John C. Kirk (johnckirk) wrote,
John C. Kirk

Harry Potter spoilers

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
Remind yourself that this is a fair price for freedom of speech
Have a calm conversation with them
Call the police (or security guards) and then stay out of it
Threaten them with violence, but don't do anything if they call your bluff
Use force to chase them away
Restrain them (e.g. by gagging them)
Minor violence (e.g. a black eye)
Major violence (e.g. broken bones)
Kill them
Tags: harry potter, poll, spoilers, violence
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