As blasphemous as this sounds, I had never seen the movie Fight Club until this weekend. How I had gone 25 years on this Earth without seeing this fantastic movie is a mystery even to me, but I’ve finally seen it and my life is now better for it. Unfortunately, since we live in the Internet age and Fight Club is a popular, nearly 20-year-old movie to analyze and discuss, I have long known the central plot point of the movie: Edward Norton’s character is also Tyler Durden. As much as I enjoyed watching the movie, having this knowledge linger in the back of my mind took away a big part of what makes it so special upon first viewing. My prevailing thought at the end of each scene wasn’t necessarily “Wow this is an interesting and compelling plot development, I’m interested to see where the story goes from here,” it was a reroute to the fact that Tyler and the narrator are the same guy.
So when I read a study claiming that spoilers actually make movies and television shows more enjoyable for viewers, my Bullshit Meter went off the charts. These researchers are making the case that spoilers actually enhance the viewing experience instead of ruining it. Via Business Insider:
Don’t get angry the next time someone spoils the latest episode of “Game of Thrones” for you — thank them, because they might have just made it more enjoyable for you.
Spoiler alert: if someone spoils Game of Thrones for me, I will go Ramsay Bolton on their ass. Anyways, continue:
According to research by Nicholas Christenfeld, a UC San Diego psychology professor, spoilers don’t necessarily ruin the experience of watching or reading a story, even though a majority of people claim they do.
To test the theory, Christenfeld and his team experimented with three different literary genres and two different groups. One group read a short story and responded to it, while the other group had the stories “accidentally” ruined for them beforehand.
“What we found, remarkably, was if you spoil stories they actually enjoy them more,” Christenfeld said.
Case in point, romantic comedies and mysteries continue to be popular genres, though people generally anticipate their endings.
There is a world of difference between the romantic comedy genre, which is probably the most base form of entertainment out there, and a show with a complex story structure like Game of Thrones. Romantic comedies are very cut and dry when it comes to plot lines and endings: Boy meets girl, at least one of them falls for the other, they encounter some adversity throughout the movie, and eventually the movie ends with the two of them together. Unless it’s a Nicholas Sparks story, then the story ends with one of them dying of some horrific terminal disease.
With other genres, and especially a show like Game of Thrones, the story develops and unfolds in unexpected ways, and the hero doesn’t always prevail in the end. Using the mystery genre as an example is even more baffling because the entire story is dependent on the audience not knowing the solution. The culprit could be anyone involved in the story, and a good mystery will keep viewers guessing and engaged for the entire duration of the investigation. Even shows like Law and Order often times have more nuance to them than just “The husband did it”.
Christenfeld goes on to further defend the actions of trolls who spoil plot lines by saying the law of diminishing returns doesn’t apply to watching movies and that it allows us to enjoy the art, man:
“The point is, really, we’re not watching these things for the ending,” Christenfeld said. “I point out to the skeptics, people watch these movies more than once happily, and often with increasing pleasure.”
Christenfeld also explained that knowing what is happening in advance gives readers and viewers a deeper understanding of the work.
“If you know the ending as you watch it, you can understand what the [creator] is doing. You get to see this broader view, and essentially understand the story more fluently,” Christenfeld said. “There’s lots of evidence that this sort of fluent processing of information is pleasurable; that is, some familiarity with a work of art enables you to enjoy it more.”
I can give credence to the fact that repeated viewings allow the viewer to pick up on things they might have missed the first time around by focusing on other aspects of a film or show. However, the major flaw in this reasoning is that it doesn’t take into consideration the initial viewing. Despite what he’s saying, people do want to be surprised and sit on the edge of their seats as they follow along in suspense with the characters as they approach the ultimate conclusion of the movie. It’s part of what makes psychological thrillers such as Se7en and The Usual Suspects such great films. If you go into them knowing the ending, similar to how I did with Fight Club, you lose the charm of trying to piece together the puzzle the movie lays out as you watch.
I think Christenfeld also has a misguided understanding of why people enjoy rom-coms and other similar movies after repeated viewings. It’s not because knowledge of the ending allows them to further appreciate the artistry of a flick like She’s All That (A classic film that I will not tolerate any bashing of in the comment section), it’s because they’re short, easily digestible stories that everyone enjoys and can easily pass the time with. That and they’re good for at least getting an OTPHJ when watching them with a date.
In any case, if you believe that spoilers do indeed spoil things, and still want to avoid them, good luck out there.
And if you believe that spoiling endings for others will make them enjoy their shows and movies more, good luck out there trying to stay alive, troll..