Do Spoilers Really Spoil Experiences?
What is a spoiler? A spoiler is that bit of information you hear about a work of fiction that gives away how it ends, or gives away something important about the plot, like a twist or unexpected reveal. In the digital age, spoilers are hard to avoid.
Movie review websites, blogs, YouTube videos, forums, and other places where pop culture is discussed online always have issues with spoilers. In some cases, the ending might become the main focus of the most critique of a work of fiction. If a movie is able to wow readers/audiences in the end, people forgive some flaws from the rest of the movie. A lot of successful movies do this.
This is the main reason for the internet's collective rage against spoilers, and the reason for people's insistence that spoilers be marked in a way that allows a reader to overlook them. The reason being, if the movie has a particularly unexpected, awesome thing happening at the end, the spoiler ruins the suspense building up to it.
However, sometimes I read spoilers and disregard TV Tropes and other such spoiler warnings. So I thought I should talk about why I think spoilers don't always spoil. What I mean is, they rarely truly ruin the experience of a great work of fiction. So why do I think spoilers aren't that big of a deal?
A Spoiler Is Not A Story
Spoilers actually only give you very little of the information about what's going on in the story.
It's one thing to say "The killer's mother is actually a second side to his split personality." Ok, so:
- Who is the killer?
- What does he do?
- Who does he kill? How? Why?
- Does he get away with it or not?
- Do any of his victims escape? If so, how?
None of that is answered by the spoiler alone. This clue to how the ending happens really doesn't capture the entire experience of the whole movie.
It would be sad to say that the experience of watching Star Wars can be "ruined" by knowing that Darth Vader is Luke and Leia's father. I've often read books after seeing parodies of them played out on shows like The Simpsons, or before that, from seeing them acted out by a canine on the children's show Wishbone. Today I read summaries of great literature before deciding if I should read, ending and all. If a work is good, this still left me wanting to read the original books. I've read spoilers before reading a book, or seen the movie of a book before reading the book. I knew, for example, from the Game of Thrones TV Show the biggest "spoiler" from season 1/Book 1. However, I still wanted to read the book, even knowing in detail everything that happens. Why? Well, it brings me to my second point.
You Will Probably Still Enjoy The Story
How do I know this? Well, let's use another film example. One of my favorite movies, one I watch over and over again, is The Sixth Sense. The movie is rather famous at this point for having this twist ending: The main character, a psychiatrist studying a boy who says he can see ghosts, is himself a ghost.
Every time I re-watch The Sixth Sense, I know this going into it. Does it ruin any part of the experience for me? No. If anything, it's more fun to know the ending and go into it looking for clues to it (such as how the main character's wife is very distant from him, and never speaks directly to him for any extended period of time). I knew the ending of Donnie Darko, and I still re-watched about a bajillion more times, just because it made no sense whatsoever. Re-watching the film was a way for me to gather clues and make sense out of the ending.
Or, take kid's movies or cartoons. You know when you start each one how most of those will end. The bad guy (if there is one) will die, be robbed of power or defeated, and the heroes will, after some hardships, get what they wanted (which is spelled out very clearly in the first act), triumph against evil, and live Happily Ever After.
So, you never watch a kid's movie? So, it's not exciting to watch Shrek, or The Muppets, or My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, or Harry Potter? I think the numbers disagree with the statement that no adults ever enjoy watching programming that was originally aimed at children. I'm sure most adults watched those going, yeah, I know the bad guy is going to lose in the end. That does not stop anyone from watching or enjoying those kinds of shows. Why?
It's The Journey, Not the Destination
Not to get all hippie-sounding, but this is true.
For example, think about film adaptations of the same source material. Same plot, characters, same ending. Different movies altogether. Like the Johnny Depp/ Tim Burton take on Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory vs. the older Gene Wilder version we all like instead. Same book, two very different movies. In other words, one destination, two very separate ways of arriving at one point. Knowing the ending of the story doesn't inform us about differences between one version and another, so we're still compelled to check out a new adaptation of a familiar tale.
In life, humans tend to be very heavily fixated on goals. They have many major goals, and then their main goals are broken down into thousands of micro-goals. That's how modern society works. However, one problem is being so focused on goals that we lose sight of breathing and being mindful in the present, or present in the mind. So forget the rat race and even the bucket list, and just do and just be. (Ok, so I'm getting hippie-philosophical here. Sorry!)
In other words, it's about about existing and living well in the meantime between reaching goal A and goal B and goal C. You may ask, what does this have to do with fiction?
No one could have gotten me away from seeing my favorite movies or reading my favorite books just by revealing a bit of information about the ending to me, when I was a kid.
Whisper in my little 6-year old ear "Mufasa dies, and Simba grows up to avenge him," but I'd still be watching The Lion King. I'm watching a movie or reading a book because I want to, because it looks interesting, and knowing the end ahead of time can only make me more interested in the rest, not less. This obsession with the ending, at the expense of the appreciation for the beauty of the journey, in our culture, as if the rest of it was not important, seems to me to be a symptom of a larger sickness.
So, what are some experiences you've had with spoilers?
My grandmother used to read the last page or two of books in the bookstore before buying or reading anything. To her, the ending of a book was a hook. If she liked the ending, she knew she would like the book. I don't go that far, but I do question this conventional wisdom saying that spoilers necessarily kill enjoyment of the content.