This week, I got a number of emails complaining about the fact that I discussed part of the plot of the film “Get Out” in a piece about stories about privileged white women without noting that I was going to do so. This seems like an apt moment to remind Act Four readers how I handle labeling stories based on the content I discuss.
An underlying factor in the approach I use is that I intensely dislike the idea that knowing any element of a plot before you consume a story necessarily “spoils” that story. If a piece of art depends entirely on a plot reveal for its value, that’s a fairly limited assessment of what that work is capable of. Knowing a plot reveal can actually make it easier to focus on how the work builds up to that reveal and how it handles plotting, characterization, tone and theme. Using the word “spoiler” implies a value judgement I rarely share.
That said, because I try to be polite and because I want to be consistent, I’ve come to rely on the statute of limitations used by Vulture, the pop culture offshoot of New York Magazine, and codified by Dan Kois in 2008. Kois’s rules don’t address shows released all at once for streaming, which were barely even imaginable back in those halcyon, pre-“peak TV” days nine years ago. And they deal with whether something can be discussed or used in a headline, rather than labeled. But it’s a pretty fair set of rules, making time for people who both genuinely want to see something and who don’t want to do anything to protect themselves online to make sure they can get a movie ticket or catch an episode of television.
I understand that my adherence to these rules isn’t going to please everyone. But I hope that by reminding everyone that this is how I work, you’ll be able to approach my work accordingly. I’m not a reviewer: I’m not telling you what to watch before it hits the screen. Instead, I’m a critic, helping you digest what you’ve seen after the fact. That means I work in comparisons and pull from work released on a lot of different dates. I’ll label things when I’m writing very close to a release date, but I can’t anticipate when every single person who reads my work might get to a certain show or movie — and believe me, I once got yelled at for writing about the end of “Ender’s Game” decades after its release. If there’s something you’re passionately avoiding any mention of, the safest approach to my work may be a quick keyword search before you proceed.
The best I can do is write my columns. Beyond the rules I’ve linked to above, I’m going to need the rest of you to work with me on deciding how to read it.
EVERYONE, however, in my view, should try to "toughen up" their ability to hear and see things they don't like, and to proceed ahead notwithstanding. Developing a tough outer layer, to protect sensitive feelings, is a real benefit, and we should all try to build up that outer toughness.