There are several things that can put a strain on a friendship: the pineapple on pizza debate, which shonen anime dude could beat up which American comic book dude, and who the imposter is in Among Us (it’s not me, honest). Typically, these things won’t make your squad remove you from their goals, but there’s something about spoilers that can make your friends up and rage quit your relationship.
For the most part, folks know to tag spoilers, or the fandom collectively decides to not tell a newcomer why that anime girl smiling with her puppy in Fullmetal Alchemist is… perfectly fine. Lately, however, I’ve been doing the exact opposite of avoiding spoilers. I’ve been actively looking for what I’d like to call “self-preservation spoilers.”
What Are Self-Preservation Spoilers?
This spoiler works in the same vein as a trigger warning. Trigger warnings let folks know that the content they’re getting ready to engage with has elements that can be upsetting. Self-preservation spoilers do the same thing, but to me, they’re more detailed. A trigger warning for The Boys, for example, might say something like, “Rape, violence, racism, just a harsh time all around.” But a full blown self-preservation spoiler would go into detail about who gets abused, how much is shown on screen, the culprits behind the brutality, and why these characters do what they do.
Sony Interactive Entertainment
My wife tells people about how I begged her to look up spoilers for Trico in The Last Guardian. Why? Because I do not handle animal death well. There’s no traumatic reason behind this; I simply love furbabies. Honestly, we all have that one series or character we just gotta check on before we see the results of their story.
I didn’t think much about this preemptive search for a character’s fate until the recent release of Lovecraft Country. While viewers knew that the series would touch on racism, several took to Twitter to ask just how racist the series got. I couldn’t blame them, not with the combo of global pandemic and racial injustice in 2020.
The Types of Self-Preservation Spoilers
The “I Saved Your Time” Spoiler
One type of self-preservation spoiler is the “I saved you two hours of your time by watching this for you” post. This tends to happen in regards to representation. As a Black queer woman I have an ongoing punch card for Team GOOD Representation. There are times when media and/or a creator promises to do right by me but they end up dropping the ball… into a dumpster fire.
This was recently seen with Antebellum which… deep sigh. Real talk: I haven’t been in the mood for a slavery movie in years because seeing the various ways we are abused onscreen is exhausting. However, the trailers made Antebellum look like some trippy time warp adventure where a modern day Black woman gets tossed back to the cotton fields and leads a revolution on horseback. The film also starred Janelle Monae, whom I love.
Fortunately, I wholeheartedly listened to Black women reviewers who’d watched the movie so I didn’t have to. They warned viewers of brutal beatings, branding, rape, and how the twist has zero payoff. There’s no going back to the days of our ancestors, embracing our roots, or revolutionizing our people. It’s a modern day park that takes historical reenactments too far. Thassit. And, out of the main Black characters trapped at the park, Monae’s the only one who survives. Seriously, thanks for the save, Black women.
The “Prepare For Disappointment” Spoiler
“First openly gay moment in the MCU,” the headlines read as Joe Russo regaled us of the importance of representation with Endgame.
“Blink and you’ll miss it,” said every queer news outlet and movie goer who sat through 11 years of movies to be told that this was their “important representation” moment. The character didn’t even have a name, Joe. I’d say that the community was let down by this *checks notes* “groundbreaking moment,” but we’ve had years of creator promises and characters being outed after the fact.
LGBTQ+ social media will quickly let you know if a reveal is worth the price of admission. Their collective eye rolls saved me the exhaustion of yet another bout of disappointment. I 100% would recommend self-preservation spoilers whenever there’s any news involving queer characters, especially if it’s coming from the director’s mouth. It can reassure you about the She-Ra finale, lower your expectations about that Beauty and the Beast character, or remind you to avoid certain wizard school authors (and their alternate pen names).
The “This Is A Hard Watch BUT” Spoiler
It’s not just tempering your expectations; it’s knowing that a piece of media has hard hitting topics and how they’re handled. I can deal with Lovecraft Country because viewers and the cast take to Twitter to discuss each episode. They let us know that this isn’t the type of Black story that white friends tend to call “powerful” like the Oscar bait titles with Racism 101 scenes. You know, the ones with white saviors who are so in-tune with Blackness that they teach us the wonders of fried chicken (I will never forgive you, Green Book.)
Lovecraft Country is full of unique depictions of combating racism. Atticus is summoning Lovecraftian monsters to get racist cops off their property. Leti’s fighting racist doctors with the spirits of his victims. Dee’s biking away from racist caricatures and beating them with steel pipes. Ruby drinks a potion to turn white?!
That’s not to say textbook racism isn’t present in Lovecraft Country, but since the characters know it’s a reality there isn’t this obsessive need to spend the entire episode on it. Much like real life, Black folks can (and do) focus on other things. We have to in order to deal with oppression.
Eli Joshua Ade/HBO
There’s celebration, love, joy, and other issues besides racism. Hell, days after the Breonna Taylor verdict Lovecraft Country had an episode where a Black woman embraces her true self and experiences freedom. She goes to SPACE, y’all!
With each episode I saw friends discussing racism, Black joy, magic, horror, and, to my surprise, the queer community. This is where those self-preservation spoilers really shine. I knew 1950s America was like a constant game of “Minesweeper” for Black folks, but Black queer folks? Especially when the central focus is “I beat my kid so he wouldn’t be too sensitive” Montrose?
I knew Montrose was gonna kill Yahima, the two spirit character capable of translating the Language of Adam, and I appreciated how quickly the self-preservation spoilers hit Twitter to prepare queer viewers. This was a moment that didn’t sit well with many (myself included), especially when Montrose gets his be free moment in the following episode. Despite my disappointment over Yahima, the show doesn’t expect us to forgive Montrose at all.
Even as we delve into Montrose’s backstory, it doesn’t try to convince us (and the other characters) to let him slide for his actions. Lovecraft Country is proof that you can (and should) critique the things you like. The spoilers, the online discussions, the podcast, and even statements from the creators expect, and embrace, critique.
The “This Is A Hard Watch PERIOD” Spoiler
The Boys is a show that I was actually interested in because I’m a fan of subverting the superhero genre. However, 2020 has been… a thing. When the pandemic hit, I couldn’t even deal with the Resident Evil 3 remake because a virus attacking an entire populace hit too close to home. The pandemic slowed everything but racial discrimination down as we mourned the loss of George Floyd while still fighting for justice in regards to Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
While The Boys has an interesting concept, many people (including me) don’t have the mental bandwidth to deal with white supremacy in fiction and real life. It’s hard enough with real life incidents having video footage that circulates on auto-play.
Amazon Prime Video
Thanks to spoilers I know who Stormfront is now. I also know I’m not in the right headspace to deal with the obliteration of marginalized people by a secretly Nazi superheroine. And, anyone who feels like I doesn’t want to hear fan justifications for what’s onscreen.
Is it part of the source material? Is a white woman social media savvy Nazi who, in the finale, gets a fantastically brutal comeuppance a statement? Whatever the case, they will say anything to get you to watch yourself being torn apart. As the old Internet proverb says, “Don’t read the comments.”
Many argue that spoilers ruin a story. But I gotta know what lies ahead for marginalized characters who represent me. In this case, spoilers prepare me for what kind of media is out there. Self-preservation spoilers help me decide what to watch, what to not watch, and what to leave in the queue until further notice.
Featured Image: Matt Kennedy/Lionsgate