Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
With the new Star Wars movie premiering this week, social media has gone into full spoiler prevention mode. People are pledging on Facebook not to reveal the secrets and imploring others to do the same. Google has even released a plug-in for its Chrome web browser that will block websites if it detects that there are Star Wars spoilers on it.
“Spoiler” is the term for a bit of information about the plot of a movie or a novel, for example, that one would prefer to find out on their own, and that would ruin the viewing or reading experience if known in advance. Usually this is a plot twist or surprise ending, but it could refer simply to plot points beyond what is generally known. It is Internet etiquette to announce at the beginning of a social media post or review that there are spoilers contained within (e.g. “Spoiler alert!”) and considered bad form to blurt things out without such a warning.
At this time I feel I need to assume that you, dear reader, know about the Star Wars films due to their prominence in contemporary culture. But if you don’t, I’ll just say this: between 1977 and 1983 George Lucas released a trilogy of sci-fi films—Star Wars (subsequently called A New Hope), The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi—that quickly became imprinted on the contemporary psyche. By using classic tropes of folklore and mythology in a story set in deep space, Lucas made films that were both historical and futuristic, an ancient tale of good versus evil updated for our times.
The new film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is highly anticipated both because it picks up the story of the much loved characters of the original trilogy, and because the prequel trilogy of films released in the the late ’90s and early ’00s were not so highly regarded. And aside from glimpses from the trailers and characters already revealed in merchandising, not much is known about the plot. And many prefer it that way.
I have tickets to see the movie Thursday night, a Hanukkah gift from my wife to me and our sons. In this age of social media, we have to be more careful with spoilers. In the past movie reviewers would refrain from giving out key plot points best kept hidden, and unless you had a friend spill the beans by accident, there was a very good chance you would not find out about a movie’s twist until you had the chance to see it yourself. Now, however, information flows freely, and we need to be careful not to inadvertently read something we wished we hadn’t.
But one could ask, is there ever a point when a spoiler is no longer a spoiler? At this point, is it a giveaway to say what “Rosebud” was, the dying word of Charles Foster Kane uttered in the opening scenes in the 1941 Orson Wells classic Citizen Kane? More recently, the last Harry Potter book came out in 2007. Don’t most people know what happened by now?
But, the thing is, I don’t. I didn’t read Harry Potter when it first came out, and I am reading them now for the first time with my 9-year-old son. (We are on book six.) So I have consciously avoided any reference to the series in the hopes of accidentally reading a spoiler. It is not easy. I’ve had to quickly turn away from websites, or stop conversation in mid-sentence. But so far, so good.
And here is the thing about a spoiler…it never really ceases to be a spoiler. For something is always new to someone. While Citizen Kane was released 75 years ago next September, there are still new generations who are discovering the film for the first time. Best that they have their opportunity to learn what “Rosebud” is. (I’m not telling.)
And even the Torah, which we read in its totality year after year, and have for millennia, is full of spoilers. This week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, is the climactic moment of the Joseph story. After being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, Joseph, who subsequently has risen from slavery to the highest ranks of Egyptian government and society, makes a big reveal akin to Darth Vader’s announcement to Luke Skywalker towards the end of Empire Strikes Back. (One could imagine Joseph saying, “No, I…am your brother.”)
And while it is harder to keep plot points hidden after 2,000 years, the Torah remains full of spoilers not only because people are continually reading these stories for the first time, but because they are reading it again with brand new eyes. Something is always new, always shocking. There is always a big reveal, not because the story is unknown to us, but because we may be unknown to ourselves. We are continually in a place of self-discovery, and we should always be open to that fun and exciting element of surprise.
So I pledge not to reveal any spoilers, either for Star Wars or for Torah. It’s best that we discover these things for ourselves and allow for others to do the same.
Pronounced: KHAH-nuh-kah, also ha-new-KAH, an eight-day festival commemorating the Maccabees’ victory over the Greeks and subsequent rededication of the temple. Falls in the Hebrew month of Kislev, which usually corresponds with December.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.