Spoilers don’t actually negate your enjoyment of a product, says a widely-publicized study that has been drawing a lot of attention this week. In fact, people who are spoiled wind up enjoying things even more. So it turns out it doesn’t matter if you know that Bruce Willis is really Keyser Soze or that Darth Vader is actually Anthony Perkins in drag or that Tyler Durden is made up of Soylent Green or that the lady in “The Crying Game” is really a ghost all along or that at the end of “Memento” the killer is really his childhood sled.
This actually sounds very reasonable, if you stop and think about it. For instance, I tore through the final “Harry Potter” book in a couple of days because I wanted to know How It All Ends. I didn’t particularly enjoy reading it (though that could have been due to that unending section where they went camping). On the other hand, there have been times where I knew what was coming, and it made me appreciate the groundwork even more (“Mad Men” comes to mind). When there are details kept out of reach, and when you want to know how something ends but want to learn it in the natural progression of a story, it transforms the experience of watching/reading into one of tension and anticipation. Inevitably, unless the resolution is knock-you-on-your-ass phenomenal, the resolution of that tension is going to be a letdown. You’re going to feel like it wasn’t worth it.
“So it could be that once you know how it turns out, it’s cognitively easier – you’re more comfortable processing the information – and can focus on a deeper understanding of the story,” Jonathan Leavitt, the study’s coauthor.
Jonah Lehrer points out that surprises, which are a relatively new phenomenon w/r/t the consumption of books/plays/etc., are more fun to plan than to experience. With very few exceptions, the supposed spoilers we spend so much time avoiding wind up requiring a lot of work (a la the avoidance of Twitter the morning after something airs on TV but you haven’t seen it yet) for very little payoff. Of course, knowing that isn’t the same thing as realizing it in the moment, so the next time someone accidentally spoils something you haven’t seen you are well within your rights to be momentarily angry. Just try to remember later if that really ruined your viewing experience.
(This actually reminds me of when I was in high school and a friend of mine saw “Scream 3″ the weekend it opened and spoiled it for me. [So, spoiler alert, I guess, even though that goes against the entire premise here, and also the movie is 11 years old.] He told me the killer was Neve Campbell’s brother and so I had no reason to see it, because it had been ruined and there was no point, even though he insisted that he hadn’t really ruined it, trust me, etc. I didn’t see it until years later, when I caught it on TV. It turned out that the killer was a character who isn’t revealed to be her brother until the end, so while I probably would have figured it out quickly, he didn’t out-and-out ruin it for me. Anyway, the end result is that being spoiled did help me out in this case, because “Scream 3″ sucked and being spoiled kept me from seeing it for years.)
(Oh, the killer was Scott Foley. I know! From “Felicity”! You, circa 2000, just can’t believe it.)