Ta-Nehisi Coates apparently spoiled something from a way past season of The Wire on his blog and got yelled at by a few readers. He asked his readership to determine when it’s okay to reveal the ending, or a key plot point, to a book, movie, or TV show.
I think for obsessive fans of serial television dramas that have a strong internet presence (me?) the answer is pretty easy. Always, always, write SPOILER ALERT at the top of a post on the topic, if the episode hasn’t aired. Once the ep has aired, you’re free to discuss it without the qualifier.
For movies the case is a bit different, and I would say you are spoiling until the movie has been in wide theatrical release for at least as many weeks as it should take someone who really cared to check it out (4?). But, as many of TNC’s readers pointed out, you can generally tell if a blog post or a movie review is tending toward spoiler domain. Stop reading if you get the sensation.
There are some cases when you might wish a movie review contained more of a spoiler. My favorite movie critic, Christopher Orr with The New Republic, sometimes spoils movies he loathes, but warns his readers ahead of time. This saved me from wondering whether I would spend any money on The Happening. More recently, I found myself wishing Orr had spoiled The Changeling in his review — as a result I went over to Wikipedia and spoiled it for myself. For the record: the film is so much less interesting than you would have expected from the trailers.
In any case, spoiling has become such a part of life for the tech savvy (some would say nerdy) that I would say it’s pretty much your own fault if you don’t get the hint and stop reading something that might ruin the suspense. But then again, I grew up with a dad who would spoil almost any book, movie, or TV show unintentionally — so maybe I’m numb to the problem.
P.S. As you can see, I was catching up on my Ta-Nehisi Coates reading today.