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Harry Potter spoilers - John C. Kirk

Jul. 26th, 2007

02:55 am - Harry Potter spoilers

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Following up on my posts at the weekend, I was able to avoid spoilers until I'd finished the final "Harry Potter" book, which I'm glad about. I have overheard some conversations in the last couple of days which gave away the ending (some people in a lounge when I was fixing a computer on Monday evening, and some kids on a bus on Tuesday morning), but I'm ascribing that to thoughtlessness rather than malice.

Tonight I came across this page at Encyclopaedia Dramatica:
Harry Potter: major spoilers
It does have a reasonable amount of blank space at the start of the page, but after that it gives away all of the significant events from the book. That's not so bad by itself, but it then goes into detail about ways to deliberately spoil the book for other people, e.g. pictures of T-shirts which say "[Character X] dies!"

Further down the page, it has video clips of people who read the leaked version, then went to the midnight bookstore openings with megaphones and shouted out all the spoilers. I do wonder about the best way to handle a situation like this. My gut reaction is to say that these guys are clearly arseholes, so they deserve to get the crap beaten out of them. However, it does concern me that I seem to be advocating violent solutions increasingly often, so I'd like to think that there's a better option; I know that the rest of you have disagreed with the way that I handled confrontations in the past, so I'm genuinely interested to know what you think about this.

I know that there are some people who just don't see the appeal of Harry Potter books, and that's fine. Similarly, some people think that the books are ok, but the whole phenomenon has gone over the top, and that's fine too. Other people think that the books are for children, so adults shouldn't be reading them; I disagree, and I think you could say the same thing about soap operas or football matches (both of which have an audience ranging from young children to the elderly), but I can still respect that point of view. I only object when other people feel the need to force their opinions on me, rather than agreeing to differ.

In fairness, it's not as if the hecklers were really hurting anyone; they're hardly on the same level as murderers, rapists, or drug dealers. However, something like this is just mean. According to the BBC, there were more than a thousand people in the Waterstones queue by 18:45, many of them children, and I'd guess that most of them started queuing even earlier in the day. Remember that this is the day when we had torrential rain in London, causing huge flooding, so it wouldn't have been the nicest day to stand around outside. So, these are people who really are excited about the book, and the guys with megaphones were being completely malicious. It can't even be excused on the basis of "We were just having a laugh" - the videos include comments like "hundreds upon hundreds eagerly wait for the book ... little do they know, we are about to ruin their night". Similarly, the YouTube descriptions aren't showing any remorse: they actually seem to be enjoying all the negative attention.

One option would just be to grin and bear it; after all, until you've read the book, you don't even know whether their spoilers are real. (You could also try sticking your fingers in your ears, which I sometimes do when TV programs show clips for an upcoming program.) However, I think it's fair to say that if you care enough about the book to queue up for several hours then this will upset you.

Another option is to accept this as the price we pay for living in a society with freedom of speech; in other words, the alternative would be worse. I've heard this argument before, in the context of hate speech: the idea is that if a bunch of neo-Nazis want to do a rally, it's best to let them say their piece, then you can provide your own counter-arguments, and they won't be able to convince anyone. However, that gets a bit more tricky here, because you can't really argue against spoilers: as soon as you've heard what they have to say, the "damage" has been done.

You could try having a calm, reasoned discussion with the hecklers, so that you can persuade them of the error of their ways. One guy (maybe a store manager?) tried that in this video (5:02 in), but he didn't have much success. The hecklers said that they weren't doing anything illegal, and he acknowledged that, but said that they were spoiling other people's fun. They then asked why they weren't allowed to have fun. All the time that this went on, they continued waving their signs and shouting out spoilers to anyone else who went past.

If that doesn't work, you could call the police (or security guards) and let them deal with it. The snag there is that if they're not actually breaking any laws then nobody else has any legal authority to shut them up; I know that some people are already concerned about the police getting extra powers of arrest (apparently as an anti-terrorism measure), so would you want the police to be able to arrest people for just "being an arsehole"? This video (from Massachusetts) has a caption at one point (2:16 in) which says "After confrontations with the police"): this implies that even when the police did get involved, they didn't actually stop these guys from carrying on. Meanwhile, the description for this video (from Oxford Street) says that they would have stayed far longer if they weren't ushered away by security. However, they actually went to four shops altogether (two branches of Waterstones, Foyles, and Borders), so chasing them away from one didn't help the people in other queues.

The next level up would be to take matters into your own hands; the obvious snag is that you're then breaking the law. For instance, suppose that you threaten them with violence: even if you're just bluffing, they've then filmed that, so if they don't leave then you haven't achieved anything but you've also incriminated yourself. If you take the megaphone away, they can still shout, so you'd need to gag them (either with cloth or a hand over their mouth), and you'd need to do that for a long time (maybe a couple of hours). Alternately, you could lock them up in a toilet or something until the event is over, but then you're breaking extra laws; maybe kidnapping or wrongful imprisonment? A few people in the videos did try minor violence, but it didn't seem to help.

My gut reaction is to say that they deserved to have their arms broken; that way they'd have to go off to hospital, and they wouldn't be bothering anyone else. Also, I get the impression that these stunts were all arranged in advance (rather than being a huge coincidence); the videos mention eBaum's World. So, suppose that there was an 8th novel, and these guys considered doing the same thing again: would it be a deterrent if they knew that the last people who tried that were seriously injured?

Ultimately, I'd like to think that there is a legal, civilised way to handle a situation like this. Unfortunately, I'm not sure what it is, so votes and comments are welcome.

Poll #1027868 Harry Potter hecklers

How should you deal with people shouting spoilers?

Just put up with it; it's not the end of the world
0(0.0%)
Remind yourself that this is a fair price for freedom of speech
1(33.3%)
Have a calm conversation with them
0(0.0%)
Call the police (or security guards) and then stay out of it
0(0.0%)
Threaten them with violence, but don't do anything if they call your bluff
0(0.0%)
Use force to chase them away
0(0.0%)
Restrain them (e.g. by gagging them)
2(66.7%)
Minor violence (e.g. a black eye)
0(0.0%)
Major violence (e.g. broken bones)
0(0.0%)
Kill them
0(0.0%)

Comments:

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From:susannahf
Date:July 26th, 2007 06:52 am (UTC)
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none of the above. I wouldn't put up with it. I know a calm conversation wouldn't work, and they aren't breaking the law (even if they are doing something incredibly antisocial). If I were in the queue, I would move away from them, and possibly try to talk to them and shame them into stopping - but without much form of hope. I would also consider engaging them in conversation with the single aim of allowing others to get children (who I think would be more distressed than adults about things like this) away.

If I were the security guard / manager of the shop, I would exercise my right to throw them out and prevent them from re-entering, and get all of the queuers inside and as far from the door as possible. And possibly call the police to ask them to confiscate any loudhailer on "public nuisance" grounds - a loudhailer at midnight is almost certainly under the banner of disturbing the peace or something.
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From:terpsichore1980
Date:July 26th, 2007 08:09 am (UTC)
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I think I am with you. I may have the store call the police to arrest them for breach of the peace, but that would be about all.

I would also try to remind myself that it is just a book. Nothing all that bad is going to happen if you find out in advance that Harry turns into a badger on page 543. In fact, the point of reading the book is not to find out what happens, but to find out how it happens, so spoilers make little difference to me anyway.
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From:nou
Date:July 26th, 2007 08:42 am (UTC)
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I think spoilers make more of a difference with Harry Potter books than with, well, better-written books, since you're not reading them for the quality of writing; you're reading them for the plot. Essentially, the Potter books are very, very detailed plot summaries, so learning details of the plot in advance does spoil the experience quite a bit.
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From:billyabbott
Date:July 26th, 2007 01:05 pm (UTC)
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That is one of the most marvellous things I have ever read.
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From:elvum
Date:July 26th, 2007 11:03 am (UTC)
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Oh, you've got to page 543 - so you believe me now? :-)
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From:terpsichore1980
Date:July 26th, 2007 04:50 pm (UTC)
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Indeed, the badger segment is very scary ;-)
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From:johnckirk
Date:July 26th, 2007 11:22 am (UTC)
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The "breach of the peace" idea is interesting; in the YouTube comments, someone mentioned that it's illegal to use a megaphone after 10pm, although that may be specific to a particular US state. If it's true, that's a convenient way to get rid of them, although it wouldn't necessarily solve the underlying problem (e.g. if the people just stand and shout instead).

This is probably a bad analogy (given my lack of interest in it), but I wonder how a similar situation would turn out with a football match. Presumably the people who watch games aren't just interested in the score, otherwise they could save themselves a lot of time and money by looking at the results on Teletext. (In fact, that's what my dad used to do every Saturday.) At the same time, knowing the result would affect their enjoyment of the match, e.g. the suspense of thinking "Is he going to score?" would be undercut if you know that the team won't score any more goals in the rest of the match.

I'm not quite sure how things work during a World Cup, but I can imagine a game where the match starts at 4am (our time), so lots of people wouldn't be able to watch it live. In that case, maybe you'd get a pub who'd record the game, then show it the following morning. ("Come round, get some beers in, have a fry-up breakfast, and enjoy the big game!") If someone then walked into the middle of the pub and shouted out "Portugal win 2-0!" (possibly waving a newspaper around), I think they'd be lucky to walk out of there. The main problem with this analogy is that the hardcore fans would be staying up to watch it in the middle of the night, so the ones who waited until the following day might not be so bothered; however, in the Harry Potter case, the people being shouted at were the ones who made an effort to get the book as soon as it was released.
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From:johnckirk
Date:July 26th, 2007 11:26 am (UTC)
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Good point - I'd forgotten about "walk away" in my list of options. Mind you, if someone's been queuing up for several hours, they may not want to lose their place by leaving.

As for bringing people inside the shop, I don't think that would be feasible in this kind of situation, just due to the sheer numbers involved. Certainly in Croydon there was no way you could have squeezed the entire queue for Waterstones/WHSmith inside the shop at once, and I think it would be even worse in central London (the first stop on the video was timed at 23:20, i.e. before the queue had actually started moving).

Looking back on it now, I think one benefit of the Croydon shops was that they were all inside the Whitgift centre, and there were security guards at the entrance and roaming around inside. So, the standard excuse of "I'm standing in a public road" wouldn't apply there; everyone was queuing inside a larger building.
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From:totherme
Date:July 26th, 2007 10:18 am (UTC)
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Another option would be to drown out the undesirable signal in random noise. Get a few friends to stand along side the spoiler guys and shout out other random plot options. If enough people's friends do this, then the effect is a loud noise devoid of meaning.
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From:johnckirk
Date:July 26th, 2007 11:15 am (UTC)
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A couple of people in the videos did try something like that, either screaming or shouting "LA LA LA LA LA". I suppose the question is how long do you keep that up for, and who will stop first?
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From:johnckirk
Date:July 26th, 2007 10:27 pm (UTC)
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One other snag: lots of the spoiler guys were also waving signs around. I suppose you could try to block them from view, on the basis that if they have to move the signs quickly enough to stop you keeping up then nobody else will be able to read them, but I suspect that would be more tiring for you than for them. (A few people in the videos took the more direct approach of snatching the signs away, but that comes back to using force, even if they're not actually attacking the spoiler guys directly.)
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From:totherme
Date:July 26th, 2007 11:21 pm (UTC)
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I wasn't thinking of drowning out the noise they were making in other noise, I was thinking of drowning out the information they were imparting in informational noise. So, if they're shouting "Harry turns into a badger on page 512", then you have a few mates shouting "Harry turns into an albatross on page 316" and "Ron turns an elephant into Harry on page 96". With enough random pieces of (mis)information in the medium, the informational content of the whole is drastically reduced. This is how a fair bit of Intelligent Design and anti Global Warming PR works.
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