Later this week, a decade of interconnected storytelling across the 18 (18!) installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies will culminate in what’s expected to be one of the biggest box office openings of the year (and maybe ever), Avengers: Infinity War. With its promise of majorly consequential developments for the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Wakandans who populate the film, the release means that moviegoers who don’t want to know what happens in advance may find navigating the internet over the next few days to be tougher than collecting a full gauntlet of infinity stones. But it’s not just the usual threat of spoilers, which will trickle out via premiere events and early reviews, that fans have to worry about this time around: There are groups online making a concerted effort to spoil the movie for audiences, purely to land a blow in the latest bout of the culture wars.
In its guide to warding off Infinity War spoilers, Polygon warned of a “notorious” Facebook group called Down With Disney’s Treatment of Franchises and Its Fanboys, which is apparently spearheading a spoiling campaign. The post included a screenshot of a Facebook event the group is hosting called “Let’s Ruin Avengers: Infinity War for Disney Fanatics and SJWs,” which encourages its members to leave rotten reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and reveal plot details both in real life and on the internet, by doing things like searching fan discussions online and entering them unbidden, spoilers blazing. A #DCOverMarvel hashtag offers a clue that some of this is motivated by the pre-existing animus between fans of DC and Marvel, which are longtime rival comics companies, but the “SJW” in the event title also hints that it’s about more than loyalty to one particular brand over another: Spoiling Infinity War also means taking a stand against some of the progressive values the Marvel Cinematic Universe has embraced, such as inclusion and diversity. (Of course, the movies don’t actually have to be all that progressive to earn this supposed knock.)
Spoiler trolling on an individual level is a well-documented behavior—there’s always going to be some jerkface who revels in ruining things for other people. What does feel new is the systematization of this practice, which seeks to transform bad fan reviews and spoilers into industrial-strength weapons. Now, we can take this one Facebook campaign with a grain of salt—despite what Polygon said about the reputation of the group, its numbers on Facebook are far from legion. But taken with recent controversies involving Rotten Tomatoes—in which disgruntled fans tried to tank the ratings of Ghostbusters (for starring women) and The Last Jedi (for being insufficiently reverent of the Star War mythos) and reacted negatively to the site’s handling of Justice League, this latest campaign says something ugly about our culture’s ability to turn everything, even the release of a superhero tentpole, into some kind of online skirmish. Post-GamerGate and the 2016 presidential election, online campaigns feel a lot more sinister than they used to. What’s even more stunning is that this involves a bunch of characters originally created for children—which underscores both the pettiness of the spoiler campaign as well as the slightly depressing hold that cinematic superheroes have on our culture. All this over Captain America? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just leave all the infinity warring to the Avengers?