College certainly broadens your horizons. While the general attitude towards spoilers among my circles in high school was unadulterated fear (we looked upon the gent who spoiled Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince with both dread and amazement), I have discovered people who actually enjoy being spoiled, wonder of wonders. They say that knowing the ending, or at least some of the smaller details, puts them at ease and helps them focus on the work at hand, be it a film or a book. io9 recently posted an article about how no one is as unspoiled as we once were, and, in light of meeting people who embrace spoilers heartily, I thought I’d glance back over my personal stance on spoilers. (Below the cut are some vague spoilers regarding The Lord of the Rings and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde–don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
Naturally, I prefer to be unspoiled. Being absolutely shocked at a twist or a turn of events is one of my favorite things about reading–as someone who adores a good plot, twists are essential in the construction of some of the best. There’s nothing quite like being in the hands of someone who can sucker punch you with words, as masochistic as that sounds. (This is why I probably enjoy Joss Whedon’s apparent quest to punish all true love in his series.) However, Anders’ article at io9 made me rethink what it means to be “unspoiled”.
One would assume to be unspoiled one would have to know little to nothing about the work on hand. But these days, we just don’t open a book or watch a film knowing next to nothing about a film. We already know that, in Avatar, Jake Sully falls in love with Neytiri. Twilight handily advertises that Edward is, in fact, a vampire on the back cover, which takes the heroine half the book to discover. Publishers and studios are so eager to tell us about their wonderful new works that we’re often a little farther ahead than the book actually is. I know I’ve read a few books where the action of the plot took a while to get to where I knew it was heading from the blurb on the back of the book. But I prefer knowing a little too much (without major spoilers, of course!) to knowing too little and regretting reading or watching it.
But are fulfilled tropes really spoilers? In Avatar and many other works, we usually expect the male lead and the female lead to get together by the end of the work. (Oh, heteronormativity.) We expect the good guys to win, especially in certain genres. The subversion of these expectations can also make for the best twists. I think that fact makes them spoilers to a degree–knowing the ultimate outcome robs things of a lot of their impact, no matter how much you knew it was going to happen.
But these are fairly recent works. (Recent enough that I get plenty of mileage out of paraphrasing Breaking Dawn to increasingly queasy audiences.) What about older works that have been spoiled just through pop culture? Right now, I’m reading The Lord of the Rings. I know the actual identity of a certain character, and while it gives me great delight to be able to spot the various tells, I wonder what it would be like if it truly came out of left field, as it did for the first audiences. Still, it’s wildly enjoyable, because it is The Lord of the Rings. But a few years ago, I read Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and it absolutely fell flat for me because the entire story rests upon that thrilling twist modern pop culture has spoiled for us.
Upon reflection, I see it this way–I’m still going to try and avoid spoilers. (Have you any idea what these last few weeks have been like for me as a Doctor Who fan?) I don’t think I can be one of those people who happily take in a spoiler and can still enjoy a work fully. However, if a work doesn’t rest solely on its twist, than it is still salvageable to me.
In other news, I finished Notes from a Small Island and watched the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice on Friday–review of the former will be posted this week, and I think I’ll keep a review of the film in reserve for a rainy day. I’ve started Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, which I tried to start before Notes from a Small Island, but I just wasn’t in the mood. I’m glad I held off–I’m supremely enjoying it.
What do you make of spoilers? Can you enjoy a work if spoiled, or does it dull the pleasure?