to discuss plot points with like-minded fans but also don't want to spoil a show? And what is the statute of limitations for spoilers? It's probably OK to discuss in detail the ending of an 80-year-old movie. But what about a week? Two weeks? A month? Should the statute be different for different media — TV shows or books or podcasts? We might know about how "Murder on the Orient Express" ends, but what about the ice-cold ending of, say, "Gone Girl?" And what responsibility do individual users have to shield themselves from spoilers? (We have heard about people who deliberately turned off their social media feeds a week or so before the release of "Endgame" just to avoid spoilers — but what happens when that person then sees the note at the grocery store?)
I'm not sure I have the answers — but, like so many other things in life, a small amount of common courtesy would go a long way. (We call it "common" courtesy, but it is shocking how uncommon it can be at times.) Starting these conversations with a simple statement like "I don't know if you've seen (or read or heard) this yet, and I don't want to spoil it for you" can avoid an inadvertent spoiler.
As for those people who deliberately set out to disseminate spoilers, they should be shunned. In a better world, people convicted of felony spoilage would be exiled for a few years to a distant island out of reach of all popular culture. Upon their return to the mainland, their victims would line up at the airport to greet them with all the news: This is how "Endgame" ends! Here's who ascended to the Iron Throne! James Bond died at the end of "Bond 25"!