I am immune to spoilers
Spoiler alert: You’re going to hate me. It’s true, I am immune to spoilers.
OK, so let’s set some ground rules. What’s a spoiler, anyway? Wikipedia defines it, in part, as “an element of a disseminated summary or description of any piece of fiction that reveals any plot elements which threaten to give away important details concerning the turn of events of a dramatic episode.” So for instance, in what will hopefully not be a spoiler for anyone here, it might be something like learning that Darth Vader is Luke and Leia’s father. Or that Han and Leia are Kylo Ren’s parents.
Spoilers loom large in our modern world in part because of the speed and ubiquity of social media — as well as the phenomenon of DVRs. Once upon a time, we had to watch shows in real time, because on Monday, everyone was sure be talking about who shot JR on Friday. (It was Kristin, by the way.) There was no deference made for folks who missed it — it’s not like they could hold off and watch it on Saturday when they had time, unless they happened to have a VCR and someone to hit record. With movies, you might get a little lee-way before hearing about the big twist ending. Did that premature reveal “ruin” the movie for you? Maybe. I guess it depends on how big of a twist it was. Bruce Willis’s character being a ghost was a much bigger deal than the fourth or fifth of M. Night Shyamalan’s films.
So how is it that I’m immune? Well, part of it is that if I’m enjoying a show or movie or book, I’m able to forget, at least a little bit, whatever spoiler I may have heard. But more than that, to me, a creative work cannot be boiled down to a single scene or item, even if it’s a crucial scene. Knowing what happens in one moment doesn’t tell you how the story arrives at that moment. Knowing that Rosebud is the name of a sled tells you absolutely nothing about who the man Charles Foster Kane was and what he did between that sled and the end of his life. Hearing that Snape kills Dumbledore might freak you out, but at least as I read the book, that knowledge didn’t dull the dread as the moment arrived. In fact, for me, sometimes the knowledge of a twist enhances the twist — the anticipation can make me squirm in my seat. Like, how will we find out what Hodor’s name means?
Besides, in my experience knowing what’s going to happen doesn’t make me love a creative work any less. I’ve watched some movies so many times that I could quote dialog from memory, and I bet you have too. Every time I watch, it’s still a joy. Hell, Shakespeare’s plays are hundreds of years old, and yet they can still be fresh and each performance can reveal something new.
I sympathize if you’re devoted to some show and don’t want to know what’s waiting for you on your DVR. But come on, the world isn’t set to your time-shifted schedule. You ought to know how the internet works by now. If you missed the appointment television event of last night and dare to visit a social network today, it is entirely your fault if you run into what everyone’s talking about. We have as much right to that show as you do. And if your life is so small that an inadvertently revealed plot point from a TV show is enough to make you melt down, maybe you need to reevaluate your life choices.
But look, just because I think you’re crazy for freaking out about spoilers doesn’t mean I’m going to go out of my way to spoil your beloved TV show or whatever. I’m not a monster. I do, however, have a hierarchy of how seriously I will take a spoiler.
Top of the list: a twist movie. I completely understand being mad about something like that. Like if I hadn’t seen Fight Club yet and you told me they were the same guy just before I went into the theater.
Next, just a regular movie. But both of those carry the caveat that it’s got to be a very recent film. Let’s say, by the time a movie is out on DVD, your spoiler claim has expired.
Third, a TV show plot twist episode, particularly season finales. I mean, I had already seen a bunch of gifs of the Game of Thrones finale, and I might actually have been pissed if I knew the order in which those three-second snippets occurred.
Fourth, any regular TV episode — and again, there’s a time limit. You have three days to a week grace period for a TV show. If you haven’t seen an episode by the time the next episode airs, tough luck.
Next, a book. How you made it this long without hearing that the dude in Fifty Shades of Grey has a bondage fetish, but fine, we’ll stop talking about it.
Lastly, sports. Sports spoilers are not a thing. Knowing that your team lost or won tells you nothing about how they lost or won—and besides, we are veering into news territory. And to that point, awards nominations or wins get no spoiler alerts. Actual current events cannot be spoiled unless you consider every article in the newspaper — sorry, news feed — a spoiler. Real life does not have a pause button.
So there you have it. Feel free to come up and tell me the ending of whatever movie I haven’t seen, the shocking conclusion to the Twilight saga (not that I care), or how you could see the way The Usual Suspects tips its hand to the careful viewer. I’ll still enjoy it all. Well, maybe not the Twilight books.
This essay was originally read at the inaugural episode of the Kill Your Darlings live lit show. Catch it Wednesday nights at 7pm through Sept. 14 at CSz Theater Chicago.