The Force Awakens Awareness: On Movie Viewing, Spoilers, and Privilege

Silver Surfer & Dawn Greenwood. © 2016 Marvel Comics. Art by Mike Allred.
Silver Surfer & Dawn Greenwood. ©2016 Marvel Comics. Art by Mike Allred.

It is no secret that Star Wars fans have been excited about StarWars: The Force Awakens (SWTFA) for months since its announcement, only getting increasingly worked up from the moment we saw Harrison Ford’s crooked smile and heard him say, “Chewie, we’re home,” to reaching a fever pitch when the film opened in the US in mid-December.

Fandom takes spoilers very seriously. For SWTFA, there were spoiler policies so stringent that openly discussing the film in at least one comic shop meant an automatic, instantaneous kick from the store and a lifetime ban for the offending party. A photo of this particular comic book store’s door sign went viral with numerous reposts, reblogs and retweets of agreement. When Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) tweeted asking fans not to spoil the experience for anyone else, he got likes, retweets, and tens of thousands of responses in support. So fandom was on board with not ruining the experience—at first.

I instituted a brief spoiler policy for my own Twitter timelines and social media. I make an effort to be careful with my curating, so for the most part, the people I follow and who follow me don’t spoiler recklessly. For SWTFA, I indicated that anyone who spoiled before December 26 got blocked until the 26th and would then be unblocked. I’m pleased to say that only two people crossed my line drawn in the cyber-sand, and there was only one close-ish call. I made a point of saying that links leading off-site were exempt from the spoiler policy, because they were links, which meant someone would have to consciously choose to click to see where it led.  

I have a general rule I try to stick to: no spoilers until the film comes out on DVD.

I have a general rule I try to stick to: no spoilers until the film comes out on DVD. Why do I pick that arbitrary date above others? DVDs usually come out before a film makes it to pay cable or satellite, and they definitely come out before a film will air on free TV. There are low cost options available to view DVDs without purchasing one, but the DVD release is usually the earliest availability for home viewing.

I found out the hard way that even that is not generous enough a gap for some people. I lost a friend back in the days of LiveJournal for spoiling the Firefly movie Serenity well after the movie had aired on free TV. I felt bad that they had no cable at the time and hadn’t managed to catch a free TV airing, but the line had to be drawn somewhere between the DVD release date and, “OMG, the ship sinks? Thanks a lot for RUINING Titanic!” There has to be a middle ground between “spoil everything the minute it comes out” and “never breathe a word, ever, until your dying day,” right?

Now it’s January, and we’re a month out from the US release date of SWTFA. I’ve tried to be circumspect about the fanart I post, although I am guilty of the squee overwhelming me as much as anyone. I get it. Star Wars is back, and it’s great again! It’s difficult to keep that kind of excitement under wraps. So if I’ve inadvertently spoilered anyone with overexcited love for the new Trio and fanart thereof, I hereby publicly and humbly apologize.

What is harshing the groove of fandom love for me, though, is that it seems a good number of US viewers—at least on the internet—that seem to think we’re well and truly past the spoiler threshold because the film has already broken blockbuster records. SWTFA has beaten Titanic and Jurassic World for how much money it’s made in its opening weekend and how fast it reached the landmark amount of a billion dollars. “Everybody” who wants to see it must have seen it already, so it’s safe to share spoilers! Meme away! Post those theories! Discuss plot with reckless abandon without restricting the conversation to a forum! 

The thing is, fandom isn’t just made up of people who can manage one way or another to see a movie during sneak previews, opening night, or the first month of release. I tried to make that clear when I announced my own spoiler policy in December on Twitter and have tried since to make it clear with varying degrees of success. Fans come in every shape, size, denomination, race, creed, color, and walk of life. That people seem to not consider that and get defensive when reminded is frustrating.

When I point out that insisting “no one has the right to complain about spoilers” is a little inconsiderate only a month after release date, people react in such a way that makes it clear they feel they should have the unimpeded right to geek out freely at this point, because they’ve kept quiet for months and months about it.

The problem is there’s an empathy and compassion gap here. People upset about spoilers aren’t just whiners or “narcissists who want the world to revolve around them,” as I was told by one Twitter user when I pointed out that waiting for the DVD is a more polite spoiler duration.  

People upset about spoilers aren’t just whiners or “narcissists who want the world to revolve around them.”

People who haven’t had a chance to see the movie yet aren’t crybabies or whatever derogatory term a more advantaged fan wants to call them. People who haven’t had the opportunity to see the film yet are still fans, just like the advantaged fans are, just with less fortuitous circumstances. They love the first trilogy, probably find the prequels cringe-worthy, and are just as excited about the new film as every other person fangasming about SWTFA on the internet. In fact, in many cases, because of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Lupita Nyong’o, the excitement may be even greater. This is the first Star Wars film with a diverse trio in the starring roles. For women and people of color, this is a really major thing; and it’s not a feeling of excitement white fans have ever had any experience with. Hollywood has always had white faces on their silver screen.  

A lot of the reaction and push-back I’ve gotten for respecting spoilers is that people seem to think anyone who has not seen SWTFA by now has not seen it because they have just chosen not to see it and are only complaining about spoilers to ruin the fun for those who saw it first. Worse, a lot of people seem to voice the opinion that if one is spoilered unexpectedly, it is the fault of the person who got spoiled. It’s not the fault of whoever posted the spoiler. It’s the fault of the person who got spoiled for running across it! That’s victim blaming!

“If I’m not aware of it, it doesn’t exist.” That’s just a new spin on the same old privilege: “If it’s not a problem to me, personally, then it’s not a problem, so why should I care?”

Where fandom meets differing lifestyles means that simply is just not the case. Intersectionality means that one fandom experience is not the only fandom experience. Each fan’s experience is just as valid as the next even if it is less convenient for the fans in more advantageous positions. There is no one universal fandom experience or way to be a fan. People seem to have a built in blind spot when it comes to other people’s situations: “If I’m not aware of it, it doesn’t exist.” That’s just a new spin on the same old privilege: “If it’s not a problem to me, personally, then it’s not a problem, so why should I care?”

It’s apparently difficult to conjure up the stretch of imagination required to acknowledge that other people’s experiences may differ despite the prevalence of YMMV as a popular term online. So for clarity’s sake, let me refute a few inaccurate notions I’ve encountered: 

Not everyone has the resources to be able to see this or any other widely anticipated movie on opening weekend or even by Christmas, since TFA was a holiday release in the US. 

I had someone tweet to tell me that the “average” movie ticket is $9. That may be true in some parts of the US, but not where I live. Tickets are $10 for the 2D showing and $12.50 for the 3D showing. Since movie theaters are all out to make money, guess how many 3D showings there are versus 2D?

1. Not everyone has a smartphone with which they can order tickets online in advance.

2. Not everyone has a credit card with which they can order tickets online in advance, and prepaid cards are not accepted everywhere and will reject the purchase at some theaters (or Fandango).

3. Some prepaid cards will not reject the purchase, but will instead reserve a block of money in excess of the purchase for days past the purchase date. That can be the difference between getting to see the movie and getting to see the movie, but not having gas money to drive there or being able to buy groceries after the purchase despite having money on the card.

4. Services like Fandango, Movietickets.com, and Stubs come with service charges for the convenience of buying online in advance, raising the price by a dollar or more per ticket!

5. When countering my suggestion that waiting until DVD release for spoilers was considerate, someone on Twitter pointed out that a DVD is $20, but a movie ticket is only $9, so it is cheaper to go to see the movie in the theater. But a movie ticket is $9. A movie ticket. Just one. Movies are generally not considered a solitary activity. People more often than not want to go with friends, family, or a date, so it’s almost never just “a movie ticket.” I don’t even view films I’m reviewing for Reel Geek Girl alone. It’s disingenuous to imply that one movie ticket is cheaper than the DVD, while technically true, it is intellectually dishonest to oversimplify the issue that way.

For example, a teenager who wants to take their sweetie on a date will have to either save up or buy gift cards a little at a time to afford a movie date, popcorn, and all, unless they and their date agree to wait for the DVD. Not every kid with an after-school job is using that money for “disposable income” or “pocket money.” Some teenagers are saving for college or contributing to the household to help their parents.  

Two adults at $9 each is $18, two dollars short of the common DVD price before figuring in transportation (whether personal or public). If these two adults have children, they either bring them along at $7.50 each (if they’re under 12) or they hire a babysitter for the duration of their evening out, which means they are spending money for the movie, the babysitter, the price of transportation, and possibly dinner if they didn’t eat at home. Let’s assume for the purposes of this example, this couple ate leftovers before departing for the movie with their kids. That’s $18 for two adults and another $15 per kids under 12. That’s at least $40 when you figure in a low number of $7 for transportation. If these two kids are over 12, then the two adults are paying for two more full tickets if the kids they don’t pay their own way. Now we’re looking at four people at $9 each. That’s $36. If you add in $5 in dollar store candy and $7 in transportation, your total is $48.00. That is more than double the DVD price.

With a babysitter, the cost is far more than double. SWTFA has a runtime of 2 hours and 16 minutes. Let’s round down to 2 hours and 5 minutes if the caretakers don’t stay to watch the credits all the way through and hurry home. Those two kids who came along are still going to need to hit the restroom, and there’s always a line. Even skipping the credits, we’re looking at a minimum of 2.5 hours. The babysitter is in the mid-range and charges $12.50 an hour. 2.5 hours, not counting travel time means the babysitter’s costing at least $31.25 if the caretakers are lucky enough to live five minutes away from their movie theater like I do. A fifteen min drive each way adds another $6.25 to that babysitter total. The longer the drive, the more cha-ching is involved. Plus, it’s considered customary to tip the babysitter. Seeing the sitter safely home is also considered proper etiquette unless the sitter has their own transportation, which means not only are these caretakers spending money on their night out on more than movie tickets, but they’re spending extra time and gas.   

So summing up: $18 for Mom and Dad, $7 for gas, $37.50 for the babysitter plus a $5 tip for a total of $42.50, plus another $3 in gas to take the sitter home. One night total: $70.50 without having bought popcorn and drinks at the theater. Add $5, if they picked up movie candy at the dollar store, the cheapest place possible to get it on short notice.

The above examples only work if those two adults who just want to go to the movies live someplace where they can see an evening showing for $9 each. The city I live in doesn’t have a showing that cheap. The cheapest showing on a Saturday at that theater five minutes away from me is $9.50 for an adult and $8.50 for a child under twelve. Oh, and I should mention: that’s a five minute drive. If you’re walking, it’s a twenty minute trip. Uphill. On streets that mostly lack sidewalks. That family math would be different in Atlanta and probably significantly different in New York City or Chicago.

A DVD is $20; if you are good at watching for deals, you might even get it as cheap as $17.99. The cheapest 3-pack of microwave popcorn I can find on Google is $1.94, though a dollar store might have that too. Watching a DVD at home means no sitter to pay and not having to figure in gas money. Even if you want to splurge and order from Little Caesar’s, the least expensive national pizza chain, that same family of four is paying maybe $30 to watch the same blockbuster. This is why for many people it is just more practical and feasible for them to wait for the DVD release, no matter how much they’d rather watch it in the theater. Disposable income isn’t equally disposable for everyone. $75.00 or more for one night out when that money could pay the phone bill for the month? Or some of the grocery bill? If that’s not a position you’ve ever had to be in, that makes you lucky, but it doesn’t mean the people making this tough choice aren’t just as much fans as you.

6. Someone else suggest matinees to save money. This is a fine idea if you live in a city where you can still get cheap matinees. I haven’t seen a reduced price matinee in Atlanta in years, except  during the summer for the children home from school in years. Usually they’re old movies or cartoons; not the first run blockbusters selling out week after week.

I also received a suggestion about using student discounts. This is also a fine idea if you’re of student age. If your children are elementary school age, they’re too young. If they’re over 18, they’re likely too old. Over 18 does not necessarily mean able to pay their own way either. There are many disabilities that could prevent an older teen from having a job. Or, again, their money may go toward household bills or making sure someone has a prescription they need.

I get movie discounts as a perk with my day job. Most of the time they reduce my movie prices nicely. But for certain events or showings, the theater will reserve the right to refuse to accept them and make me pay full admittance. I encountered this when I went to see the theatrical re-release of The Iron Giant. Then there are showings the discount won’t cover, like 3D. I had to pay an up charge because the theater had no 2D showings of Inside Out. It’s common practice at movie theaters to not accept passes for movies they expect to be blockbusters. So having a discount is not a sure thing.  

I even got a suggestion of theater hopping. I don’t know about where that particular Tweeter lives, but where I live, the more greatly anticipated a film is, the more likely its opening will be accompanied by intimidatingly sized security—not only to prevent theater hopping, but to prevent any ticket holder recording and pirating the film. That may be a cute way of getting into the movies if you’re a child or a teen, but for an adult, that could result in arrest. Theater hopping is technically theft of services. Yet this was blithely suggested to me—committing a crime—as an option that should be seriously taken into consideration for a fan who really, really wants to see the film.

Then there’s the fact that once the DVD comes out, people who don’t live near a theater or can’t afford to buy a DVD can borrow one from a library or a DVD rental service for less than the cost of purchasing one. Not everyone can go see it because of family members who may not be able to go because of disability issues.  

I had a friend tweet about his situation. I describe it here with his permission. He and his spouse have three kids, one of whom is autistic.  They had to have an autism-friendly showing, because if the autistic child was not capable of coping all the way through a regular showing the entire family would have to leave for the sake of the child having difficulty. This would be considerate to the audience as well, but it would upset the two other children who were there to see the movie and couldn’t stay to watch it because of their sibling. That would also cause disruption for the entire family outside of the movie itself.

This friend mentioned having a hard time finding autistic-friendly showings of the film. I believe he found four over a thirty day period, and he wondered how big an inconvenience would it be to add just one sensory friendly showing a week.

Fans aren’t the only ones who don’t seem to want to make concessions for those with disabilities.

Fans aren’t the only ones who don’t seem to want to make concessions for those with disabilities. It’s almost worse when the theaters don’t accommodate. It’s like taking the welcome mat away from the door. But theaters are run for profit, not on love and friendship like fandom is supposed to.

I recall seeing a young woman on Twitter asking for backup to call a theater and complain about how she was treated. She had figuratively jumped through a lot of hoops to get help seeing Star Wars because she couldn’t stand in line for long periods due to her disability. She was promised help,  then ignored when that help never materialized.

I have multiple friends who cannot watch the 3D versions of the movie because the 3D glasses give them migraines. I have friends who cannot watch the 3D movies because their eyes do not see the effect even when wearing the glasses.

I personally had a hard time watching TFA in 3D because the Dolby 3D glasses did not fit properly over my glasses. I had to take my glasses off and put the 3D ones on without them. It is fortunate that my vision is strong enough that I could see the screen clearly from my seat without my glasses. That’s a design issue on the part of Dolby. They only took viewers with 20-20 vision into account when designing their 3D glasses, and it diminished my viewing experience as a result. Even designers who want viewers in those seats have a hard time remembering that not every fan is completely able-bodied, and it obviously never occurred to them to test for people who wear different sized glasses before going into production.  

Wheelchair users have disability seating in many theaters for them, and to their credit, I have yet to see a case of anyone refusing to move for a person with a cane, crutches or wheelchair. That does not take into account whether or not a person can actually get to the theater unassisted. I nearly took a fall down a flight of stairs in a theater when I was on crutches, because this was before ramps had become prevalent. Besides that concern for theaters that haven’t been refitted? Not all wheelchair users are drivers. Not all of them live in an area where there are disabled-capable public transit. Not all of them have access to scooters. Not all of the ones who are capable of walking are capable of walking the distance from mass transit to the theater. Then there’s the cost of a cab and whether the driver will be sensitive to their needs to take into account. Lyft and Uber are options, but there are cost and safety concerns with both of those services. Then there’s the simple concern of whether their neighbors will have cleared snow or ice away from their sidewalks in areas where December means winter.  

Blind people have a hard time finding theaters with showings that have descriptive audio. The deaf and hard of hearing have a hard time finding in-seat closed captioning.

Other countries did not have the same opening day for Star Wars The Force Awakens as the US did. It’s US-centric to not consider the fans whose theaters don’t have the film yet. China’s opening day was the second week in January.

Lupita Nyong’o, one of the stars of the film, was only able to watch Star Wars growing up on television, when the films aired on public holidays. The films obviously had such a strong effect on her that she accepted a role when the opportunity came along, but she became a fan while she was not in a position of privilege. She’s in a position of privilege to watch any film she likes anytime she likes (provided she is willing to endure the fan reaction should they recognize her in the crowd) now, but she didn’t start out there.  

It’s a simple matter of a few keystrokes to type #spoilers.

One of the people I conversed with said that it was unreasonable to expect all of fandom to shut up. I don’t think I’m asking that. I think I’m asking fans, as people, to take into account that other fans are also people. I think I’m asking them to consider the difference between finding a good sized clubhouse and geeking out happily there versus finding a spot on a street corner and geeking out with a bullhorn and a jumbotron so passersby have no choice but to hear. It’s a simple matter of a few keystrokes to type #spoilers. Even people who Internet in other ways than Twitter know what a hashtag is and what it’s for. Many social media clients have support for blocking or muting hashtags; which is how a lot of those fans do proactively protect themselves from spoilers.  

The cavalier attitude of “well don’t log onto the internet then” is unrealistic and pretty much lays bare that as a privileged fan, it’s too inconvenient and ruins fun too much to do a few extra keystrokes. It also fails to take into account that for a lot of people the fandom is not all the internet allows access to. It can also allow access to support groups for disabilities or challenges they face in life.  

The question becomes then: What kind of a fans do we want to be? Do we want to be inclusive, welcoming, respectful fans who remember that there are other people behind those words on a screen? Or do we want to be an Old Guard gatekeepers whose feeling of superiority at seeing it first means “too bad, so sad, sucks to be you” is more important than having new people to share your love of a treasured medium?

Everyone has their own choice to make. My choice will always be to remind people that fans who aren’t like you are still fans who deserve to enjoy what they love as much as any other fan. I know we can do better. I’ve seen what fandom is capable of. The 501st is well known for their charity work (and they’re a bunch of fans who dress as Stormtroopers). Rey, Finn and Poe aren’t going anywhere; fans with different life experiences aren’t either. You are going to have to get used to not only remembering other people on your screen have feelings, but that their feelings matter just as much as anyone else’s.

 

Jamie Kingston

Jamie Kingston

Jamie Kingston is a Native New Yorker, enduring a transplant to Atlanta. She’s a lifelong comic fan, having started at age 13 and never looked back, developing a decades-spanning collection and the need to call out the creators when she expects better of them. Her devotion extends to television, films, and books as well as the rare cosplay. She sates her need to create in a number of ways including being an active editor on the TV Tropes website, creating art and fan art, and working on her randomly updating autobiographical web comic, Orchid Coloured Glasses. As a woman of color, she considers it important to focus on diversity issues in the media. She received the Harpy Agenda micro-grant in November of 2015 for exceptional comics journalism by a writer of color.
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