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Is there a certain timeframe in which a spoiler warning is no longer necessary for a work that is old enough?

There's the very common spoiler that Vader is Luke's father and no one really needs to use a spoiler tag for this.

I ask this question in direct reference to this answer that spoils a key plot point in Orwell's 1984. This novel was written in 1949, 30 years before Empire Strikes Back, and the novel is a very common selection in most high school English curriculums (at least it is in the USA).

Is a spoiler for something like this still necessary? At what point could I say to myself, "I'm referencing a story that is old enough, I don't need to place a spoiler tag here."?

  • 1
    I spoilered that bit because the question is about Star Trek, not 1984. It's literally the climax of the novel, and it's not the focus of the question - so someone could very easily stumble upon it with no clue what 1984 even is. (Also, based on the complete lack of mention in the other answers, it seems an awful lot of people haven't read or have since forgot it.) And unlike "Darth Vader is Luke's father," which is widely spoiled throughout Western popular culture, that scene is rarely discussed in popular media. – user1030 Feb 29 '12 at 20:36
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It's up to the person asking/answering the question to decide. Age, however, is only one factor in deciding whether use of the tag is appropriate.

Jeff's answer to "What is the policy for spoilers" covers this:

I also take the age of the work into account. [...] With TV shows, I try to spoiler big plot points from the current season, if practical.

Both movies and television are relatively easy [...] Books are a different story, in my opinion. Books don't generate nearly as much buzz upon release, so I tend to spoiler important plot points [...] for quite a while afterwards.

Most importantly:

This is just a personal guideline, of course, and I'm certain there are exceptions.

My answer to that question also mentions age: I generally disregard age - my opinion is that the work is always new to someone - even with TV/film, with international distribution it's hard to know whether a work has played everywhere (sometimes countries are literally years behind in both TV series and certain films), and I personally consume more TV/film via 'back catalog' (e.g. DVD-by-mail, iTunes) than live. I also consume more books, where age is less of an impact, as Jeff said.

In my opinion, there's no date after which we should edit a question/answer to remove the spoiler tag - if it was worth hiding in the first place, it's worth hiding indefinitely.

  • “with international distribution it's hard to know whether a work has played everywhere... and I personally consume more TV/film via 'back catalog' (e.g. DVD-by-mail, iTunes) than live”. Plus there’s kids. Now that we’ve got streaming services and such, the entire back catalogue of everything is instantly available all the time. A ten-year-old might just be getting into Doctor Who today, and they weren’t even born until Nu-Who was three years in. – Paul D. Waite Aug 9 '17 at 12:33
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Questions and answers on Stack Exchange are intended to have lasting value. Therefore I am strongly opposed to letting the age of a work be any influence on whether a plot element should be considered a spoiler.

Whether something should be hidden behind spoiler markup should be determined only by the context. If there is a plot point that someone who's read the thread up to this point might not know and might want to find out by reading the book (or mutatis mutandis), you can hide it.

Note again that what work or part of the work the hidden text spoils must be clear from the leading text. For example, if the post is about a TV series, it must be clear what episode the text would be spoiling.

If in doubt, don't use spoiler markup.

  • 2
    I'd say, if in doubt please use spoiler markup. In other words, when in doubt, don't spoil. – SQB Apr 10 '14 at 11:57

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