In a conversation this week with Man with a Robot Arm and Miller the subject came up of on-screen animal cruelty and the times it overlapped with off-screen animal cruelty and from there we ended up at the crowd-sourced website and app Does the Dog Die? Like Common Sense Media, Does the Dog Die? attempts to catalog potentially off-putting content for viewers, but rather than issuing warnings on mature content for concerned parents, the site gives a heads up to viewers with particular sensitivities, aversions and triggers.
The founding question of the site, based on a suggestion by creator John Whipple’s sister who found movies with a dog in them impossible to enjoy for fear of the pooch’s fate, is applied to thousands of titles. Mostly movies, but there’s TV shows, books, comics, and video games. If Where the Red Fern Grows is going to ruin your week, you can look up It and see if that is a safer alternative (the movie, yes!… not so much the book). The site has expanded from its titular inquiry to include over 70 “emotional spoilers” categories where users can report on a host of potentially upsetting material. Each category has a simple yes/no vote for every title with occasional comments left for clarification.
From a usability standpoint, this is aces. It’s an elegant way to give extra information for people who want to enjoy a movie without worrying about, say, the possibility of jump scares. And this method doesn’t give away anything for viewers who don’t share the sensitivity the way an onscreen warning might (and of course that warning would come too late for somebody already sitting down to a movie, not to mention the extra hour of screen time to include all categories).
From an anthropological standpoint, it’s interesting to scroll the categories and see what shared anxieties exist among movie-goers. There’s animal harm – animals in general and dogs, cats, horses and… dragons in specific. There’s the presence of certain animals like spiders and snakes. There’s bodily damage categories – fingers, toes, eyes, bones, teeth, amputations and squashed heads. Story elements connecting to fraught issues like various forms of hate speech and violence (sexual assault is farmed out to Unconsenting Media which specializes in informing viewers in that area). And the unexpected, but unsurprising categories like clowns, vomit, electro-shock therapy, shower scenes, shaky-cam.
If you want to rabbit hole further, it’s interesting to find points of contention between users: Does it count as a Black character dying first in The Old Guard if they turn out to be immortal? Does Midsommar have a sad ending? Did Thanos snap half of all dogs out of existence?
And then if you still want something to chew on, there’s a seemingly endless scroll of suggestions for categories for inclusion. Users can upvote categories they’d like to see included in the canon. Some seem to be pretty specific: only five voters want a warning for whether a boat sinks in the movie, putting it ahead of alerts for taxidermy (4) but way behind bubblegum warnings (123).
A few of these are goofs (the presence of Thanos, 13 votes) but I suspect very, very few. Several categories I was sure were trolling I came away less sure after reading the explanation by the submitter. I think there are just specific things that bother particular people on screen. It’s fascinating, the heightened bits of fear and anxiety that follow us even to the movies. Sometimes irrational, sometimes foisted upon us, seemingly just our own until we find there are always others with the same issue.
Except the poor single voter for an aquariums category.
Your turn, Solutors! Is there a special category of anxiety-inducing scenes that you’d rather not deal with? Is there any type of on-screen issue that will get you to drop a piece of media immediately?