I don’t care about spoilers.
I realize a lot of people do. I understand that because I also used to care, but at some point what I realized was the amount of energy I spent worrying about, reacting to, avoiding and complaining about spoilers simply outstripped whatever vague enjoyment I got from being surprised around some plot point. Worse still, most of the time the thing that might have been spoiled turned out to not be that damn big a deal anyway.
Much ado was made back in 2011 about a study from the University of California in San Diego that said (spoiler alert) that having a story spoiled for you is unlikely to impact your enjoyment of that story. According to the UCSD study, in fact the opposite seemed more likely to be true, “Subjects significantly preferred the spoiled versions of ironic-twist stories, where, for example, it was revealed before reading that a condemned man’s daring escape is all a fantasy before the noose snaps tight around his neck.”
My response at the time was, “Hey, I was going to read that story about the escaping man. Thanks for ruining it, loser.” It was 2011, I had not yet grown as a person.
My big problem with spoilers is that they are arbitrarily defined. There is no clearly defined threshold for what is and is not a spoiler. It’s not that I can’t live in a world with gray areas, but more that spoilers are really an entirely constructed interpretation of a made up rule, and that rule is exclusive to the person for whom the spoiler exists, unknowable to others in advance, but an imperative for everyone around whom the spoiler-rule exists. Avoiding spoilers might be fine if we all knew and shared the same sets of spoiler rules, but we don’t.
Spoiler rules used to be fairly straightforward and uniform, or at least I thought they were. It was admittedly easier back then, when spoilers were really only about the resolution of narratives. Now, however, the misuse of a gender pronoun can send people into an apoplexy because suddenly they know the hero of some movie they haven’t seen yet is a certain sex.
In part because of that arbitrariness, spoilers are selfish. They restrict and divide, asking people who have the temerity to be interested in talking about this thing they’ve experienced to please go somewhere else. They impose your schedule for consuming media onto others.
It’s not that I don’t understand or sympathize with the desire to keep something a surprise to experience in the intended context. My problem is when people make that desire the responsibility of everyone else instead of themselves. If you want to avoid spoilers, that’s fine, but it’s on you to limit yourself, not on everyone else around you to limit themselves. As far as I can tell, even if that thing you didn’t want spoiled gets spoiled, odds are you’re going to enjoy it every bit as much anyway.
A lot of people have become absolutely obsessed with spoilers. I blame this, to some degree, on the makers of a lot of pop culture, who have themselves become obsessed with “The Big Secret” or “The Amazing Reveal” or “The Game-Changing Plot Twist.” The television and cinemas are jam packed with stories that depend largely on their own secrets. They encourage watchers to micro-analyze every little kernel of story to try and guess the secret. This is problematic because it trains us to doubt every plot point — to believe that any image or half-spoken sentence, no matter how small or irrelevant, could be the thread that, when pulled, reveals the entire thing, whatever that thing may be.
And so we become obsessed with what we do and don’t know about shows, books and films. We imagine that finding out the big secret will provide some kind of enhanced payoff for the time we invest in the story, and as a result we become petrified of anything that might diminish that payoff. Spoiler-obsessed people sometimes seem to think of their entertainment consumption in a transactional sense. I have invested X of myself into this story, therefore the payout must be Y to achieve a positive time-to-cost ratio.
And spoilers? Well those are like taxes, hidden fees, shrink or some other kind of loss against the principal. Spoilers are seen to be this thing that reduces the payoff, and by extension devalues the time you’ve invested, or in the really extreme cases, that time you would have invested but haven’t yet.
Which, I think, is complete nonsense. Worse, I think that kind of transactional stance doesn’t do justice to the quality of the work that’s out there. Reducing things down to the quantification of some gimmick undermines the power of narrative.
Look at a work like Game of Thrones and the Song of Ice and Fire series. When I read (or in my case listened to audiobooks of) that series, if I had gone in only for the occasional plot twist or epic event, then I never would have made it through a few dozen pages. That time-to-cost thing just wouldn’t have panned out, because the series is dense mostly with intricacies and world building. And if you spend your time just waiting for the big reveal, it would be like listening to DubStep that waits forty-five minutes before getting to the drop. Why bother?
Big bad things happen in these stories. “Winter is coming.” But the dramatic tension exists not because readers don’t know what’s coming, but because they know, at least in a larger sense, what is coming. Readers know that things will fairly consistently turn for the worse, even when they seemed to be looking up, and the readers’ understanding makes every act of tenderness, loyalty, honor and decadence all the more meaningful. If winter were not coming, would readers even care?
The point being, even if you know everything about the various fates that befall the characters in the story, I would argue that the value of the story is not marginalized at all.
It feels to me like deciding not to go on a vacation unless everyone agrees not to tell you where you’re going. It’s the journey and the experience that are valuable. I know when I’m on a beach that I will soon have to return to Minnesota, that winter is waiting for me. If I didn’t know that, I wouldn’t spend all the time, energy and money to go to a beach in the first place. I would not appreciate the sun’s warmth, the calming susurration of the waves, the ridiculous cocktail umbrellas.
So, I’m now moving ever further into that crowd that is simply done with spoilers. I’m done worrying about them, and I’m increasingly done tiptoeing my way around every media conversation for fear that I will reveal something. At least when it comes to the way I consume media, I’m not longer going to worry if I find out the reveal. That’s not to say I can’t be thoughtful of others or that I will suddenly make an effort to spoil your fun just to prove a point. That’s just being a jerk.
It’s time for us to all just relax on the hyper-sensitivity for plot points. It’s honestly not doing us as media consumers any favors, and it’s subverting a lot of great conversation and discussion I wish we were having more often. Let yourself be spoiled here and there. Embrace it, and maybe you’ll realize that your shows, books and movies are just as good even when you know the destination.