In this installment of En Garde, Erin and Eden argue about whether spoilers can (or should) ruin your enjoyment of media. It almost goes unsaid, but just in case: spoilers ahead!
Listen, there’s a lot of media out there. 12 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, 144 episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 4,273 pages in A Song of Ice and Fire. In order to be as up to date as possible in my pop culture consumption, I have learned to love the spoiler. Before I commit to a new show or book series, I like to do my research. This research is more than just reading reviews on Goodreads or Rotten Tomatoes to decide if a book or movie is right for me. I read entire synopses, dig out all of the savory and unsavory details – if something had a universally disappointing ending or kills off a beloved character, I want to know before I’m 700 pages in the hole. If the plot is determined by reviewers to be brilliant and beautiful, it only makes me more excited to watch or read this new material.
This technique for consuming media doesn’t ruin the storytelling. For me, it enhances the experience. It makes watching TV, in particular, far more efficient. When I was bingeing Archer a few months ago, I did my research on Wikipedia to help me figure out that I should fast-forward through the mediocre Archer Vice. I finished the series quickly, watching only the best parts, which allowed me to move onto my next binge. By systemically spoiling myself, I’ve been able to say, “You know what, I don’t need to watch that seventh season of Gilmore Girls.”
I’m not saying that I drove to local Borders Bookstores in 2005 shouting (spoiler alert) “SNAPE KILLS DUMBLEDORE” at unsuspecting fans, but I think that most people could afford to relax when it comes to getting spoiled. As Forrest Gump says, shit happens. It’s 2015, so if you don’t yet know what happened at the Red Wedding, don’t freak out when it comes up in conversation at the water cooler. If you insist on not being spoiled, then I believe you have an obligation to stay as up to date as possible. It’s not the Internet’s job to protect you from what happened in pop culture the night before – if you are interested in reading a big name book or you watch a popular TV show and you stall, it’s only going to take one headline for your spoiler-free world to come crashing down.
Spoilers don’t mean the end of the world.
“Getting to know” the plot of a show or movie before I watch it doesn’t screw up the dramatic tension for me. It instead allows me to focus on the how the plot builds up and appreciate the craftsmanship behind it. Knowing that Darth Vader is Luke’s father doesn’t make Empire Strikes Back any less great, and spoilers only “ruin” content if you let them.
A dear family friend of mine is notorious for reading the last few pages of a novel first. She’ll pick the book off the shelf and immediately flip to the end, so she knows how the conclusion before she gets too invested. She won’t see a movie unless someone has assured her it has a satisfactory ending, and she’s definitely not into cliffhangers. If there are other installments of a book or movie series that have yet to come out, she’s perfectly content to wait until she can experience the whole story at once, thank you very much.
This? Is decidedly not how I choose to enjoy stories of any stripe. I am staunchly anti-spoilers.
Maybe it’s because I love puzzles – crosswords, jigsaw puzzles, Sudoku, even word games and mind teasers. I want to give myself time to analyze all aspects of the story, to create my own theories, and then to see how the author has decided to let it all play out. Or maybe it’s because I like a little mystery; if I knew who Keyser Söze was during the opening credits, then the next two hours of my life would be spent yelling at the TV because the cops haven’t figured it out yet – and no one needs that kind of unnecessary frustration in their life.
Once I know what’s going to happen, I start to have all these preconceived notions about how the story will flow. Rather than letting it come alive in my own mind as it unfolds, I spend my time anticipating every plot device, always trying to see three or four moves ahead, like the world’s most frustrating chess game. It takes me out of the story itself and into an analytical space that completely defeats the joy of delving into another world, which for me is the inherent fun of watching TV, reading a book, or seeing a play or a movie. I like the escapism and the human element as it pertains to this other place that isn’t my own life.
Ultimately, though, the reason I hate spoilers, I mean hate them, is because it voids the story of any narrative tension. And let’s face it, in any story worth telling, or in any story told well, it’s this tension, this back-and-forth, this waiting for resolution that makes it truly delicious. Without it, the story falls flat. If I already know what’s going to happen, then I don’t get to experience the tantalizing “what ifs” and “maybes” of the story. Even if someone reveals nothing about the plotline, but tells me “You’re gonna freak out; there’s a CRAZY twist at the end!” the dramatic thrust of the twist isn’t as effective because I knew it was coming, even if I didn’t know the specifics. The power of a story’s climax is only powerful because of the twists and turns it took to get there; if you know where those will lead you from the outset of the journey, the journey itself is less meaningful. You’ll always be looking for signs of what’s at the end of the road, rather than enjoying the beauty or the wisdom you pick up along the way.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons.