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In Defense of Wikipedia’s “Catfish” Plot Spoilers

In Defense of Wikipedia's "Catfish" Plot Spoilers

Another “twist movie” out in theaters, another obnoxious debate about movie spoilers. Funnily enough, despite there being a new M. Night Shyamalan story opening this weekend, that is not the impetus for the New York Times article about Wikipedia’s controversial allowance of full plot details. including “spoiled” endings without warning. In fact, “Devil,” which Shyamalan conceived but did not direct, has only a basic premise listed on its Wikipedia page. No mention of which character is revealed to be Satan. Rather, film-wise, it’s the documentary “Catfish” that is central to the piece, which also addresses entries for the Agatha Christie play “The Mousetrap” and TV’s “Lost.” Andrew Jarecki, who produced “Catfish” is quoted as being against the site’s spoiler-permitting policies:

“It’s hard to argue that there is an intellectual or academic reason for getting deeply into the secrets of a movie that the vast majority of the public has not had access to,” said Andrew Jarecki, a producer of “Catfish,” whose 2003 documentary, “Capturing the Friedmans,” also contained crucial plot twists. At a minimum, Mr. Jarecki said, Wikipedia should offer a so-called spoiler alert to warn readers that “you are about to enter a section likely to harm the experience of the movie for you.”

Never mind how ironic it is that an Internet-immersed film like “Catfish” would be at odds with such a major website. To make this quick and simple and to rehash things I’ve said too many times before, I don’t understand why anyone would go to the Wikipedia page for “Catfish” if they knew the film has a secret narrative twist (every ad for the film mentions there is) and did not want to have the suspense ruined for them — unlike those who know the film has secrets and has not patience and wants easy answers. But I guess I don’t understand a lot of things about how people think, why they go to and misunderstand the purpose and usefulness of Wikipedia, why they think a movie or book is merely about its plot — and reverse why some other people think plot is not important at all compared to how a story is told. As much as it makes me infuriated in some ways, reading through comments on articles like this (and other blogs carrying over the topic) does provide an interesting look at the multiple approaches to storytelling and its forms that exist in the world.

I’ve long been on the side that mainly believes “spoilers” are nonsense because a film or book or show or play should still be enjoyable and stand up to multiple viewings regardless of whether the ending is known. However, I do still appreciate those works that deal in mystery, surprise, suspense and twists when they’re not just the last-minute punchline, “gotcha!” sort. I don’t know if I agree with the trailer blurb that “Catfish” is the best Hitchcock film that’s not a Hitchcock film, but it did literally have me on the edge of my seat and biting my nails, a powerful film to get me acting out cliches, and I am glad to have gone into it knowing little more than to expect a shock.

But now that I have seen the movie, and due to my horrible memory, I like having full, detailed and exhaustive synopsis available as research material — which is what Wikipedia is there for, at least as a sometimes dubious starting point for research. This weekend I even went to the “Catfish” entry because I wanted to see if there was mention of the scene when the film’s title is explained. Unfortunately for me, it is not there. If it were, though, it would be among the “spoilers.” Also this weekend I went to the “Eat, Pray Love” entry for some plot info. I haven’t seen the movie, and I may never do so, but for the purpose of figuring out if I should avoid going to Bali on my honeymoon, I wanted to find out the capacity and significance the place has in Julia Roberts’ character’s travels. Unfortunately for me, the film’s page barely features a synopsis.

Wikipedia is not the same as the IMDb, even if its mobile app. is a much better tool than the latter’s for cinephiles in a fix. IMDb is where people should be going to find out what a movie is and the basics of what it’s about. Wikipedia can be good for that, if wary people stick to looking solely at the entry’s introductory paragraph, which typically does not have spoilers. But it’s better as a place to go for complete information, perhaps as a reminder for those of us (film reference god David Thompson included) who’ve forgotten plot points and endings. And if people don’t like it, they don’t have to read it, and/or they can go make their own movie-based Wiki that works the way they prefer.

Feel free to add your own, likely spouted before, stance on spoilers below.

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