When is it okay to ruin everything?
Imagine this: It’s Sunday night. You’ve just spent the day studying for that big exam you have tomorrow. You decide to take a break, opening Facebook only to find several of your friends lamenting the surprise death of your favourite character in the latest episode of your favourite show — the episode you recorded to your PVR, saving it until after your exam.
Chances are this isn’t the first time you’ve been a victim of a misplaced spoiler. The debate surrounding spoilers is nothing new, but if it was a slippery slope before, now it’s a cliff.
For those that don’t know, a “spoiler” is when key plot points, or a major twist or cliff-hanger, are revealed to an audience be- fore they have had the chance to experience the narrative organically, ruining the sense of suspense and surprise.
In today’s whirlwind of social media websites and online conversation, spoilers are increasingly becoming more common, and the internet more dangerous to the unsuspecting, fiction-loving user.
The biggest problem with spoilers is that there is no consensus as to how long a story has to be out in the world before it can be spoiled. If Victor Hugo first published Les Misérables in the 1860s, is it fair to post openly online about the plot? What about last week’s episode of The Walking Dead? Don’t even get started on scores in sports.
Is there a proper amount of time that can pass before a plot twist is no longer a spoiler? Scouring the Internet for a general consensus, it really seems to depend on the person involved, which means that it can be a slippery slope.
For instance, Star Wars: Episode V has been around for 33 years, and it’s big plot twist has been parodied so much in pop culture that it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t know what’s going on.
However, if you tell someone watching for the first time that Darth Vader is Luke’s father (whoops), you better be prepared for them to get angry with you for ruining it.
The web is rife with sites dedicated solely to providing accurate and detailed spoilers for the lat- est in books, movies, and television for those who prefer to know what’s coming to them. While these are likely run by people who enjoy the anguish of the unaware, they are now being used by folks who actually want their story spoiled.
A study by professors at UC San Diego in 2011 even found that people who read “spoiled” stories typically ended up enjoying the experience more than those who read the same stories “unspoiled.”
Their argument to support their findings is that the plot is only a device that allows good writing to be showcased.
“Plots are just excuses for great writing. What the plot is is (almost) irrelevant. The pleasure is in the writing,” said Nicholas Christenfeld, a UC San Diego professor of social psychology. Those of us who aren’t sold on spoilers will have to proceed carefully when browsing the Internet, then, as spoilers tend to pop up on the most unassuming of websites.
Even when the secrets of a plot have been contained for over 60 years — as is the case with the ending of Agatha Christie’s play The Mousetrap — the Internet swoops in to ruin the surprise. The secret ending is revealed in a single line of the play’s Wikipedia article.
With no real agreement on what is fair to spoil, it’s best to err on the side of caution and warn your readers that you’re about to give away the plot. Tag your spoilers on blogs, or at the very least write a small warning before you give away the ending.
That way, no one will accidentally read that (Spoiler Alert!) Snape kills Dumbledore in your Facebook status before they get that far in the book.