April 24, 2013

Do Spoilers Ruin the Story? Sometimes.

I hate spoilers, especially when someone flaps their gums about a book or movie I'm gearing up to enjoy. In the last few months, it's happened to me twice.

I finally broke down and started reading Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy last year. It had been a while since I'd read some YA and I figured I'd go with something popular. I made it through The Hunger Games a little underwhelmed, but still interested in the progression of the series. Catching Fire was a stronger story that the first book I thought, spurring me on to read the third and final book, Mockingjay. Everything was going great for the first two hundred pages, and then I did something that in retrospect I see was my downfall: I read the book in a public space.

I was reading in the car, parked outside Frenchy's (a used-clothing chain around these parts), when two middle-grade girls walked up to the SUV next to me. They must have noticed the book cover when they walked by, because they proceeded to gab about the series, spoiling some key plot points of the book. I am not the kind of guy to berate strangers, least of all bubble-headed tweens, so all I could do was roll up the window. No luck. And by the time I could turn on the radio to drown out their squeaky banter, it was too late. I tried to read the rest of the book, partly because I didn't want to believe one particular part of the story they'd mentioned that if true would basically render the whole trilogy a disappointment. As soon as it was clear that the spoiler was true, Mockingjay was ruined.

The second incident happened when I borrowed The Avengers on DVD for the weekend a few weeks ago. Before sitting down to watch it, I listened to a podcast while getting supper ready. What twist of fate it was that I played a panel discussion that turned into a Joss Whedon lovefest. So, the laptop was playing at one end of the kitchen while I chopped vegetables on the other end, and out of the blue a key plot point was spoiled. What the what? I eventually stopped the podcast, but not before another two key moments of the movie were blurted out. F--k.

Now, it's been argued that a story can't be spoiled if it's well-written and engaging enough. Perhaps. I know I ultimately enjoyed The Sixth Sense when I rented it one weekend, months after a talk show host spoiled the ending. Sure, I still thought it was a great movie, but there was no pop at the end because I already knew the famous twist. I missed out on the discovery and organic realization that comes from the experience. It doesn't matter how well the writing, the acting, or whatever is with a book or movie. Spoilers rob a big piece of the story when you're experiencing it for the very first time. Maybe if I was the type of person to revisit books again and again, it wouldn't annoy me, but 99% of the books I read I only read the once--and I've never watched The Sixth Sense a second time.

So, you tell me. Am I wrong in being so set against spoilers? Do you enjoy a book or movie as much as you think you would without knowing the ending or key revelatory scenes? I try to imagine how fondly I'd remember a movie like The Usual Suspects or a book like Ender's Game if they'd been spoiled ahead of time. I think there's something lost through spoilers, and a pox on those who do the spoiling.

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