Saturday, July 21, 2007

Spoiler alert!

New York Times:

And as you can see from my first memory of the cinema, which was also my first act of criticism, I’m not above ruining an ending for others. I’m that terrible thing, the film critic armed with spoilers who isn’t afraid to use them.

I wouldn’t dare unmask the secrets in the movie “A History of Violence” out of respect for the artistry of David Cronenberg and the integrity of his booby-trapped plot, but there isn’t a single frame of “The Number 23” I wouldn’t mock in great, guiltless detail for the simple reason that I find it extremely silly. A spoiler requires something to spoil and someone to take offense at the spoiling, and I’m confident that my readership does not include humorless scholars of the Joel Schumacher oeuvre.

To spoil or not to spoil involves larger questions about the role of the critic, the needs of the reader and the changes to both caused by the scale, speed and outlaw spirit of Web-based commentary. ...

Reviewing a marginal art film in the pages of an alternative weekly presents a specific set of problems, but the same issues arise for the book reviewer of a newspaper or an essayist for Artforum: Who is the audience and what are their expectations? How do I best convey what they need to know? Does the work of other critics modify what I can “safely” discuss? Am I writing for those who already know the work or am I attempting to cultivate a new audience? How long should a work be available to the public before the question of spoilers is irrelevant?

It’s silly to insist that the critic never spoil. In practice, spoilers can be irresponsible, motivated by laziness, vindictiveness or snark, but if the ambition to inform the reader outweighs the need to protect them, then spoilers are warranted on principle. The integrity of the critic doesn’t revolve around whether or not they’re willing to spoil, but why they chose to do so. ...

Our obsession with spoilers has a diminishing effect, reducing popular criticism to a kind of glorified consumer reporting and the audience to babies. People outraged by spoilers should avoid all reviews before going to the movies or reading the book they’ve waited so long for, because the fact is all criticism spoils, no matter how scrupulous. ...
Nathan Lee is a film critic for The Village Voice.

This is probably as close as I will come to wading into the Harry Potter affair. I haven't read the books, my kids are older and out of the house (we now discuss Supremem Court opinions...), and I don't know enough to have an informed view of the books, or the cultural phenomenon. (One feature of my aging, and perhaps my sense of finitude: I've decided to let some cultural phenomena, even large ones, float on by, without my attention.) I guess I am prepared to venture this far: It's good that lots of people are reading (one of my strong biases), and caring and talking about what they read (yet another). Sorry to be so apodictic on such matters.

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