Friday, December 11, 2015

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

The worst spoiler I ever experienced happened when I was in high school, reading David Morrell's "Testament" before one of my classes. I was five pages from the end, where the hero, bent on revenge over the death of his family, is about to rain holy hell down on the man responsible.

He's hiding in a sniper's nest, the cold metal of the gun and scope resting against his cheek. He aims the rifle at the unsuspecting villain—

"He doesn't do it."

"What?" I looked up, frowning at the interruption. A friend, who had previously read the book, stopped to check my progress.

"He doesn't shoot him."

"What?!" I shouted. Everyone stopped and looked at me.

"Yeah, he chickens out at the end."

"Did you just spoil the ending for me?" I jumped to my feet. "I was five pages from the end! I've been reading for three days, and you just ruined it!"

"Erik!" said my teacher. "We do not shout in class."

I told her what my so-called friend had just done.

"Douglas!" she shouted. "You never, ever tell the ending of a book!" And she proceeded to lecture him at the top of her lungs.

It was months before I forgave him. Literally months. I had spent three days reading a book by my new favorite author. All 320 pages had built up to this moment and it was stolen from me at page 315 by some inconsiderate clod.

Despite my experience, however, I've never been that hung up on spoilers. I don't freak out if someone drops a hint at a scene in a movie. The experience isn't ruined for me, and I can enjoy the show even if I know the surprise twist at the end.

(Bruce Willis was already dead.)

But plenty of people lose their ever-loving minds when someone even hints at the tiniest detail of a movie or TV show. One friend has a lifetime ban on anyone discussing a show or movie he has never seen, even if the movie in question is 40 years old and the details have become part of our national identity.

(Rosebud was his sled.)

Out of politeness, I avoid spoiling movies and shows, but I have my limits. Not spoiling the ends of 33-year-old movies — Spock dies at the end — is light years beyond those limits. At some point, you're responsible for your own life, and if you can't be bothered to find out the ending of a decades-old movie, you deserve to have it spoiled. Hard.

(Kevin Spacey was Keyser Söze.)

It turns out spoiler haters may be getting their panties in a twist for nothing. In 2011, researchers at UC San Diego gave several dozen undergraduates 12 different short stories, with varying methods of spoiling the ending for some of the readers.

The results showed that, for the most part, readers actually preferred the spoiled story more than the unspoiled one. In fact, 11 of the 12 stories scored a higher rating for the spoiled version.

(In The Crying Game, Dil was actually a guy.)

What does this mean for the spoiler haters?

According to an August 2011 Wired magazine article, it's only recently that we've become obsessed with avoiding spoilers. For thousands of years, our stories were incredibly predictable — the guy always got the girl, the bad guy always lost, and the fortune was always recovered.

You only have to look at every play by Shakespeare to know that either everyone is going to live happily ever after, or die a horrible death.

(In Twelfth Night, Cesario was actually a guy.)

Even movies and TV shows over the last 100 years followed the same formula. John Wayne killed the bad guy, Cary Grant got the girl, and Harrison Ford recovered the fortune. No one dies in a romantic comedy, and she always marries the bad boy, not the stuffy, boring fiancee.

Seriously, if you scream "spoilers!" about a romantic comedy, you just don't understand how they work.

(Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks fall in love at the end.)

I admit there's some enjoyment in being surprised by a show. But there's also something to be said about knowing and watching how the writer and director manage to get there.

Try an experiment the next time there's something you've been waiting to see: peek at the end, or just read the reviews before you watch. See if you enjoy the show any less, or if you're still able to get the same amount of pleasure by knowing the end.

Spoiler alert: I think you'll like it.

(By the way, Dumbledore dies.)

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You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.


  1. I once had someone scold me for spoiling a novel written in 1843. (Scrooge finds the spirit of Christmas)

  2. I meant to comment on this when you wrote it, but if that's true, I rolled my eyes so hard I saw my brain. If it's not true, that's the funniest damn sentence on the whole page.


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