The Evolution Of Spoiling
How spoiling films or books was such a minor case to now being part of mainstream culture.
My brother and I have a rule that if one of us sees a film that we wanted to see and the other hasn’t we won’t spoil it. It’s an unspoken rule that we have that we completely respect.
Even mentioning one minor point of a movie can ruin the experience for us.
In my eyes spoiling is simply a bad move but also I feel it wasn’t mentioned all that much in the world. It was as if for many, if not all the world, spoiling a movie or a book was a bad thing.
But these days it’s completely different.
With amazing films, TV series, and books, it feels like any type of content that is covering any of those things comes with a disclosure at the beginning.
Not to mention there are several extreme cases that have occurred in recent years revolving around spoilers.
Back in 2008, Dan Kois proposed statutes of limitations for spoilers, prohibiting writers from publishing content pertaining to popular media for a certain period of time upon that media being released.
A man got physically beaten after spoiling Avengers: Endgame
A football player, LeSean McCoy spoiled Endgame as well on social media, angering a bunch of his fans.
And I’m sure there are many other examples and experiences as well. From Game of Thrones to Downtown Abby. People seem to spoil these things and some people brush it off while others go into a rage over it.
But why exactly does that happen?
Why has this unspoken rule amongst family and friends become a mainstream staple in modern society?
Well, a lot of it comes down to psychology.
How We View Entertainment Has Evolved
Without a doubt, there are some classic older films and older TV shows. But one thing has been consistent year after year.
Media company’s abilities to tell stories has gotten better year after year. While some may question the quality of fresher TV series, movies and books to older ones, on a general scale, we can all agree that more people are talking about Game of Thrones, How I Met Your Mother (at the time) and Big Bang Theory a lot more than Gilligan’s Island, Full House, and Seinfeld.
Great TV series, but the discussion of those older series aren’t so common.
Screenwriters today have learned back then and now how to write memorable characters and great plots, but do so at a rate that people are able to move on and become invested in these new characters and these new stories.
Even looking at the Marvel Cinematic Universe we can see the writing evolve. The early films were a little more serious. Just look at Thor and Iron Man. Compare those films to both Infinity War films, Captain Marvel, and Thor: Ragnarok and you’ll find more comedic one-liners and funny moments in a single one of those films compared to those early two films combined.
Across the entertainment industry, screenwriters have been able to tell great stories over a series of videos. They’re able to string us along and do it so well because they understand one particular thing. They understand how to hook people in.
Coincidentally these techniques also explain why some people don’t care about being spoiled while some will take extreme measures to express anger.
The Psychology Of Spoiling
While some people argue that spoiling films can actually enhance the experience of watching a film, or tv series, most people don’t tend to take that direction.
In his book, How Pleasure Works, Paul Bloom explains why we care so much about spoiling by answering another question:
Why do we like stories in the first place?
And it’s a good question worth asking as so many of us today are more invested in make-belief stories than doing other productive things. And a lot of that fascination boils down to how our brain sees these stories.
You see, studies have shown that our brain isn’t always able to tell the difference between fact or fiction. Yes on a primitive level we are able to tell that the MCU, Game of Thrones, and many others are all fantasy. But on a conscious level — the lizard part of our brain — we aren’t able to tell the difference.
And there are studies that back this up.
For example, one study looked at how people would react if they were presented with a piece of fudge that looked like a turd. Even though participants were told this was indeed a piece of fudge, participants refused to touch it let alone eat it.
What this research reveals concerning spoilers is that when we are invested in a story, we fully believe that this story is true. Spoilers shatter that reality by reminding ourselves on a conscious level that this is all make-believe. From there it’s hard for us to get back into the story because we already know what’s going to happen. But that’s not the case with real life. We have no idea what will happen in real life tomorrow or next week until we get there.
But then why do some people not care about spoilers?
Good point. One study did actually look into how spoilers enhanced an experience. Specifically, when participants were told about the ending of a short story, participants had a better experience reading the short story.
But that study left out something key that’s needed in shifting our mood about spoilers.
The degree in which we are invested in that story.
For example, I won’t care at all if someone “spoils” Game of Thrones to me. I have not followed the series at all and I’m not that invested in the story. However, if you spoiled Avengers: Endgame, I’d be more upset about it as I’ve been following these films since the very beginning.
The degree in which we are invested in these stories determines so much about how deeply we care about spoilers. For those getting into a new series, it can overall enhance the experience as it raises questions. How does the plot evolve and develop to the point that [insert major plot point] happens?
That tends to spoil the experience if we’re already heavily invested in something. Like the MCU which has been going on for 12 years and created 22 films.
But there is something a little deeper than this going on with these stories and films. And spoilers do play a role in that too.
What Spoilers Really Steal From Us
The reality is that while spoilers do shatter our expectations, they also take away something a lot more.
Specifically the anticipation.
While some movie critics would say that’s alright, a lot of people argue that it does. One resource you can turn to is Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling on Happiness where he quotes:
“Forestalling pleasure is an inventive technique for getting double the juice from half the fruit.”
In other words, delayed gratification is something that we all deeply love and make us feel happier.
By spoiling a film, a book, or a TV series is basically ripping all of that away. It removes a deep reason for us to watch these films.
Because in this day and age we’ve seen so many film techniques that we indulge in these types of media for different reasons. Take for example Avengers: Infinity War. In a 2017 interview with Mark Ruffalo (aka. Bruce Banner/Hulk) and Don Cheadle (aka. War Machine), Ruffalo spoiled the ending of that film.
He tried covering it up by saying everyone dies but almost said half of everyone dies.
But despite spoiling that major plot point one year before it came out, Infinity War had a record-breaking opening weekend.
Because at the end of the day, the fans weren’t going to see the specific plot details. All the same, people aren’t seeing Endgame for its plot (because literally every fan knows that everyone is coming back). They’re there to see the explosions, the funny lines, and epic battle scenes.
It’s for these reasons why some of us don’t mind seeing films again and again. Yes, the initial excitement won’t be there because we know the story, but instead, we watch for other reasons. Another great example of this is the James Bond series. We already know that the bad guy will get killed and Bond will make it out alive. But we watch those films again and again for the insane stunts, explosions, action, and the “Bond girl.”
All of this points back to anticipation and how we use it varies.
For some people, they swallow that anticipation immediately. In those situations, those people have a low tolerance for anticipation and spoil plot point intentionally out of a need to tell someone.
For others, they don’t mind being spoiled because it removes suspense and anxiety.
But for many others such as myself and my brother, we relish the anticipation. So we make sure to avoid major plot points, reviews, and other forms of media that could otherwise give us a hint as to what is happening in the stories we’re invested in.
At the end of the day, this anticipation is the core reason why we have such disdain for spoilers. And it’s the real reason that we are so cautious. With so many fantastic stories out there, avoiding spoilers or giving warnings of spoilers is a deep understanding that we don’t want to rip that anticipation out of people.
Because some people really relish that anticipation and to spoil something makes you a jerk.
But that doesn’t mean that you can have a little fun with it.
After all, after seeing Endgame, I have no problem telling you that Hagrid punches Thanos.