As “Avengers: Endgame” shatters the box office with a record billion dollars grossed within just five days of its release, what better way to celebrate the end of the semester than rampant spoilers swarming our social media feed?
A similar epidemic has sprawled from “Game of Thrones,” namely Season 8 as Patient Zero. And the infection will not curb any time soon with only 3 of 6 episodes released thus far. It is safe to say, ironically, that this online uproar is possibly the most effective restraint on my internet addiction. I have been virtually off the grid lately.
Although I suppose none of this will matter once social media discourse leaks into reality and I accidentally stumble upon a passionate post-movie debate.
The controversy of the “spoiler” is one that has grimly fascinated me for a while now. We view victims of spoilers similarly to how we perceive people who have fallen ill: with pity and sympathy, but a hint of apprehension as well. Now that you have experienced it, do not pass it on to me.
At the same time, the perpetrator of the spoiling is condemned a criminal from the victim’s point of view. To an outsider at least vaguely familiar with books, comics, TV shows or any kind of media involving a plot and can generally understand the victim’s plight, the entire situation is somewhat amusing. We constantly battle the opposing urges to retain and to give away, and we hurtle through these clashing perspectives like a ball on a pool table.
But what exactly is the accursed nature of the “spoiler” that makes it so revolting? Why do we even care? The term itself, “spoil,” means to damage or to stain. Dan Kois, writer for the New York Magazine, even proposed a set of general guidelines content creators should follow before they release any major plot twists or other narrative-related events.
Obviously, spoilers reveal information about upcoming plot events the consumer had not yet obtained of their own free will. Additionally, the official Merriam-Webster definition states that they “spoil a viewer’s sense of surprise or suspense.”
But, we ourselves are guilty of always wanting to know the future. How will my grades turn out? Will I get a job? Will I accomplish my dreams? We wish for our own stories to be spoiled, not others’, in a rather dreary self-defeating paradox.
So, in that sense, how do spoilers spoil, and why do they ruin people’s enjoyment?
Turns out, scientific reasoning exists for the disdain we hold against the spoiler. The origins of this sentiment derive from our fixation with stories, particularly fictional ones, said Jennifer Richler of The Atlantic. The common, straightforward assumption is that humans should be more interested in matters that directly concern their livelihood and survival, such as acquiring food, paying rent and having children, said Paul Bloom, a professor in the Department of Psychology at Yale University
The attraction to fiction, again, cycles right back to reality. We enjoy fictional elements that possess surface or structural similarity to our own daily lives. But, this deduction occurs unconsciously, deep in our psyche. The more educated and more “primitive” parts of our mind are at odds in concluding whether something is fact or fiction, and oftentimes, this link gets blurred, said Thalia Goldstein, a professor in the Department of Psychology at Pace University
Herein lies the reason spoilers are so detestable: the separation from reality. We will not know our futures, but we will know the stories, and now there is apparently no way to enjoy the events in between. Furthermore, a certain novelty exists in another story whose plot and “life” is different from our own. When that plot is spoiled, its life is spoiled, and the novelty of the story in juxtaposition to our own predictable routines disintegrates instantly.
The how, then, relates to the adage that the beauty is in the journey. While a person’s initial gut instinct in response to a spoiler is something along the lines of “I wish I could unlearn that,” their main despair stems from the events leading up to the spoiled moment. Essentially, when the climax is spoiled, the events leading up to it are meaningless because the endpoint is known. James Poniewozik, a TV critic, said: “An unwanted spoiler does take something away, but not … the pleasure of actually reading or watching a story. Rather, it takes away from the anticipation before watching it.”
In a way, the possibility of a spoiler is yet another incentive to enjoy your own life. The thing about a story is that it is subject to the whims of fate as wielded by the author. It has a pre-determined ending, a known one. But, we live in the same state of uncertainty, but endlessly. Sure, it is daunting.
But at least we will not be spoiled.
Sruti Bezawada is a Rutgers Business School and School of Arts and Sciences sophomore double majoring in marketing and communications and minoring in Japanese. Her column, “Traipse the Fine Line," runs alternate Wednesdays.
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