I'll never forget standing in line for TITANIC's opening night back in 1997, surrounded by tightly wound teenage girls and unequivocal James Cameron sycophants. All were jabbering incessantly about the film, about "Leo" this and "Kate" that, until someone finally realized I wasn't engaged in the conversation and generously attempted to include me. Honesty, I didn't really feel like talking to these people at the time (I tend to be that way in crowds), but I accommodated their effort all the same. Life's too short, and can be too lonely, to remain unfriendly for no particular reason.
"What are you most looking forward to about the movie?" asked the short, curly haired, glasses-wearing woman in front of me. "I'm actually here to watch the boat sink..." I replied.
For the following twenty minutes, I was thoroughly dressed-down by this woman, who only a few moments earlier had actually wanted to talk to me. I was berated about how inconsiderate I was for ruining the movie...about how she didn't "want to know ANYTHING about it!"...lectured about how much excitement I must be depriving myself of by knowing what happens in the picture. After my lambasting subsided, my only retort (after mulling a more succinct "Go fuck yourself") was, simply, "It's a movie called TITANIC. What, exactly, are you expecting?" She didn't have an answer, apparently having never considered that one pesky little consideration before flying off the handle.
Since that night, I've frequently found myself both intrigued (and frustrated) by the issue of SPOILERS. Where is that delineation between "spoiler" and common knowledge - and how are either quality truly defined? Is a fervent avoidance of "spoilers" merely a knee-jerk, apologist reaction to protect one's self from weak or unsuccessful storytelling?
Personally, I've never minded spoilers, and here's why: I believe that if a story (book, TV, film, etc.) is told well enough...and is inherently strong enough in its nature...any degree of spoilage will not truly hinder our appreciation of that tale. I knew Darth Vader was Luke's father well before seeing THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, but the whole of that picture was so strong that being aware of such a major reveal didn't prevent me from deeply loving that movie (the best of the STAR WARS films). I knew Enterprise was going to self-destruct in STAR TREK III a number of months before I watched the moment for myself in 70mm at the Americana theater here in Austin. As much as I knew, nothing could've prepared me for the visual impact - or the grim majesty - of that sequence.
So, in short, I do not believe foreknowledge of spoilers truly HURT our perception of a product...I believe that remaining spoiler free merely softens the overall blow should said product fail to live up to its inherent potential. I'm fully aware that many people will not share this opinion, but there it is all the same. This said, I do go through painstaking efforts to shield the masses from spoilers on this site - I respect the rights and "needs" of others to remain pure about a film or TV show, so please don't feel I'm being critical or unsupportive in the matter. I genuinely do not mean to be so.
With all of this as preamble, presented for your consideration is an article from the folks over at Wired - which looks at a recent experiment by Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt at the University of California, San Diego.
The experiment itself was simple: Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt of UC San Diego gave several dozen undergraduates 12 different short stories. The stories came in three different flavors: ironic twist stories (such as Chekhov’s “The Bet”), straight up mysteries (“A Chess Problem” by Agatha Christie) and so-called “literary stories” by writers like Updike and Carver. Some subjects read the story as is, without a spoiler. Some read the story with a spoiler carefully embedded in the actual text, as if Chekhov himself had given away the end. And some read the story with a spoiler disclaimer in the preface.
You can find the results of their study HERE. In short, their experiment suggests that people with foreknowledge of story elements may actually derive more enjoyment from that story than people who go in cold. And, yes, the sentence I just wrote is, itself, a spoiler. Check out the piece - there's some interesting food for thought, and fodder for discussion I should think in the Talkback below.
Thanks a ton to longtime AICNer Royston Lodge for calling our attention to this piece.
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