Friday, April 9, 2021

Some Thoughts on Spoilers

Hello, all! So, spoilers are, of course, a Big Deal, both in fandom and in culture as a whole. It's considered common courtesy to take care what you share about your favorite stories, to mark spoilers when you post about them online, and to ask permission before sharing spoilery info in a face-to-face conversation. In some cases, studios and creators have even published official reminders to their audiences to be careful about what they share. On every level, people take spoilers seriously. In fact, I would argue that they take them a little too seriously — that spoilers don't necessarily spoil your enjoyment of a story and fandom culture (and fandom creators) might need to take a collective chill pill when it comes to dealing with them.

Some Thoughts on Spoilers

  1. It's possible to fully enjoy a story while knowing all the spoilers (or all the major ones). Harry Potter, Fairy Tail, Critical Role — these are all stories I've gotten into after learning a lot of major spoilers. Storms, I knew every character who died in Harry Potter before I ever picked up the first book, and I'd heard summaries of half the story arcs and character backstories and character relationships in Fairy Tail months and years before I considered watching it. Knowing those spoilers didn't make me enjoy the stories any less. I watched Fairy Tail until I ran out of English episodes (it's one of only three TV shows I've actually watched sort of all the way through). And, yes, I did sort of drop off with Harry Potter — but my decision had nothing to do with what I knew or didn't know and everything to do with my feelings on certain tropes.
  2. Knowing spoilers can help you enjoy a story more in some cases. Let's talk about Critical Role. I got into this fandom through fanart, listening to the theme song (which showed up solo on my YouTube feed one day and is AWESOME, just FYI), and especially through fan-made animatics. As a result, I came in knowing . . . well, not the same level of spoilers I knew about Harry Potter, but still a lot of spoilers, including everything from the biggest events, reveals, and twists in the game to the best and funniest small moments in the story. And yet I've stuck with this show much, much longer than I've stuck with shows that I went into "clean." Why? Knowing the spoilers meant I'd already fallen in love with the characters, so I had more patience with them when they frustrated me. It meant I had a sense of anticipation and eagerness when I realized I was getting close to seeing one of those big moments for real or when I noticed something clearly foreshadowing or leading up to one of those big moments. And it meant I had twice the fun of seeing those small, fun moments — both the pleasure of watching the moment and the excitement of recognizing "Oh, that's the context for this!" In a sense, it's like having the best parts of both the first-time read/watch and the reread/re-watch at once.
  3. Too much focus on "no spoilers!" can lead to bad storytelling. Look. I love a good twist as much as anyone. I praise authors like Brandon Sanderson and Megan Whalen Turner for their ability to pull off massive twists that you don't see coming but make perfect sense in hindsight. But a trend I'm picking up on lately is that creators (especially TV/movie studios, especially Marvel) are focusing too much on making sure their audience never saw it coming. I have even heard — second- or third-hand, but the source was, so it seems pretty reliable — that some recent shows had last-minute changes made because fans had guessed what was going to happen. But the problem with doing that is that now, all your foreshadowing is just red herrings . . . and your new twist may not have the support it needs to make sense. If you accept that sometimes, people will guess what's coming — if you accept that for many people, finding the clues and guessing what's going to happen five minutes or five pages in advance is part of the fun — your stories will be stronger.
  4. Too much emphasis on going in "clean" could make people think there's only one acceptable way to experience a story. This isn't something I've seen happen yet, but it seems like the logical progression of the current cultural attitudes. If fandom keeps obsessing over "No spoilers!" and going into a story "clean," it makes people think that the only way you can truly enjoy a story is if you know nothing about it except the blurb and maybe your friend's favorite character. Which, if you remember point #2, is nonsense. But if someone has that attitude, they're probably going to miss out on a lot of amazing works of storytelling because they accidentally were exposed to spoilery information and now they think it's ruined. But — look. Even if you don't agree with what I said earlier about spoilers improving your experience, you have to admit that there's more to a story than its big twists. Characters, world, themes — spoilers might affect your view of these a little, but they don't have to take away your ability to enjoy them.
  5. Obsession with no spoilers can hinder fans' ability to bring new people into the fandom. Of course, the other side of thinking people can only enjoy a story if they go in "clean" is that you have a much harder time talking about the story. And if you can't talk about the story, how are other people going to get into it? I watched Fairy Tail because my roommate had told me so much about it — careless of spoilers because at the time, I didn't watch anime, and I didn't plan to start — that I wanted to know more. I played Portal because some online friends kept making references to GLaDOS and neurotoxin and cake and I wanted to know what they were talking about. I read . . . well, a lot of books, quite frankly . . . because I'd seen people share favorite snippets or excerpts or fanfics, sometimes very spoilery ones, and was curious about the story they came from. If I hadn't seen or heard the spoilers, I wouldn't have experienced the stories. And that would've been a tragedy.

Obviously (I hope), I'm not saying that we should stop marking spoilers or that it's wrong to want to go into a story without knowing what happens. There are books that I do try to avoid spoilers for because I know half the excitement of the book is going to be the big twists. And I would never knowingly/willingly reveal spoilers to someone who I knew wasn't OK with hearing them. But I do think we need to consider if maybe, just maybe, spoilers aren't as big a deal as we've made them out to be.

What do you think about spoilers? Will knowing what's coming ruin your enjoyment of the story? Or do you agree that maybe we're putting a little too much energy and emphasis into not knowing them beforehand? Please tell me in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

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