Via Shane Liesegang, I came to this piece about spoilers by Todd VanDerWerff. I am sure that writing about art is annoying in the anti-spoiler era. I agree that that cries about spoilers probably does hamper critical writing. VanDerWerff uses as an example Kyle Buchanan’s article about Godzilla, which discusses the plot of the film in detail without raising its commenters’ hackles. Yet Buchanan’s piece has a spoiler warning right at the top. I’d say it follows anti-spoiler best practices. Anyway, for the record, here’s my take on spoilers.
There are, rarely, moments of genuine delight to be found when a story surprises you. I saw The Sixth Sense in the theater and honestly hadn’t guessed the ending. Doctor Who’s David Tennant years had a few great reveals. I’m talking about those moments where you don’t see something coming and this literal spine-tingling sensation washes over you and you think, “well done. Well done.” I wouldn’t ever want to rob anyone of that moment. This is what a spoiler does. Anti-spoiler advocates will argue, rightly, that what’s important is how a story is told, and that the plot is only a vehicle for that. Sure. But you can get all of that by watching a movie/reading a book a second time. The first time through is when you get to just enjoy the storytelling and let whatever twists and turns the author might have for you affect you as they will.
When I talk about the subject of spoilers, someone will often bring up that study that spoilers actually enhance one’s enjoyment. While I can’t debunk that study, I think it’s beside the point. What it basically says is that knowing what happens in a story lets you pay more attention to how the story is being told, see foreshadowing, examine the craft, etc, and that people provide a higher hedonistic ranking to that sort of viewing than when going in fresh. But you can get the spoilt viewing experience by simply rewatching the movie. You can only get the unspoilt experience once.
(I realize as I reread this piece before publishing that the following paragraph amounts to an attack on those in the anti-spoiler camp. I’ll let its points stand but I don’t want to accuse all anti-spoiler advocates of being lazy viewers.)
I think part of the anti-spoiler point of view is a result of people not taking the time to really enjoy movies, and that there aren’t all that many truly masterful pieces of craft out there. With home viewing increasingly replacing theater-going, I think fewer and fewer people sit down and watch a movie without having an iPad on in the foreground. It’s difficult to get spine-tingling enjoyment from a good plot twist if you haven’t devoted yourself to just watching the movie, and impossible if the movie wasn’t worthy of your attention in the first place. But for those rare moments when the really big reveal grabs you at just the right place… I’m sorry if you don’t get to experience that. Next time, pick a better movie that’s worthy of an unspoilt first viewing, then watch it again.
As for critics? Just deal with having to include a brief spoiler warning and ignore people who disregarded the warning and went ahead and read the article. Besides, you shouldn’t be reading comments, anyway.