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Is There A Statute Of Limitations On Spoiler Alerts?

The other day, while casually talking about The Great Gatsby movie at work, I mentioned a key fact about the ending–Gatsby’s ultimate fate, so to speak.

I didn’t think much of it. The book is 90 years old. I honestly thought everyone in the western world kind of, sort of, knew that story.

Like, if I was talking about the David and Goliath story and I said, “Then David slings a rock at the giant Goliath and kills him,” I don’t feel like I would be ruining that story for anyone. We all know David kills Goliath, right?

So I mistakenly thought Gatsby was along the same lines of familiarity for most people. And I was wrong. That’ll teach me for equating biblical literature with Fitzgerald.

Upon breaking the 90-year-old news about Gatsby’s fate, I was immediately scorned by two co-workers for ruining the story. On one hand, I wanted to apologize. But, on the other hand, I was thinking, I’m seriously getting criticized for mentioning spoilers to a nearly century-old classic novel that, at least I thought, every ninth grade English teacher in the history of America has assigned as homework?

Can we, as avid readers, be expected to withhold “spoilers” from classic literature? In discussing lit with friends, can we mention the fact that Romeo and Juliet die? That Ebenezer Scrooge gets all happy?

It’s a worthy question, I believe. God forbid we ruin a dinner party by breaking the news that Scarlett and Rhett isn’t a happy love story.

So what’s your guideline on spoilers?

At what point does a novel reach a statute of limitations on spoiler alerts–where if someone hasn’t read it after a certain period of time (like 90 years), then all bets are off?

Let’s discuss!

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66 Comments Post a comment
  1. debbierodgers #

    If people haven’t bothered to find out about these classics by now, they deserve to have the ending “spoiled”. I don’t mean that in quite the mean-spirited way it sounds, but. . .c’mon, people!

    And oh! Scarlett and Rhett did marry 😉

    Like

    May 28, 2013
    • You’re right! I went brain dead on that one. I tweaked that line accordingly!

      Like

      May 28, 2013
      • Will #

        Preach it! Some people are so dumb.

        Like

        May 28, 2013
    • Bill #

      So I guess everyone born recently and just getting to an age where they’d be able to read these books are SOL, right?

      Like

      May 28, 2013
      • The post is about a casual conversation in which I “slipped” a spoiler. My assumption was that a large majority of people from 9th grade and older have read the novel. Since I’m typically having literary discussions with kids 9th grade or below, this shouldn’t be an issue for me.

        Like

        May 29, 2013
    • Carey #

      There is so much “classic” literature out there that even someone like myself who reads classics could probably not realistically read them all. So, why is it ok to throw spoilers around all willy-nilly?

      Like

      May 28, 2013
      • …Because otherwise we all might run out of things to talk about pretty fast. Modern literature and popular culture are full of references, you can’t walk around with your eyes closed all the time, just because you haven’t watched the newest movie adaptation yet. Plus – there is classic and “CLASSIC”. “Great Gatsby” definitely belongs into the latter category.

        Like

        May 29, 2013
      • Jaie #

        i think -in this specific case- the point is when a part of the plot is generally well known and has become a part of the culture; in that case, people talking about it, even if they have not read the book, *know* what goes on and assume others know as well.
        for ex., the great gatsby is part of most highschool curriculums — people “spoiling” the end to a grownup are not being mean, are just taking for granted we all share some basic knowledge on literature…. which sometimes it’s just not there.

        Like

        March 2, 2015
    • You’re absolutely right. Too many people consider themselves “well read” while completely overlooking the classics.

      Like

      May 30, 2013
  2. Rosie Baillie #

    I find that over here in the UK that a lot of people my age haven’t read many of the classics (myself included) because we didn’t have to at school. I had to do Romeo and Juliet for 3 years 😐 Because of that I don’t think we can safely assume that if its been out for 90 years people have read it, I read The Great Gatsby for the first time a couple of weeks ago for example.

    Generally if I’m talking about a book or film I usually ask if everyone present has read or seen it and if they plan on reading it or seeing it. If they don’t plan on seeing it or reading it I mention spoilers but obviously if they do then I won’t.

    Like

    May 28, 2013
  3. claregm #

    I think that you’re completely in the right on this one. Titling the book “The Great Gatsby” already suggests that it’s somewhat a memorial to Gatsby/Gatz, even if people don’t already know the general storyline.

    Like

    May 28, 2013
  4. Mea Culpa Mea Culpa. I am among those who have never read the book.

    But –

    SPIOLER ALERT –

    I do know the ending to your life, and that of every person who know and ever loved, and that of my own life.

    (answer, keep scrolling…)

    we are all going to die.

    The true story is not in the end, it’s in the telling.

    peace out from your loyal readership in Kathmandu Nepal….

    Like

    May 28, 2013
    • Great points.

      And Nepal? Awesome! I’ve always wanted to go there. I’ve even dreamed of climbing Everest, though I have no mountain climbing experience. Glad to have you!

      Like

      May 28, 2013
      • yes, if anyone doubts that you have a loyal following in Kathmandu, send them my way.

        as to Everest? saw it out of the plane once on a previous trip. I love hiking but it’s out of my league.

        Any ask Nepali schoolchild and they will tell you: Tenzing got to the summit first.

        and I don’t suffer rock jocks.

        I teach critical care nursing skills when I am here, so I am on the lunatic fringe of travelers. I live in Kumaripati when I am in the Valley, but I travel to the malaria zone part of each summer. Kumaripati fits the generally accepted definition of a South Asian Slum. It’s actually fun and enjoyable.

        my summer blog is http://www.joeniemczura.wordpress.com

        and I am enjoying yours.

        Like

        May 28, 2013
  5. ROMEO AND JULIET DIE?!????!?!??!?!?

    (just kidding)

    I’ve come to terms with having to ask people if they’ve read things, even the classics/commonly-required-reading. I’ve just spoiled too many things unintentionally. You never know, too, when someone might be coming from a foreign school system or whatever.

    And, to be fair, I’ve missed a bunch of the movie equivalents of “required reading.” We all have our cultural blind spots.

    Like

    May 28, 2013
    • Very true. I had not read To Kill A Mockingbird before I started this list. Although, I think I wouldn’t get upset if someone spoiled the ending. I’m an idiot for having taken so long to read it.

      Like

      May 28, 2013
  6. Classics are fair game to be discussed in full with spoilers if you ask me, although a shocking number of people that I have spoken to haven’t read mosey of what would be considered standard ‘required’ reading.

    Like

    May 28, 2013
  7. I think people take spoilers way too seriously. Does it bother me when people tell me spoilers? heck no, I usually ask for them. It doesn’t ruin my enjoyment of the movie/book. That being said, i’ve never read the great gatsby, and I have no idea what it’s about. My highschool didn’t make us read any of the classics of literature. Honestly i’ve only heard of the book in the last year or so. Of course, I grew up in a less than 6k population town in the rainforests of Oregon, so.. I may have been a bit secluded.

    Like

    May 28, 2013
  8. Kim #

    I feel like it’s on the person who hasn’t read it to speak up, as opposed to the one who has to avoid the topic. I’ve been on both ends of this scenario, but I’m not going to walk around on tiptoes to avoid telling people what happens at the end of widely known and widely recognized stories- be they in book or movie form. If someone goes “lalalala, can’t hear you, I haven’t read/seen it yet” then I’ll hush up.

    Incidentally, there’s a study from UC San Diego that knowing how a story ends doesn’t actually ruin the story, but rather increases your enjoyment. It’s the first result if you Google “UCSD spoiler study.”

    Like

    May 28, 2013
  9. I’m the woman who, when the book is too long to finish and I won’t be able to get back to it soon, I read the ending. It never spoils a truly good book.

    Like

    May 28, 2013
  10. I go back and forth on spoilers. Sometimes I love them, sometimes I hate them. The “Star Trek: Into Darkness” villain’s true identity was spoiled for me prior to seeing it and even though I’m not a ZOMG HUGE TREKKIE FAN for which the identity may be thrilling/terrible/some strong emotion here, it was still really deflating when the big reveal happened in the movie – because I already knew it.

    On the other hand, LOTR? Harry Potter? When the movies were coming out, I basically said, “Bring on the spoilers.” Maybe it’s because I already know the story lines/endings so it’s less of a plot and more of a style issue.

    Like

    May 28, 2013
  11. My only wish is that you’d posted the facebook profiles of the offended parties so we could go on their walls and tease them about their illiteracy.

    Liked by 1 person

    May 28, 2013
    • Haha. I like them too much to do that to them.

      Like

      May 29, 2013
  12. Haha! I agree with you — the older and more famous the story, the more we can mention “spoilers” guilt-free… because we assume they’re not REALLY spoilers anymore.

    I write all about classic literature (http://the100greatestbookschallenge.wordpress.com) and feel like it’s silly not to be able to discuss the fates of well-known characters in widely read books. That said, to avoid ruining anyone’s day, I have a permanent spoiler alert on the main page JUST IN CASE.

    Like

    May 28, 2013
  13. About a month ago, Entertainment Weekly did an editorial called “Living in a World of Spoilers” which argued that because people have DVRs and Netflix, and thus can watch things way out of synch with actual air time, their threshold tolerance for spoilers has been correspondingly lowered. I think it was Dalton Ross who wrote the piece, but in any case, just reading it made me very huffy. Seriously people – I have to walk around on egg shells because you’ve just decided to start watching X show that’s in it’s 6th season or read Y book that came out five years ago? I think fair spoiler expiration date is one year after publication/release. A book that came out 90 years ago that is taught to nearly every high schooler in the US of A? Please. Your problem if you haven’t gotten to it by now.

    Like

    May 28, 2013
  14. dste #

    I blog about books, too, including quite a few classics. I have a separate section for spoilers so the readers can decide. When it comes to Romeo and Juliet, though, I would feel completely free to talk about the ending because everyone else does it. It’s required reading for ninth graders around here, but the whole class goes in knowing all the basics of the story already. But unless I’m completely sure, I like to err on the side of caution.

    On that note, though, I have noticed that movies made from books tend to be thought of separately from the books themselves. To some people, it doesn’t matter that the book’s been out for ninety years, the movie just came out. It can defy common sense sometimes. I’ve heard people walk out of the Harry Potter movies saying they can’t stand to wait to find out what happens next– how can they wait months and months? Hello, people, the next book was published long ago! Go read it for Pete’s sake!

    Like

    May 28, 2013
    • I teach high school English, and in introducing whatever novel we are reading to the students, I walk a tight-rope between hinting to the students what to expect, and allowing them to discover on their own.

      A couple of things, though:

      First, pretty much every book we read (in my experience at least) in high school English classes ends with the death of a main, if not the main, character. Mice and Men? Lord of the Flies? A River Runs Through It? death. death. death. I think this is because the works that are read in literature classes are classics, and that classics are classics because they deal with fundamental questions of life, to whit: where are we, where are we from, and where are we going. This is probably an oversimplification, but learning to deal with the aftermath of tragic events is part of the human condition.

      Second, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. The prologue of Romeo and Juliet tells us that the star-crossed main characters spring from the loins of feuding families, take their own lives, and with their deaths end the strife between the Montagues and Capulets. The same holds true for Gatsby, a River Runs Through It, A Lesson Before Dying.

      And third, despite knowing what is going to happen, the beauty of a great work of literature (and as an aside, this is whether the format is film, the written word, or etc.) is two-fold: the reader knows what to expect, but is still surprised at how it occurs. Anticipation and surprise: it’s a beautiful thing.

      Okay, a last thing. Despite knowing what happens, a great work of literature will continue to surprise even upon multiple readings. I cannot count how many times a student has come up with a comment or an insight about a book that I’ve taught multiple times, but never seen before.

      Like

      June 16, 2013
  15. This makes me laugh! I guess everyone has their tolerance level for spoilers. Maybe if you only spoil the book and not the movie, people will leave you alone. 😉 It’s a safe bet those people won’t read the book, anyway. Whatever you do…don’t spoil the movie! Ha!

    Like

    May 28, 2013
  16. It always makes me laugh how many people aren’t aware of stories that have been around for ages. While walking out of both Troy and Titanic (my friends finally drug me out to the latter), I was shocked at the people who were surprised at the endings. I didn’t think there was anyone left on Earth that thought the Titanic made it. Amazing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    May 28, 2013
  17. I presume when these people learned about Gatsby’s demise it wasn’t because you were walking round town wearing a huge sandwich board and indiscriminately shouting out the novel’s ending to all who happened to be within earshot?
    If not, then it seems a little bizarre of these people to actively choose to read your book blog (or actively choose to follow you on Twitter – where you mostly talk about, er, books) and then complain that you mention details about books you are reading. If these same people didn’t want to know the sports results, would they go browsing sports websites?!

    Like

    May 28, 2013
    • Absolutely. It was just casual conversation. I rarely give out big spoilers on my blog, if ever, but this was a different situation.

      Like

      May 29, 2013
  18. This so funny to me I have watched hundreds of films and read a few books over the years, and the older I get the more delighted I am that my memory is failing and I get to enjoy them all over again! as for spoiling it for me? nobody can!
    Joe in Napal has the right idea the art of the story is in the telling! he now has a new follower !

    Like

    May 28, 2013
  19. Carey #

    Hard to believe, but I was never required to read Gatsby in high school or college. In fact, I just read it for the first time a few weeks ago! On my blog, I always assume there are some who have not read the classic I am writing about and post spoiler alerts.

    Like

    May 28, 2013
  20. sabrinaia #

    Reblogged this on The Reddy's Memories and commented:
    That’s exactly what I think every time I realize that some people I know consider The Great Gatsby just a FILM, RECENTLY LAUNCHED. Probably they can be justified if they don’t come from the English-speaking world, but still have you lived in a vacuum all these years not have ever heard about the Great Gatsby?!

    Like

    May 28, 2013
  21. There seem to be a lot of people here who have read everything already! It’s fun to make jokes about what old news it is, or how every high school teacher in the world assigns the same books, but I haven’t read everything and I like being surprised every now and then. Where should someone be when they learn the fate of a major character? At the water cooler or in the thick of the world that the author has created?

    Guess I’m a pain in the ass about spoilers and this just touches a nerve. I don’t understand why people are so cavalier about it unless they like feeling superior to people who aren’t in the know.

    Like

    May 28, 2013
    • Gatsby is on a different level. I think I should be able to discuss basic plot points in a room of 15 people and not feel bad just because 2 people in said room haven’t read it. This book is one of the best-selling novels of all time and an American classic. I don’t think someone should have to walk on egg shells just because of the few who might not have read it.

      Like

      May 29, 2013
      • No, I don’t think you should feel bad; people should watch out if they feel strongly about it. I was commenting in a general way and probably overreacting.

        Like

        May 29, 2013
        • Well, you can trust that I rarely, if ever, share spoilers on my blog. And if do share one, I always give fair warning.

          Like

          May 29, 2013
  22. Reblogged this on Adithya Entertainment.

    Like

    May 29, 2013
  23. What?? You mean Scarlett and Rhett don’t end up together? 🙂
    You obviously haven’t read the ‘pseudo sequel’ Scarlett.
    I’m sad to say that I don’t think ANY knowledge of literature can be assumed these days, even down to David and Goliath. In general people don’t care about century old ‘spoilers’ because they either have read the book, or have no intention of reading the book. But, Gatsby isn’t just a book any more, it’s a film. And film spoilers are still a big no no.

    Like

    May 29, 2013
  24. Good morning, I just would like to mention that for me the ending of a story is far less important than how I like the way it is written. In this sense I wish you all the best and don’t worry. Best regards. Martina

    Like

    May 29, 2013
  25. Nooooo, never give away spoilers! I have skipped MANY of the classics and am only getting around to reading them now, the older I get. I myself only read Gatsby for the first time last year. I always try and make sure that my book review blogs don’t reveal any spoilers no matter how old the book is. It’s criminal I tell you!!
    /end insane rant [clearly I’m alone in thinking this, based on the other comments here]

    Like

    May 29, 2013
  26. Yes, there is a statute of limitations. The end.

    Like

    May 29, 2013
  27. Here in my country (the Philippines) Gatsby isn’t required reading, so I had to go and seek the book out on my own when I was 20–much later in life than the average person in the Western world, I suppose. I read the foreword first, and it had plenty of spoilers, but I didn’t feel like it was spoiled for me at all. I still loved every bit of the book and have re-read it often since. And really, is there are more effective ending for a story like that?

    Like

    May 29, 2013
  28. 2blu2btru #

    I have to admit I hate spoilers and I appreciate when people who write about movies or books let me know if a spoiler is coming up and leave room for eye movement not to ruin it. Someone told me the ending of Training Day and I’ve never seen it for that reason. I make it a point not to use spoilers without warning. I don’t care what the spoiler study says, knowing who a villain is or some other surprise before you see a movie/ read a book makes me feel robbed of the excitement of discovery. You can never see or hear or read it for the first time again.

    Like

    May 29, 2013
  29. I hate spoilers, so I don’t tell them. But I had to gently tell someone who was angry with the Great Gatsby’s movie ending that the Great Gatsby is an old book, and that’s really the ending. And it’s not Luhrmann’s fault. haha! 🙂

    Like

    May 30, 2013
  30. It is silly to think that people could get annoyed at being given information on such a classic book… Spoilers can be annoying yet at the same time I think its laughable to think that you are only going to get information on your terms. I would rather be able to openly discuss books and films than not be able to for fear of spoilers, saying that I would never give a massive plot twist away. Gatsby however is too old a book and too well known (with multiple film versions) for anyone to not know it, surely!

    Like

    June 1, 2013
  31. Reblogged this on Sam's Vines and commented:
    At school I hated the Great Gatsby, (possibly due to the forced re-readings and slow reading of others) recently however I have started to think it may be time to re-read. Interesting post on spoilers though… for a quite old, and taught book surely there shouldn’t be anyone left who doesn’t know the story?!

    Like

    June 1, 2013
  32. Reblogged this on iconobaptist and commented:
    Hilarious!

    Like

    June 1, 2013
  33. arpanperpus #

    Reblogged this on perpustakana museum sejarah jakarta.

    Like

    June 2, 2013
  34. bryanmangieri #

    Every story has been told. With that being said, someone supposedly ruined the secret of Tyler Durden to me before I had seen Fight Club. It actually helped me understand the movie better when I first watched it. I would say it’s safe to talk about literature without throwing out a spoiler alert. By the way, Holden Caulfield never figures out where the birds go.

    Like

    June 2, 2013
  35. Ellen #

    I’ve read it – probably multiple times – and totally forgot about his ultimate fate. Surprised again. No spoilers!

    Like

    June 3, 2013
  36. Ty #

    Scrooge got happy?! Oh great!

    J/K – I think what you ran up against, maybe, is the “wait for the movie” mindset of our culture. I was shocked to find out that the majority of folks I know never read Lord of the Rings. See the movies, oh sure, but read? Those books are long! Same, I’m sure, for The Hobbit. So I guess we better not mention Shelob, or Smeagol’s history, or or or. I guess from now on the rule is to wait until the movie comes out on DVD. Then and only then shall the details of any book cum movie be discussed.

    Like

    June 4, 2013
  37. DJ #

    I have to be honest, if a book is more than twenty years old and a spoiler gets slipped there’s no way I’m getting mad.
    1) I’ll still be reading the book. I want to see how it was written even if I know what happened.
    2) Past experience teaches me that movies don’t always follow the book, even on major details. So if I’m really interested in the visual interpretation, I will see it regardless of spoilers.
    As for other people getting mad at me for slipping spoilers…I haven’t seen a one yet stop reading just because I let something slip.

    Like

    June 4, 2013
  38. I talked to a younger friend of mine, who had never read it. I thought that was a shame as it used to be required reading in the State of California.

    Like

    June 4, 2013
  39. Lewis #

    The Great Gatsby is a touchstone of American culture, ie, it’s something “everyone” knows. Telling an adult the ending of Gatsby is the equivalent of telling him or her who Luke Skywalker’s father is.

    Like

    June 4, 2013
  40. Haha! Great point. I would make the same assumption.

    Like

    June 4, 2013
  41. When I read a classic past due, I usually don’t do it for the storyline but for its literary value. So I don’t think you have any obligations regarding classics. That being said, of course spoilers still aren’t pleasant because they can spoil your “ideal” reading experience.

    I don’t agree on the Fight Club argument. After seeing it for the first time, I can still enjoy the movie, but the clue will never hit me the way it did the first time. (Oh how I love that movie!)

    Like

    June 5, 2013
  42. kirksroom #

    I don’t think there should be a statute of limitations regarding spoilers. I mean, it doesn’t make any sense. “The book is 90 years old!” And I’m not 90 years old, am I now? So where is the logic?

    Like

    February 4, 2014
  43. If it’s a new release and I’m talking to a fellow fan, then no. But classics? I haven’t read a whole lot of them myself, but ones like Gatsby are such an ingrained part of the English speaking Western culture that they’ve been told repeatedly in a number of different mediums. Radio, film, TV, modern knock-off books, social media and most recently, the internet.

    I mean, come on, unless you live under a rock somewhere with zero outside contact over the last several decades, you have heard what could be called spoilers in one form or another for pretty much any of the classics. And if we’re talking about any that are older than about a hundred years, chances are good that the originals were not even written in English. Or at least not in what we now recognize as such.

    Then there’s the whole issue of the most ancient classics recognized nearly anywhere, not originating in Western culture at all. Heck, what do people think the Western societies were founded on? The Simpsons?

    Like

    February 13, 2014

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  1. 15 Book Spoilers In One Sentence | 101 Books
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