When Spoilers Become A Selling Point: “Stranger Things” Season 4
The teaser for Stranger Things season four has dropped and, well, there are spoilers. But are they really? Or is it just a selling point now?
At this point it should go without saying that this article will have SPOILERS for Stranger Things Season Four. We have a very strict spoiler policy here at The Geekiary and even though the point of this article is to analyze that very topic overall, I nevertheless must warn for it. So…. SPOILER WARNING. Obviously.
So Hopper lives. Yep. He’s alive. And everyone is crying.
At the end of Season Three, Hopper disappeared and was presumed dead by all the characters and most of the fandom. Then we got a bit of an extra scene afterwards where it was revealed that there was an “American” being held in a secret lab in Russia. Fandom collectively flipped out and the theories started to fly.
Most fans assumed the “American” was Hopper since we never saw him actually die and there was no body to be found, but there were a few errant ideas, like the possibility that it’s Doctor Brenner or even, absurdly, Bob Newby (we just all love Sean Astin and we miss him, okay? We know it makes no sense). Plot-wise, Hopper being in the prison made the most sense.
So we all assumed it was going to be Hopper and also assumed that we were going to have to wait until the season came out to know for sure. It was set to be a long and torturous wait.
But then they just went and…. did that…
It’s clear that Hopper is going to be used as a selling point for Season Four and this plot element isn’t considered a spoiler by the marketing team or the creators. The writers are enthusiastically tweeting about it, too. So if you’re a fan, you can’t avoid this on social media since all the official outlets are talking about it. You might as well just throw your computer and your smartphone out the window now and avoid humans until the season comes out.
The character is enormously popular. David Harbour has his own mini fandom within the larger Stranger Things fandom, all of whom were absolutely crushed with the prospect of the show going on without him. He’s one of the strongest elements of the show, so using him as a selling point for Season Four makes sense on that front.
Earlier, when questioned about the possibility of Hopper coming back or being the “American” we got vague answers. In an interview with the EW both the actor and David Harbour and co-creator Matt Duffer gave answers that didn’t outright say it, but could be read into as leaving the possibility of his return wide open.
“What can I tell you? What can’t I tell you? I mean I don’t really know but we will have to see together. It’s a pretty serious situation that he gets himself into there at the end and it’s a pretty moving arc in terms of the way this all plays out. So I think we’ll sort of leave it at that and see if there is a life beyond, but I’m not sure yet.” – David Harbour
“You definitely should not assume anything. The line that Russian guard said is purposely intended to spark debate. We need people to ask the very questions that you’re asking.” – Matt Duffer
So basically, it wasn’t exactly a surprise that it’s him. We assumed it was. The clues were there and it made the most sense. And he’s popular so of course he’s coming back to keep his fans around. So why not use it as a selling point for the new season? I’ve seen people refer to it as the ‘worst kept secret’ and I tend to agree.
And yet, everywhere I look people are still treating this as a spoiler. We’re all absolutely flabbergasted that they’d let this out ahead of the season. Twitter has labeled it as a spoiler in their ‘moment.’ This article has come with a ton of spoiler warnings as a precaution (because even I don’t want to slip up and piss off some poor reader). And even in The Geekiary editor’s chatroom we went through a period of time where we weren’t quite sure how to discuss it before I personally ripped that band aid off because what the heck.
Because really, this is the type of thing that would be a massive plot twist under any normal circumstances. Our hesitance makes sense.
But again, they just… did that.
So I guess that brings us to the question… what the hell is a spoiler exactly?
If the team behind a “spoiler” seem to be openly discussing it, is it truly a spoiler anymore? And if the fandom has already kind of assumed that this is what was going to happen, are we losing anything by having that confirmed ahead of the actual season being released? Since it was put out there in a trailer so blatantly, are we free to discuss it without a crap ton of spoiler warnings?
Let’s start with the basics.
Information about the plot of a motion picture or TV program that can spoil a viewer’s sense of surprise or suspense
Avengers: Endgame is probably the biggest spoilerfest of 2019. The plot simply wouldn’t have hit the same if certain character deaths were spoiled for me, and the creators agreed. They outright begged for fans to keep their mouths shut. That didn’t stop some fans from running around the Internet like goblins trying to ruin the impact for everyone, but for the most part fandom understood that these plot points were best experienced as a surprise. The full impact was best delivered as it was written without knowing what was to come.
I truly admire Avengers fans for keeping the lid on all of that so damn well, because it was intense. I cried a lot.
Another major spoiler moment that happened this past year was the reveal of Baby Yoda (aka “The Child”) in The Mandalorian. They kept his existence so tightly under wraps that they didn’t even have Baby Yoda toys in production in time for Christmas. They didn’t want to risk a single leak getting out there, so they missed out on millions of dollars in toy sales just to keep it quiet.
Everyone was so stunned by the reveal that private Facebook groups and Twitter group chats were thrown together in an attempt to create a space to discuss the bombshell without spoiling anyone. I got added to no less than four private groups within a day.
And, once again, I’m amazed beyond belief at just how well people kept it a secret. That was a tough one. But the surprise was truly best experienced without any warning and I’m glad I got to learn about it that way. I was watching the episode the second it dropped in the middle of the night and I gasped so loud I scared my cat. It was just that awesome.
Even the legendary film critic Roger Ebert agreed that media should be experienced as intended without major plot points being dropped out in the open ahead of time and adapted his reviews to be more protective of major plot points. He had this to say about spoilers:
The characters in movies do not always do what we would do. Sometimes they make choices that offend us. That is their right. It is our right to disagree with them. It is not our right, however, to destroy for others the experience of being as surprised by those choices as we were.
A few years ago, I began to notice “spoiler warnings” on Web-based movie reviews — a shorthand way of informing the reader that a key plot point was about to be revealed. Having heard from more than a few readers accusing me of telling too much of the story, I began using such warnings in my reviews.
Not everyone agrees that spoilers will damage the audience’s enjoyment of a story though. A study done by two UC San Diego undergraduates that was published in part in Wired seems to prove that spoilers don’t really ruin anything.
Almost every single story [in the study], regardless of genre, was more pleasurable when prefaced with a spoiler. This suggests that I read fiction the right way, beginning with the end and working backwards. I like the story more because the suspense is contained.
What this research suggests is that the lack of surprise was part of the pleasure: We like it best when the suspense is contained by the formulaic, when we never have to really worry about the death of the protagonist or the lovers in a romantic comedy.
While both Avengers: Endgame and The Mandalorian had a huge impact because I went in without knowing what was going to happen, I can see this side of the argument as well.
Right now I’m entering a fandom that’s already well developed with completed stories and tons of fan works. I’m reading novels by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu (including Mo Dao Zu Shi), which are all published in their entirety with several adaptions in progress include comic books, cartoons, and live action shows. The story is done, though, and all the plot points are out there.
At first I tried my best to avoid spoilers. I quickly learned that I’d have to completely leave the Internet to do so since most of her books and their adaptations have been around for months to years already. And her books are long. Heaven Official’s Blessing is over a million words and I don’t expect to be finished for a couple weeks at least.
Am I just supposed to avoid all fandom spaces for that time? That’s damn near impossible.
In this case I decided that spoilers wouldn’t ruin my enjoyment of these stories. I may know certain plot elements that are coming, but I’m excited to get to them anyway. Knowing some of what’s coming has actually heightened my enjoyment of the book I’m currently reading because I’m dying to know just how we get to that point. And the spoilers are in and of themselves incredibly enticing. I want to read them and squee about them with my fellow fangirls as soon as I can.
I also get to engage with fandom before I’m done with these stories, which is a huge bonus for me. I can imagine that a Stranger Things fan who wants to engage with fandom between now and when Season Four comes out is going to have a hell of a time doing so if they want to remain spoiler free. Fan art, fanfic, and general theories are about to flood fandom spaces and there’s going to be no way to avoid it.
So maybe, just maybe, spoilers aren’t as big of a deal as we all assumed. Maybe we can still enjoy stuff even when we know a major plot point.
In conclusion, is this trailer a big spoiler? Perhaps.
We will need to see the context of this particular reveal to determine if it’s a key plot point to the season, or if it’s revealed right away and doesn’t actually play into the suspenseful plot elements of Season Four. It’s possible the season starts off with the Hopper reveal and the tension is derived from other elements. We just don’t know yet.
Then again, Baby Yoda was revealed at the end of the first episode and it was still considered a spoiler.
If it is a spoiler, why did they reveal it so soon? Do they feel, like the UC Davis study suggests, that revealing this plot point early on won’t actually damage our enjoyment of the season? Or do they think it could, but retaining the David Harbour fans during the hiatus between seasons is worth that small amount of damage? It’s hard to say.
Personally, I’m still excited for the next season and, if it’s not obvious, my main shock comes from their decision to put it all out there. The plot point itself isn’t all that surprising. So I’m fine with this.
Are you? Or have you been spoiled too much? Let me know in the comments.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.
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