When I was nine, I did a terrible thing.
It was coming up to Christmas, which, back then, was still my absolute favourite time of the year. I really did wish it could be Christmas every day, even though my grandfather had suggested (spoiler alert!) two Christmases before that Santa Claus might be my dad in red pajamas. That didn’t matter. Whether or not a fat immortal man squeezed himself down my chimney, Christmas was a time of giving… and getting. Lots of getting. Presents piled under the tree as the big day approached, bright and shiny like Quality Street sweets.
Waiting to open them was delicious agony. That Christmas I had a revelation. I didn’t have to wait. Whenever I had the house to myself or everyone was deeply asleep, I would creep towards the tree and delicately peel a present enough to know what was inside.
By Christmas morning, I knew what lay behind every wrapper. I felt smug. My parents had no idea! Only they did. The curling paper and my lack of excitement were clear giveaways. To my surprise, they didn’t yell or tell me what an awful daughter I was. They simply shrugged and said I’d only spoiled things for myself. I realised, with a sharp pang, that they were right. The next Christmas, all my presents stayed pristine until after breakfast.
I am tempted by spoilers in the same way I was those presents under the tree. I know seeking out secrets will take away most if not all of the pure pleasure and surprise. As Miss Thropist said, spoilers spoil. The difference is, I feel a lot less guilty about giving in. Christmas is just once a year, but we are completely besieged by popular culture. So I scour entertainment websites, devouring spoilers, recaps, reviews and synopses. I lurk on message boards, musing on hypotheses. (I even read Miss Thropist’s posts before she’s finished writing them, mwahahaha!)
While there are a few things I would have preferred not to have found out (He sees dead people!) and many things I’m relieved I never did (Mrs. Bates!), this approach largely enhances my viewing pleasure. It’s a way of previewing films and TV shows I’m on the fence about. If I enjoy a recap or summary, I’ll go ahead and watch it. (It’s much quicker and convenient to skim-read than it is to sit down and watch.) It’s a way of stoking my anticipation about shows I’m committed to, especially over a long hiatus. It’s a way of soothing unbearable delay, such as when the rest of the world has watched something, and I’m stuck in an airport lounge. I’ve found that the best shows can still surprise me, even when I have relentlessly sniffed out every hint. Having a general idea of what’s about to happen allows me to concentrate on – and appreciate – the finer details, the storytelling.
But even I have certain limits. All spoilers are not created equal – there’s a clear difference between reading speculation about upcoming guest stars and story archs to tweeting from the set of a TV show. I’m most relaxed about TV spoilers, especially because I find that entertainment websites deliberately tantalize rather than give the game away, and that recaps can’t adequately capture the delivery I appreciate in favourite shows. Reading is not the same as seeing. If I’m certain I want to watch something – like Tangled – or I have to review it, I’ll steer clear of as much influence as possible. I rarely indulge in book spoilers, after a crushing incident in which I stumbled upon Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’s most shocking reveal. Obviously, it sucks when you’ve read a book and don’t like it, but I rarely view this as much of a waste of time as watching a bad film or episode. (A book is a far bigger gamble emotionally for the creator than the team enterprise of screen offerings. If it all goes wrong, the author’s on their own.)
It may be the pop culture addiction speaking, but I regard one’s attitude to spoilers as along the same lines I do religon and dietary habits. Everyone should be able to do as they please, which means letting everyone else do as they please, more or less. Being too strident and self-righteous about spoilers is on par with letting a spoiler slip. On message boards, I’ve lost count of the times that posters have been outraged by being spoiled. Stay away until you’re ready to freely discuss! It’s like being outraged by getting wet on a rainy day. (Annoying but inevitable.) The same goes for people who get upset by being “spoiled” long after the film or program in question has been out – not because they specifically intend to watch it, but on the off-chance they might one day. I get that there are certain twisty films that everyone ought to watch spoiler-free – i.e. Psycho, The Usual Suspects, Inception – but to get pissy when others are discussing a romantic comedy (which, by their nature, are super predictable) and saying something to the effect of “I loved when he appeared from nowhere!” – that’s a little over the top.
The joy of popular culture is that its popular and part of our culture, which means getting to talk about the things you love – even the things you hate – with friends and strangers. The advent of social media has turned the Internet – and the Internet-consuming parts of the world – into one big water cooler. This is turn has filtered back into films and TV, which have become even richer in often spoiler-riffic cultural references. Not that this is really anything new. (Sleepless in Seattle spoiled An Affair to Remember!) Most of the posts on PCP would have to be blacked out if we had to adhere to a strict no-spoiler policy. When I write reviews, I do my best to avoid spoilers, and certainly big twists, but there’s a delicate line to tread between discussion and spoilers. In many cases, you can’t have one without the other. So why get so worked up about it?
When it comes down to it, I agree with much of what Miss Thropist has to say about wanting to be surprised and free from expectations. I just have less self-restraint and relish being part of the wider conversation, spoilers and all. Knowing a few details or having a vague idea doesn’t mean something special has been spoiled – in the same way secretly opening those presents didn’t spoil Christmas for all time.