Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rosenbaum's spoilers

I read Jonathan Rosenbaum's "In Defence of Spoilers" back when it first appeared and back when it looked like just more of Rosenbaum's developing flakiness. But he felt strongly enough about it to include the piece in his recent book Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia - wonder if the editor asked him to rethink that decision.

Because it's an odd piece, not a defence so much as an attack on people who want to avoid spoilers. Rosenbaum basically calls them infants and compares their desire to avoid spoilers to wanting to be taken care of by parents - not exactly a mature approach in itself. Especially when you consider that much of his piece is so self-centered, claiming that it keeps him from doing his job or that not everybody thinks that way. As for doing his job of course as a critic spoilers (or more accurately full descriptive access to the film) shouldn't be avoided but much of the time his job isn't as a critic but a reviewer which is a different situation. As a reviewer most of his job is consumer advice and that involves not actually, y'know, damaging the reader's experience any more than necessary. As a reviewer avoiding spoilers is a key part of the job and if Rosenbaum disagrees then he really shouldn't have been writing reviews.

It's also strange that he apparently doesn't realize that the historical examples are irrelevant or perhaps even contradict his point. Yes, many early novels had (often lengthy) chapter titles that revealed what would happen and sure some works even mention a key plot point or even ending in the title. (And how did he miss the Trollope novels that tell you outright in the first chapter what's going to happen at the end and recommend that if this isn't acceptable then to stop reading?) But these examples all are the artist's decision, whether they might have been a convention of the time doesn't matter. When an artist doesn't include such revelations then isn't it a bit arrogant to claim that a reviewer has the right to do so?

Other parts of the piece aren't even worth discussing. To claim that avoiding spoilers would also mean he should avoid mentioning epigraphs is quite silly if not just a bizarre I'm-gonna-take-my-ball-and-go-home hissy fit. Admittedly the piece shows Rosenbaum at his worst but unfortunately it's not completely atypical of his late writing (which I'll get into more if I ever cover Goodbye Cinema).