My Thoughts On Spoilers

[PHOTO NOTE: I typed in “Spoilers” in the Pexel image search and this is what popped up first. Appropriate.]

A week or so ago, I ran across a review of the movie Nope online. I’m a fan of horror – not a surprise. I’m a fan of movie reviews – also not a surprise. Also, I happen to be a fan of the movie’s director, Jordan Peele, ever since his Key and Peele days. So, I was interested in reading through it.

I did read over the review. I liked it, but I also saw a feature article that went into a plot point that didn’t seem to have any relevance to the main movie. However, I thought it explained and analyzed this particular plot point quite well – I mean, we were talking Roger Ebert-level analysis. As I sometimes do, I decided to post the article on my writing pages on Facebook and Twitter.

Here is the article in question. Beware of spoilers.

At the time I posted it, I was a bit worried about doing so. It was a very good article, but because of the nature of that article, it revealed some massive spoilers about not only major plot points, but even the outcome of the entire movie.

I mention this, because I know that there are many people who are horrified at spoilers and want to avoid them like the plague or warm pop. They structure their entire lives around not putting themselves in situations where they might hear something about films, television, or books before they have had the chance to consume that particular story. They even go so far as berate their own friends and family against possibly revealing anything about those stories. Here’s an example of that behavior as well. (I loved Portlandia, especially since I am a Sleater-Kinney fan. Just Google everything I mentioned if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: The video sketch about spoilers does, in fact, contain actual spoilers. Proceed at your own risk.]

(This was my first attempt to embed something in one of my blogs. I’m quite proud of it LOL.)

So, I am well aware of some people’s feelings about spoilers. In fact, I know that if I ever found myself in the same situation as these people,

I would not be able to care less.

Yes. I, in fact, am the complete opposite of the people I mentioned above. I am perfectly fine with spoilers, I have no issue with them whatsoever. My recent experience with this article started me thinking about exactly why that might be the case.

To begin that journey, we have to travel back exactly 40 years into the past to go back to my first experience with a spoiler. (Yes, I’m an older guy). Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan just happened to be in the theaters. I had seen the first one either in the theaters or on HBO – I think it was the latter because we had HBO (the old cable channel) for a few years in the early 1980’s.

As I may or may not have mentioned before, I was a big fan of libraries as a kid. One of my other favorite places to go when I was a kid was bookstores. There was one sizable bookstore in my hometown mall (Waldenbooks) and whenever I would go to the mall, I would go and see what some of the new books were. I would make sure that I actually bought a book every once in a while so the clerks there didn’t think that I was just loitering in there for no reason. (To be fair, they never did have a word with me.)

I went there maybe less than a month before I would see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in theaters. As it turned out, I found a copy of the novelization of the movie on the science fiction shelves. Novelizations are books based on the screenplay of a movie that often gets commissioned with the intent of making a few extra bucks and helping to promote the films as well1.

It was then, as I was skimming through the book, that I came upon the biggest spoiler of not only the movie, but possibly the entire Star Trek series. As a courtesy, I will not reveal that spoiler here, even if the idea of a spoiler for a movie that was released forty years previously seems ridiculous to me2. So, did that spoiler ruin my possible enjoyment of the film, even so much so that I might have been tempted not to watch it at all?

Reader, it did not.

When the film finally got released, I was in a line at the Riviera Theater in Muscatine with my parents ready to watch the movie. It was one of the old time theaters that used to be everywhere in the US but eventually shut down.

From what I was able to look up, this had been opened as the Uptown Theater back on 4 November 1931. It was renamed the Bosten Cinema on 3 February 1971, and renamed one last time on 3 April 1983 as the Riviera Theater. This picture dates from 1988, two years before the building was demolished3.

Anyway, I watched it and I loved it intensely. I knew what was coming and I was internally jumping up and down with excitement when I saw it unfold on the screen. The fact that I knew it was coming had no dampening effect on my enjoyment whatsoever. I was just as excited as everyone else who was seeing it the first time.

There have been other examples of this through my life. I remember watching a video a few years back that showed a long line of Harry Potter enthusiasts in line outside a bookstore waiting to get their hands on a copy of the latest book in the series. The videographer and driver of the vehicle rolled down his window and shouted out a major plot point to that very novel to the crowd. You could easily hear the shrieks of rage and disappointment as he drove away.

I would never be someone to do such a thing to those who do not like spoilers. But I have to admit I cackled for a long time as I rewound the video more than once.

I’ve given some thought as to why spoilers don’t bother me as they do other people. Although I can’t speak for other people who don’t mind spoilers to stories, as for myself I believe there are two reasons in particular why they don’t bother me.

Tropes

If you look at the history of literature – any type of literature, to be honest – you begin to see different ideas or themes that repeat themselves in different stories. There’s a situation where something improbable resolves a story. There is the situation where items in stories often occur in groups of three (like the idea of a love triangle). There also something where characters often have to go on a journey.

These patterns keep repeating because they’ve been part of our storytelling culture for centuries, even millennia in some cases. It gets people’s attention, it’s familiar to them. They play toward the myths and stories that have been circulating around campfires since at least the latter parts of the Stone Age. People want the new and original and unique, this is true. But, they also crave the familiar as well. From that perspective, spoilers are a part of our culture.

The Mechanic Theory of Enjoying A Story

I’ve come to the conclusion that I read like a writer – or, at least, I try to. As I read something, it’s natural for me to take apart the narrative somewhat like a mechanic taking apart a car to see how it works or what is wrong with it. I want to see how they use dialogue or description to set the stage for a story, and how they build characters, for example.

As I do that, it becomes less of an issue for me what type of ending or surprise that might be waiting for me in the story. I believe that as a result of this focus, this interest I have in analyzing stories, I don’t really respond too much to surprises in the text. Relying too much on surprises or spoiler-level material in a story is a horror-film director relying on jump-scares to keep the audience interested. I’m more interested in how the storyteller gets to the ending or surprises rather than just the result itself. Someone who takes a turbocharger apart for a living or hobby doesn’t get too surprised to see it in action after you finish repairs.

So, I will do my best not to have any obvious spoilers on this page, in any capacity. But, don’t worry about doing the same for me.

1. They still do this, in fact. I was hearing some reviewers say that the novelizations for the third Star Wars trilogy gave a lot more background and context to what happened to be a confusing mess. I still don’t understand how Disney decided to commission a new Star Wars trilogy and not have an overarching plot planned out for it, especially considering how much money they spent on it. I mean, maybe it’s my bias of being a writer and wanting to get your story sorted out, but oh, well.
2. However, I have to keep in perspective that there are many people who are not as aware of the past as I am, whether it is due to not reading up on the past or, more often, not having lived through that past. That became clear to me several years ago when I looked out into a class of language arts students that I was teaching and realized that none of them had any direct knowledge of the 20th century whatsoever.

3. In remembering this, I think the old theater and whatever fragmentary remembrances that I have of it might be worth another A Writer’s Biography blog.

2 thoughts on “My Thoughts On Spoilers

  1. I love spoilers, love seeing how the event as it occurs in the movie compares to my expectation. If possible, I read the book before watching the movie, just to see how the adaptation plays out. Attending Hadestown in the theater, I was amused by witnessing the reactions of the many people shocked by the ending. I was wondering the whole time if the producers were going to “go there” and how the denouement would be acted out. I’ve never been disappointed by knowing ahead of time what’s going to happen, except when I read a 300 page book and keep waiting for a final twist, only to realize I had it figured out correctly a hundred pages before!

    Liked by 1 person

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