I have a serious character flaw – namely, that I suffer from the combination of hating spoilers and having an insatiable curiosity.
I mean, I’m setting myself up for failure. It’s just terrible. See, what usually happens is I’ll be cruising around the Internet, the top down and radio blaring (my Internet surfing strongly resembles a fifties-era teen movie), when I’ll come across a link that says something like “Glee Spoilers REVEALED.” Well, I’ll think, I do want to know what happens in Glee, and the next season is so far away – it would be nice to find out now. So I’ll click the link, and find out that Rachel and Finn are going to break up again because Finn got bitten by a radioactive spider and doesn’t want Hannibal Lector to go after his loved ones and so he’s going back to Krypton to see if there are any survivors (also, it will all be set to Rachel singing Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”) and I’ll have a brief moment of satisfaction before all I feel is kind of disappointed.
Because I think my major problem with spoilers is that they feel like cheating. If I’m going to put in the time and emotional/intellectual investment into watching or reading something, then I might as well experience the actual thing. Watching something fresh allows the audience to just enjoy the ride, whereas knowing ahead of time leads to watching with an inevitable smugness, a sort of “I knew that was going to happen” superiority. Sure, I want to know what happens, but I want to find out in the way that the creator intended. Part of the joy of a plot twist is a sense that it was earned by getting through everything else.
I know some people who, when deciding whether or not to read a book, will flip to the back and read the last few pages to find out the ending, and use that to make the choice. Now, I consider that process to be some form of sacrilege, punishable by eternal torment or at least a Two and a Half Men marathon, but I can understand why many people have a less fanatical reaction to spoilers than I do. First, some plot points are spoiled for everyone (Jesus DIES?). Second, there are some works that are difficult to get through without background knowledge (I haven’t been watching Game of Thrones, though I would like to catch up, but I have heard that the cast is so substantial and the plot so complex that it is helpful to have some background in the series beforehand.). Third – and this is the point I have the greatest issue with, but also the one I relate to best – is that it is instant gratification. It’s nice to find out what happens, and having to get through almost two movies just to find out that Darth Vader is Luke’s father takes a lot more effort and commitment than just reading a spoiler and getting the quick rush of a nicely executed plot twist.
Some people also excuse spoilers by arguing that a work should transcend its plot, that execution and environment are more important than just finding out what happens. If the only reason you’re reading Romeo and Juliet is to find out whether they marry each other in the end, then you’re probably missing the point. But the thing is, while I can understand this argument and I do agree that a work should transcend its plot twists, I disagree about what’s significant about how it does so.
Look, execution is important, and it is enjoyable and rewarding to dissect. The quality of execution is what gives a work its rewatch or reread value – I don’t watch Moulin Rouge every other week because I keep forgetting how it ends. But appreciating the execution of a work is a privilege of experiencing it again. There is a quality particular to watching or reading something for the first time, and whether you call it suspense or surprise or discovery, spoilers destroy that. Because while I can go back and reread the Harry Potter books to appreciate the writing and characterization and development of the environment, all I really wanted to do the first time I read them was enjoy the twists and turns of a well-crafted story.
But the problem is, avoiding spoilers is hard. Not just because they’re everywhere (yes, there’s a trope for that), but because the quality that makes me hate spoilers is also the thing that makes me seek them out. I hate spoilers because I like finding out what happens within the context of the story – but I really, really like finding out what happens. I know that I’ll get to the plot developments eventually, but I also know that they’re less than two clicks away and that Googling is a lot easier than sitting through, for example, a cumulative twelve seasons of television.
In the end though, for me at least, the pleasure of watching Buffy and Angel as God (or Joss Whedon; some would argue that was redundant) intended is more important than knowing what happened right now. Obviously, I know some plot twists in advance. Some are of the common sense variety, like how the fact that Angel got his own series sort of retroactively messes up any attempts to put him in real peril. Others are just because the show is a cultural presence and I enjoy reading A.V. Club too much. But, even despite all of that, I do try to stay away from spoilers. Because I appreciate the experience, and I think that’s more important than the brief gratification of knowing what happens before you’ve earned it. Sure, I could know what happens, but I prefer to just enjoy it as it comes.