Spoiler alert: I like spoilers.
I won't go all J. Law on you if you told me what happened on the past two Mad Men episodes I haven't yet watched. I won't get irrationally angry at a spoiler-y tweet or headline, which was how I found out that Will died on The Good Wife (watch the episode here). I don't mind getting spoiled. People think it's weird when I ask them to tell me what happened or what to expect on a show, but I think it's weird how weird they are about spoilers.
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I get it. In the Age of Outrage, a spoiler is the supreme sin. But the hysteria and pathological spoiler-aversion are getting out of control. I'm not here to instill Spoiler Laws or convince you to seek out spoilers. I totally understand if you don't like them and I would never intentionally spoil something for somebody who doesn't want to know. (Though I do believe everything's fair game for discussion after it's aired on both coasts. You have to police yourself if it means that much to you; the world doesn't revolve around anyone's viewing schedule.) But, you see, spoilers don't ruin everything
When I was a kid, I loved reading the Clue
books. And by "reading," I mean skipping to the end of the chapter, turning the book upside-down to see who the culprit was and then going back to the beginning to read it. Sure, it was a cop-out, but finding out the answer made me 10 times more excited to read it and attentive to see how the dastardly crime came together.
And I'm not the only one. A 2011 study
by the University of California, San Diego showed that people enjoyed spoiled books more than unspoiled ones. Because when it comes down to it, as clichéd as it sounds, good storytelling is about the journey, not the destination. I can honestly say that I've never had my enjoyment of a TV show or a book or a movie dampened because I knew how it ended or what the BIG TWIST was. I may not like the movie in the end, but it's because of it as a whole, not that it was spoiled for me. Knowing a spoiler only piques my interest in finding out how they'll carry the whole thing out. I want to see how they reveal that Bruce Willis was dead all along or that Walt had poisoned Brock.
Yes, a spoiler spoils the sense of discovery, but as Hitchcock famously noted, there is a difference between surprise and suspense. We overestimate the importance and experience of a surprise and can't see the trees for the forest the more obsessed we get with "reveals" in this post-Lost world. But the sequence of events we take to get there are just as, and I'd argue more, important and fascinating as the twist itself, especially if crafted well. The pleasure is not in the anticipation or reveal of the spoiler, but rather in the execution. Someone can spoil an ending for you, but they can't spoil the "how" and the "why," and every iota of detail on the road there. The "who" or "what" is never as vital, otherwise Law & Order: Criminal Intent would never have lasted as long as it did. A spoiler is nothing without meaning, and when the initial shock of it wears off, the thing that lingers is the context around it.
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The fact is, if a spoiler truly detracts from your viewing or reading pleasure, no one would ever rewatch a show or a movie, or reread a book ever again — or consume anything we already know the ending to. Guess what? The Titanic
sank. But it's also the second highest-grossing film of all time. But we do revisit things, and we can get so engrossed and lost in our favorite movie that watching it for the 57th time can still be a virginal experience. We enjoy it the more we watch it as we find new, interesting things to analyze because spoilers also unburden our minds — knowing lets us appreciate the narrative and meaning more profoundly.
And here's the dirtiest little secret: We all, on some level, like spoilers. Humans are innately curious. And our culture is built on repetitive, predictable formats, from Shakespearean tragedies to Hollywood romantic comedies. We like the formulaic. We want a happy ending for the will-they-won't-they couple and for the good guy to catch the bad guy in the end, and we swoon and cheer when it comes to fruition. The never-ending success of procedurals is Exhibit A of that. We watch it all, (sort of) knowing what will happen, but still wanting to see how it unfolds.
Because, ultimately, if a spoiler actually ruins a story for you, it wasn't a good story in the first place.
What is your take on spoilers?