Critical Mess: Spoilers and Censure

Spoilers

The first rule of Tickled is you don’t talk about Tickled.

The second rule of Tickled …. YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT Tickled.

Such was my experience, and that of conceivably every other media outlet, in regards to this years Sundance and Hot Docs sensation. An outstanding documentary about the seedy underbelly of competitive endurance tickling, David Farrier and Dylan Reeve’s documentary is a superb investigative thriller.

But I can’t tell you why.

Let me start off by saying that this film truly is, without reproach, outstanding. It will leave you incredulous, baffled, and have you on the edge of your seat. It is insightful, intelligently constructed, and eye opening. The questions it answers seem to leave more questions bubbling below the surface – the sign of a successful documentary.

While some publications, such as The Hollywood Reporter, have opted to break down the film, plot point by plot point, publicists involved in its distribution have been diligently trying to put perhaps excessive boundaries on what gets written. I have been asked to write carefully, and to explicitly avoid talking about certain reveals. Meanwhile, suggestions were made that I reconsider my interview questions, the answers of which may reveal too much.

What this all comes down to is a major issue now plaguing media critics, columnists and other surveyors of cultural documents – **THE SPOILER**.

These publicists are doing incredible work trying to protect their product. If a review gets out revealing too much about the film, people may be less interested in seeing it. As with films like The Sixth Sense, for example, people were angry if the final plot twist was spoiled for them. Oft times, they then saw no point in even going to the theatre to see the film.

While something like this won’t do too much damage to a major Hollywood film, it could be a crippling blow for a small documentary out of New Zealand.

An article was published on May 5th by Matt Zoller Seitz on Vulture titled, Spoiler Alert: This Post Is About Spoiler Etiquette. Seitz raises several astute questions about the nature of spoiler culture: Why television shows and movies are somehow more delicate than, say, a sporting event, where the responsibility to avoid news of the game’s outcome, or a spectacular play, falls solely on the shoulders of the person consuming the media. In film and television, however, the responsibility falls on those who produce the criticism, the interviews, and the think-pieces. In other words: It is our fault, as critics, for doing our jobs.

Are there bits of information we should leave out of a piece in order to avoid spoiling rather large bits of the story? Absolutely. There always are. And, often times, that is very easy to do. However, it is becoming progressively more and more difficult to filter out what information is going to piss someone off. Our hands are tied, and it makes it incredibly difficult to do our jobs.

In the case of Tickled, there is so little I can talk about that I felt it more important to use the film as an opportunity to open a dialogue about spoiler culture.

With such stringent security over reviews and even interview questions, we the critics, the journalists, the essayists, cannot properly do our jobs. How do you speak vaguely of a complex web of conspiracy? How do you tread lightly, asking questions that do not give you complex answers?

You can’t.

Our work winds up reflecting the limitations imposed on us by spoiler culture, and the entitled masses who feel it is their right to dictate the terms of our work. What we wind up producing in cases like this is merely copy for the production companies to use to better market their film. It feels wrong, and vaguely crippling.

It must be restated: I do not fault the publicists for this turn of events. I do not fault the filmmakers or show runners for the changing tide of media consumption. I do not fault my fellow critics for complying with such restrictive rules and guidelines. I do, however, fault our current state of existing with media. I fault our progressive decline into an entitled frame of mind that limits our ability to interact with engaging content, and our inability to assume responsibility over what we choose to read, and what we choose to ignore. I blame our addiction to social media, which has made it so that people can use the excuse that they simply can’t stay away from Twitter until they can see that new episode of Game of Thrones where (*SPOILERS*) Jon Snow comes back to life. (#SorryNotSorry.)

It is our responsibility as consumers of culture to be responsible for what we consume. It is no one’s responsibility but our own. We as a society should not be blaming the critics for doing their jobs. We should not be attacking them on the social media platforms we are so addicted to for trying to make a living. Stay off social media a little bit more if Twitter and Facebook have become so hard to filter. There are apps and programs available to better help filter your Twitter feed, as Seitz so graciously points out. The tools are at our disposal to make our consumption of media more responsible, and to limit the amount of spoilers we accidentally see. Our culture has evolved to include this; and while this may help for right now, there is something incredibly sad about it in the long run.

We all need to take responsibility for our consumption of media. And not shackle those trying to do their jobs.