Spoilers, joy killers?

Leia esta digressão em português.

Spoiler alert! Spoilers are joy killers! Or are they?

Ah, spoilers! We all hate it, don’t we? After all, spoilers are joy-killers! There we are, watching a movie, eagerly waiting for the end to come when, suddenly, someone comes in and tells how the movie ends.
“Oh, I’ve already watched that one! I was so surprised when they revealed that everyone is actually dead!” someone says, and everybody else widen their eyes while a bestial lust for blood (a really specific blood, actually) starts boiling. The same thing could happen/happens when you comment with someone that you’re reading a book or watching a TV series and that someone, on purpose or not, spills out the ending.
“Oh, you’re watching Lost? Man, the last episode is awesome/awful! When *bleeeeeep* happens is so, ops!”.
“Oh, you’re reading Harry Potter? Oh, in the last book when Dumbledore *bleeeep* is so, ops!”
Yes, it could happen, and it most likely happened to many of us throughout our lives. Sometimes we’re in the spoiling side, sometimes we’re in the spoiled side.

But really, are spoilers that bad? Enough to make us hold a grudge against the person who spilled the spoil? Do spoilers really affect how much enjoyment we can get from an entertainment work?

I mean, everybody knew that the Titanic was going to sink at the end of movie so why nobody went on a rage rampage about it? Everyone knows how love comedies, action movies, super heroes movies, etc. ends and, even more, everybody knows what to expect from the development of most of them.

Love comedy? Right! The couple starts together? No? Then either the guy or the girl will spend the whole movie trying to impress the partner, going through some ridiculous events, only to reach a scene which fits the “And they lived happily ever after” subtitle.
If the couple starts together, they’ll go through ridiculous events throughout the whole movie, maybe even get close to divorce, only to reach a scene which fits the “And they lived happily ever after” subtitle.
Action? Lots of explosions, speed and chaotic filming, only to close the movie with the good guy watching the horizon of a destroyed city or living a calm life after retiring from his “good guy” job.
And so on.

Does the end matters that much? No, I don’t think it does. But let’s be fair, spoilers are not only about the ending. Knowing that the Titanic will sink is only a small part of the movie. What we don’t know is whether the couple will survive and stay together forever or not. We do know how love comedies ends, but we’re watching for the ridiculous events. We know that the super hero always ends, we’re watching for the development of the movie. Right?

So what we don’t want to hear is actually spoilers like that one from Harry Potter, that reveals an important event that happens in the middle of the last book (I think, don’t know where the hell that happens) that actually changes the whole development of the story. Spoilers like the Titanic sinking or the heroes winning at the end are not much of a spoiler because we already know. I’m pretty sure nobody would try to lynch me if I yelled at the beginning of a “Superman” movie that he saves the city/country/world at the end (even if, by any chance, that doesn’t actually happens). I mean, that’s expected.

Still my question remains, do spoilers really spoils the enjoyment that much? Does knowing who is the assassin beforehand makes that much of a difference in how much we enjoy the story? It’s hard to measure, but I’d argue that what spoilers actually does is change how we enjoy it. I won’t bother much on trying to quantify “enjoyment” because it doesn’t sounds right to that. “I enjoy 1,42314 times more when I’m not spoiled than when I am, though it also depends on how many spoils I’m faced with and how far I am in the story. So, it could be anywhere from 0,0034 to 10,4923. That is, if my math is not wrong”
No, just….no.

So, how does spoilers change the way we enjoy something? By changing our expectations.
When we don’t know what’s going to happen, our expectation is on exactly that, what’s going to happen. We don’t know who the assassin is, therefore we keep watching trying to find out his/her identity. We don’t know who’s going to die next, so we watch trying to foresee who’s going to die. We don’t know how the villain is going to be defeated, so we watch it expecting a great battle.

If, on the other hand, we know, our expectations shifts. When we know who the assassin is, we try to figure out how it’s possible to find out by taking the opposite route of the detective (he have the clues and needs to link to the culprit, we know the culprit and need to find the clues that will lead to the accusation). We know who’s going to die next, but we don’t know how, so we try to foresee it. We know how the villain is going to be defeated, but we don’t know how much it’ll scale until that happens.

Obviously it’s much easier to analyze when we take a mystery or detective type of entertainment. If you know how the Saw series ends before watching it, you’ll watch it trying to catch the minor details that leads to the conclusion. If you didn’t know beforehand, chances are that after you finish watching it, you’ll reconsider watching it all over again just to do that. Taking the “reverse detective role” can be fun too.

But what about when it’s a spoiler like the Harry Potter one? When it’s something that could change the course of the story? Is it possible that that kind of spoiler only changes how we enjoy? I’d say so. You know what happens, but maybe you don’t know how it happens. Take Star Wars, for instance. Lots of us, even without having watched the original trilogy (the 4th~6th movies in the series), already knew the famous “Luke, I’m your father” (which was actually never said, but whatever). We know who talks that to who and we understand (more or less, for those who never watched it) the context. But only knowing that the bad guy is the father of the good guy is enough to spoil the fun? Maybe George Lucas though so and that’s one of the reasons why he decided to present the world with the second trilogy first? Because had he presented the world with the first trilogy first, such scene wouldn’t have had as much impact as it did (and people most likely wouldn’t be misquoting it, but again, whatever).

But think with me, when you reach a certain spoil, you start thinking back on the story to try to see how this spoil affects the story so far.
“The bad guy is the father of the good guy? Wow, this explains a lot of the stuffs that’s happened so far!”.
Maybe the bad guy wasn’t really bad and you only find out at the end of the story. This changes how you see the story.
“So he did all that not because he’s a bad guy, but because he had to do it in order to reach his higher objective? Oh…!”

But if we know beforehand, how would we see it? Would it be less enjoyable? I don’t know. Maybe a little bit, because we wouldn’t have the surprise effect hitting us, but maybe the other enjoyment that this extra piece of knowledge provides us could make up.

And what enjoyment this extra knowledge could possibly provide us? Power. As we all know, knowledge is power. The fact that we know makes us feel superior to the characters.

When we know that the bad guy is not actually bad, but he’s just doing it because he needs to. we can feel sympathetic towards him and relate to him differently. And the same goes to our relation with the good guys, who we could end up seeing as blinded fools. Maybe the bad guy is actually doing all he’s doing to save the world?
“Hey, stop killing the aliens! They’re only trying to save this planet! You fools! Learn to understand!”.
And when the movie ends with the good guys realizing the bad guy(s) real intentions we’re all: “I told you! I told you! Didn’t I? DIDN’T I?”

Or when we know who the assassin is, we feel superior to the detective, who still needs to find out.
“What? He couldn’t figure out with ALL THOSE CLUES? Pff!”

Maybe we like this because that’s what we want in our lives. Hardships are really a bummer. If we had the knowledge that an omniscience narrator has, our lives would be so much easier! And spoilers actually gives us that power to a certain degree inside a certain world, so why not enjoy it?

Another point about spoilers. Context.
Knowing what happens is one thing. Knowing how it happens and all it’s consequences is a completely different thing. You may have heard that the bad guy is the good guy’s father, but did you heard how the revelation happens? The situation in which it’s revealed? How this actually affects the characters?
Maybe you do because someone really told you all the details, but what you make up with all the details can be far off from what actually happens and how you’ll actually perceive it when you watch for yourself. Don’t underestimate people’s creativity.

So, really. Are spoilers really joy killers? I wouldn’t say that every spoiler is a joy killer. I won’t deny that spoilers can be major joy killers for some and specially in larger doses, but all in all, I don’t think spoilers deserve the “joy killer” tag.

There’s a 2011 study that seems to agree with this. And there were a few news about this study popping out in some news sites around the internet. In many of those, people were disagreeing in the comments. I couldn’t read the paper myself so I can’t really argue about it, but I’d say that the graphics that’s presented in pretty much all of the sites, doesn’t really proves spoilers are being enjoyment enhancers. It seems to me that the graphic actually points out that spoilers doesn’t affect negatively the enjoyment, but saying that it’s enhancing? Not so sure (the difference between both spoiled and non-spoiled is not that much).

And in one of the comments in one of the sites there, someone mentioned about how spoilers affects the enjoyment. If you’re spoiled, you’ll be enjoying the work closer to how the artist/author/person who made it enjoyed it (the same goes for if you’re re-reading). If you’re not, you’ll enjoy it more as a spectator. That’s a pretty interesting point of view, actually, because, in fact, the one who’s creating the work is enjoying it (we hope so, at least) in a completely different way because the author is….the god of the creation! The author knows what every character knows and actually knows a lot more, the author knows how the characters feels, the characters’ most intimate thoughts, most intimate desires, but the author also knows everything else about the world that is surrounding the characters and not only that, in a way, the author manipulates this world around the characters. By being spoiled, we can get closer to the author by becoming closer to his/her omniscience and by doing so, we can, maybe, understand the author a little bit more, making our own relation with the characters, different.

But maybe these should be save for later, after we’ve experienced the author’s work as he intended us, readers, to experience, by adding all the twists and crazy developments? Is this what anti-spoilers advocate?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.