Spoiler Alert!

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Many people know I grew up without a television in the house. My sister and brother and I got to see plenty of television shows, just not in our house. At friends’ and neighbors’ houses, all bets were off. But it was difficult if not impossible to stay current with television shows. Anything we watched would have been seen and dissected by our classmates long before we ever saw it.

As a result, I didn’t care about spoilers. Everything I watched had been “spoiled” – not by intent or malice, just by circumstance. Perhaps this was a defense strategy on my part, but I became much more interested in what people refer to today as the meta. Even though I might know the spoiler, there were enough details I didn’t know. It was up to me to fill in the holes and connect the dots. When I did finally see a show that had generated a lot of discussion (think “Who Shot J.R.?” on Dallas), I was much more curious to see how the story had been built than the final reveal.

I asked my girlfriend how she felt about spoilers. She doesn’t like to know what’s going to happen. I’m going to go out on a limb and say most people like that element of surprise. Which is why they get super pissed off when they find out something. (Hint: Dumbledore dies.)

I don’t participate in revealing spoilers (at least, not intentionally). Recently I was talking to an acquaintance about the Kate Chopin novel, The Awakening. I mentioned what happened at the end. I figured the statute of limitations was over, but apparently it wasn’t. He hadn’t finished reading it. Oops.

Even though I didn’t grow up with the internet, I was surrounded by humans who liked to chatter with each other about popular things. The internet definitely amplifies that, but I’ve managed to stay spoiler-free for the things I care about. And if I do happen to learn a spoiler before I consume the story? Well, it takes the pressure off racing through the story so I can focus on how the storyteller got to that point.

How do you feel about spoilers? Do you like them? Do you hate them? Do you like bursting someone’s bubble? Would love to hear your thoughts.

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15 thoughts on “Spoiler Alert!

  1. KariAnn

    I had a similar experience with comic books. I never knew what would be at the store or what I could afford, and this was before the omnibus back issues. I put the story together as I could buy it. Spoilers create a more flexible mind, give me the option to figure out how it got there.

  2. Brittany Maresh

    Spoiler: I don’t care how it ends, I care how we got there – and so should everyone else.

    It might be polite not to run out screaming “SNAPE KILLS DUMBLEDORE!” the night the book comes out, while kids are waiting in line to get their books, but after the story’s been out for much more than three days, it’s on you if you haven’t found time (whether during lunch while you eat your sandwich, via audiobook on your drive to work, or while on your morning jog on the treadmill). If you can’t afford it, find a library. We love libraries. Support your library, check out books.

    After three days, people don’t get to be offended and try and make me feel guilty if I slip out a plot point. If it mattered that much, they’d have prioritized it. Also, if they get offended and act like it matters, I’m going to be judgmental and possibly roll my eyes. Five people could write the exact same story and it would be so vastly different, the plot isn’t the part that matters, anyway.

    Cinderella gets retold all the time. New medium, new names, maybe, but the idea’s the same, and they’re still wildly popular stories. We don’t like them less because they’re a little predictable. We don’t like superhero films less because we know the hero is going to save the day in the end, either. What we want to see is both how, sure, a little, and how the hero changes. What as a person makes them a hero.

    There are very few stories with spoilers that matter. I can’t think of a single one. We know the ship is going to sink in Titanic, and Godzilla is going to destroy the city, and Superman is Clark Kent. We don’t know when the jump scare is going to come in the horror story, maybe, but we know that they will happen. It’s the build-up that makes it all matter, anyway.

    1. Frances K R

      At my local library, the waiting list for a popular new book is literally in the multiple hundreds two months before the book is published. (That is for the regular edition. Large-print, the waits are longer.)

      I have friends who have migraines and need to spend four days in a dark room. I have a friend who needs paperback or e-editions of books because hardcovers are literally heavy enough to cause joint pain (hands if she props them up at a convenient angle, neck and back if she lays them on a flat surface and hunches over).

      I think the “After three days” guideline is a potentially useful one assuming everyone you ever deal with is able-bodied, and has access to books in a useful format (which is dependent on the market, the transportation infrastructure where they live, their own mobility issues, and other details–I for one can neither drive nor listen to audiobooks), and has no other reading they are in the middle of (I regularly swap between three-to-five books at a time, but it’s apparently considered weird), and no other commitments they are in the middle of (pet suddenly started drooling blood, major kitchen appliance has broken, child is sick, work is in the end-of-year crunch that is so stressful one needs to come home and lie in a dark room for twenty minutes before being able to say hello or eat dinner). I’m not sure it’s a useful assumption to be making about other people’s time.

      1. slowbloom Post author

        I tend to go with the 100-years time limit for spoilers :P. My timeline for consuming anything is so far off from the norm that I never have any idea what people already know.

  3. Frances K R

    I don’t particularly want to be surprised; for me, the best plot twists are the ones I can look at and say “I didn’t see that coming, and now that it’s happened it all makes perfect sense, and I am delighted by how well it’s been built and comes together and how well the foundation was laid without my noticing.” Spoilers take that away: it’s like someone telling me “By the way

    Spoilers also undermine emotional investment. I recently got to read a book in which a character dies, and the light of my life (knowing it was coming) came up to me and asked to take my drink. Which is good, because if he hadn’t I would have dropped it on the floor when I hit the line where it actually happened, and I’d have had to stop reading the book to clean it up. If he’d told me that that character was going to die, then I wouldn’t have been as taken in by all the subtle encluing and structure which suggested they were someone who would not die, and the story would have been weaker for it.

    Related to this: Don’t confuse surprise and shock. Surprise is easy; it’s a jump scare. Shock involves the building up of investment and the subtle acceptance of assumptions; it is hard as hell, and I think it’s perfectly reasonable for both a reader and a writer to appreciate not having that effort and its effect spoiled.

    Surprise is like making someone laugh because you tickled them; shock is like making someone laugh because you were funny. Saying “she’s going to tickle you” is not nearly as presumptive as interrupting someone telling a joke to say “The punchline is he’s a tomato,” you know?

    1. slowbloom Post author

      All excellent points, Frances. Alex Ristrea said something similar on Twitter. The ending can be a surprise, but it should feel inevitable. I like it when that happens, but that’s not why I read. I feel that’s more of a bonus :D.

  4. Frances K R

    I think, broadly speaking: if I’m not interested in experiencing the original source, I generally don’t mind spoilers. I will happily listen to someone talking for hours about a setting that seems interesting if I tried to pick it up and it didn’t work out. E.g.: no interest in Jim Butcher’s writing, have already heard hours of discussion of what happened in Skin Game; no interest in playing Battletech, love description of the clans and the society and anecdotes of the history of signature characters.

    To the extent that I have an appreciation for the art and craft of the original source–the TV show, the written story, the comic–I would prefer that I get to pick up the story without someone else’s potentially unevenly-paced, erasing-of-development, completely-missing-the-point summary of what they think is important.

    Related to this: oh god no, I hate bursting other people’s bubbles. Why would I enjoy making another person unhappy?

  5. Cairn Rodrigues

    I don’t like spoilers all that much, but try to stay current with whatever stories are important. You know I’m on Twitter a lot, nothing is sacred there. If a show I don’t want spoiled is coming on the east coast, I just stay off Twitter until I’m done watching on the west.

  6. Maria Luminous

    I don’t mind spoilers, which is good, because I am always the last person to watch a movie or see a tv show. We had a television in the house when I was growing up, but we didn’t have cable, and we didn’t watch it much. In my adult life, I’ve never owned a t.v., and even though my current housemate has one in our living room, I never think to watch it. When I’m bored and thinking of things to do, movies and television almost never come to mind. Pretty much the only times I watch movies or t.v. these days is when a friend sits me down and says, “You HAVE to watch this!”

    So I don’t mind spoilers. In fact, I often really LIKE spoilers. I seek them out, especially with movies and television shows, because watching something emotionally tense and suspenseful is sometimes too intense for me. If I know how it ends, I can enjoy watching it even during the intense parts. I will get absorbed in the story anyway, with or without the spoilers. And, if I hear about a movie and I suspect it might be to scary for me to watch, I always search the internet for a plot synopsis (with spoilers), so I can satisfy my curiosity about it without subjecting myself to something that is too intense for me.

    But although I kind of like spoilers, I understand that many people don’t, and I have no desire to ruin someone’s fun. (I do occasionally worry, however, that I inadvertently have given away the ending, simply because it isn’t something I think about often enough to remember to censor myself about.)

    1. slowbloom Post author

      Maria,

      I think my experience with spoilers is very similar to yours. Thank you for sharing your perspective and experience. Much appreciated.

  7. Rebecca

    Spoilers don’t bother me. There are plenty of cases where I’ve known the outcome and even the major plot points of a book or movie long before I read or saw it (for example, classic literature) and it’s never diminished the pleasure for me one bit. When I hike a trail, I read the maps ahead of time and talk to people who’ve made the same trip. And when I make it to the top of the peak, the view is breathtaking even when I heard in advance that it would be 🙂

    Spoil away! The journey is the point.

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