The very sight of the word “SPOILERS” to my eyes in an article often results in a slight stomach turn and instantaneous need to scroll away from the following words as if the information contained within could cause some sort of irreversibly traumatizing damage to my fragile soul. The constant lookout for stray spoilers to breach my self imposed spoiler-free life can sometimes be exhausting. It’s a bit like sheltering a child from all the evils of the world. Unfortunately the inevitable will occur. Yet for some, knowing whats going to happen is an imperative element to the experience of consuming stories. What exactly drives people to either avoid or seek out spoilers? SPOILERS: I overanalyze the subject ahead.
It’s human instinct to want knowledge. The old adage “knowledge is power” rings true in most scenarios. Before entering a situation it can often be beneficial to you to know as much as possible before it as to hopefully reduce surprises. Perhaps it makes more sense than we may think to use that same instinct to want to know as much as possible entering into situations involving stories. but it can perhaps be for the same reason that people choose to withhold. Reducing the surprise is only desirable case by case.
More than ever before we have access to any and all information in a massive interlocking encyclopedia that you are currently using – The Internet. From as menial as looking up words to as vast as exploring an entire subject, The Age of Information has birthed out a generation of people who rely on the Internet for…well almost everything. As quickly as you can find out who was IN a movie, you can find out the ending of that same movie. If you google the word “spoilers” the first result is an entire website dedicated to telling you the ending to EVERY movie in theaters. They’ll even give you a iTunes gift certificate for being quick to provide the info.
Today, if you are excited about a major upcoming film you have a smorgasbord of options to tide over your excitement. Watch trailers, TV spots, follow the film on Twitter and/or Facebook for constant ‘sneak peeks’ or fun facts dispersed in your personal news feed, and even watch FULL scenes of the film days before its released. At the stroke of midnight on the eve of its release you can probably find the anticipated film in most theaters, but if you choose to go to bed early and check it out the next day, you could theoretically wake up and google the ending of the film that some midnight goers stayed up extra late typing out. Blogging it out to the masses as if they were reporting a breaking news story. All this pulls the ‘sneak peek’ curtain so far back that you begin to wonder why you still even need to ACTUALLY see the film.
A friend of mine once told me he hadn’t seen Breaking Bad, but was quick to assure me that he had read the first 4 seasons worth of episode summaries on Wikipedia so we could still discuss it if I wanted. “I don’t have time to watch 50 hours of a TV show” he said. and who’s to blame him? In almost every scenario of a modern-day young adults life in our society they are told to attempt to find the fastest and most efficient way to accomplish a task. My friend simply took this framework, saw a 50 hour way to learn the full story of Breaking Bad, and saw an alternative that would clock in around an hour or so of reading. So what exactly is he sacrificing? A whole lot.
It might not always be an easy task to convince someone investing a considerable amount more time in a piece of entertainment will reward them with a richer experience, but it is almost always the case. For example – take an art form that is nearly impossible to spoil – music. SURE you can listen to samples of each track on iTunes, but as far as knowing the ending, it’s basically a non-factor. If a friend tells you “the album ends with a kazoo solo” you at MOST could be moderately bummed that you’ll know what to expect – however it doesn’t really take away from the experience of hearing it and having your own unique feeling and reaction to it. It’s not like the interweaving story of the album reaches an apex with that kazoo solo…and if it does, stop listening to so many progressive kazoo concept albums. But almost unanimously one would agree that the more time you invest into an album, the more certain things may pop out at you as an outstanding portion of that art. Perhaps your least favorite track ends up growing on you and becomes something you appreciate for its not so immediately apparent values. The same can be said for story driven art forms like movies, TV shows, video games, or books. The more time invested in discovering how the story plays out, the deeper the connection to that story you may have.
The biggest problem with spoilers, however, is not just the lack of time you spent getting to the information at the end of any given story. By spoiling a story-driven art form you are intentionally disregarding the artists intentions and slighting yourself a potentially rewarding emotional experience. That may sound heavy-handed, but everyone as some point or another has been moved by a well told story (and if you havent, may I humbly suggest ANY FILM by directors such as David Fincher, Quentin Tarantino, or Christopher Nolan – for my money, the three best modern-day American storytellers). Perhaps what many don’t realize about a well told story is that it hinges on the element of surprise.
With the prevalence of the internet and over-saturation of information available at us, the element of mystery and surprise has been sucked out of a lot of art in favor of instant gratification. Anticipation has become a feeling people prefer to avoid and combat by fulfilling a brief but easily gained urge to have what they want now in a truncated form over waiting for the full experience later.
The mixed messages of our societal functions are partly to blame for the decline of appreciation for patience and surprise-driven storytelling. We are told in many aspects of our lives that finding faster and more efficient ways to gain information is just…better. It can be hard to turn off that function when it comes to preserving the artistic merits of stories – but rest assured It’s worth it. The gratification of a well crafted and presented story is something that can never be replicated by a brief summary of events.