Spoiler alert: This article will have spoilers for shows and movies that you should have already seen by now, so get over it.
I’ve never seen Citizen Kane, but I know exactly what “rosebud” means; I knew Bruce Willis was dead the whole time I was watching The Sixth Sense; and I was mentally and emotionally prepared for the Red Wedding long before Catelyn Stark’s throat was slit on Game of Thrones. Final confession: I frequently flip to the last page of a book to read the ending. I hate surprises.
I religiously seek out spoilers and have since I was a kid. No, I’m not the jerk who posts things on Facebook and ruins your favorite show for you. I do, however, firmly believe that reading spoilers can enhance our viewing and reading experiences tenfold. Don’t believe me? There’s a method to my so-called madness.
Have you ever found yourself not able to focus on the details of a TV show, movie, or book because you’re too caught up in the bottom line? Have you missed artful subtleties (arguably the best part of it all) because you just had to know if your favorite character was going to live or die – and that’s all you could focus on?
Spoiling the plot by no means ruins the beauty of the work, as long as there is beauty beyond the “bottom line.”
I don’t miss a damn thing. Why? Because I already know the answer to the bigger questions and usually way before all those spoiler-averse fans out there. In knowing the end game by actively seeking out the major plot points, you’re able to admire and enjoy the wonderful intricacies of the art with more attention. You can dissect the clues you would have missed if you didn’t know to be looking out for them. Sure, you can always go back and rewatch or reread the story, but I’m already two steps ahead of you by then and on to the next spoiler.
More importantly, if you’re watching or reading something that’s entirely plot-driven, is it worth investing your time in anyway? A truly good work should have layers to it so that even if you strip away one aspect, such as the element of surprise, there’s still so much more to be explored. Stories that only focus on plot twists to move the narrative along are rarely worth getting sad about being spoiled on. Spoiling the plot by no means ruins the beauty of the work, as long as there is beauty beyond the “bottom line.”
For me, the path characters take to get to those big moments is where the true artistry lies and what I take the most interest in. Reading about those moments doesn’t spoil anything for me; it only makes me more excited to see how the person develops in the way that leads them there.
A study by UC San Diego psychology Professor Nicholas Christenfeld supports my claims; it found that spoilers can actually make a story more enjoyable. Christenfeld’s research showed that having extra information about artworks can make them “more satisfying,” as can the predictability of an experience; for example, the more you go to Disneyland, the more memories you make there and the more you love it. You know what to expect, and you like that.
In Christenfeld’s initial experiment, two groups read three short mystery stories. One group was “accidentally” spoiled on the endings, the other was not. “Across all three genres spoilers actually were enhancers,” said Christenfeld. When he tried a variation of the experiment, spilling the beans on the story in the middle of it rather than at the beginning, the results were the same. “It turns out even halfway through a story, you enjoy a spoiled story more, before you get to that spoiled ending,” he said.
“If you know the ending as you watch it, you can understand what the filmmaker is doing. You get to see this broader view, and essentially understand the story more fluently,” Christenfeld explained.
In the episodes leading up to the Red Wedding, the process of picking out all of the clues that led up to the massacre was so much more fun for me than if I had gone in blind to the event.
Reading spoilers didn’t detract from the haunting piano music that played as Cersei Lannister’s plot to destroy the High Sparrow and all those who’ve wronged her unfolded at the end of season six in Game of Thrones. Each note still sent chills down my spine even though I knew what was coming. Watching her savor her victory while her son threw himself out the window was no less jarring. The anticipation of all that I knew was on the way and the expectation for how it would play out only made the story that much more satisfying to see. And if Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen are actually going to f*ck, I’m going to need to know way beforehand so I can collect myself and find a sturdy seat (and some smelling salts) before it all goes down.