When cinema was young, films played in theaters back to back to back. The movies didn’t play at specific times; instead, audiences walked in and caught whatever part of the film they so chose, and often stayed for the beginning of the next show to take in the whole movie. Spoilers weren’t an aspect of film and media because it wasn’t the outcome that made movies entertaining—it was the act of viewing, the act of letting yourself disappear into a story. Suspense in film and television shouldn’t be about the happy ending, but rather about the act of inserting yourself wholly into a plot.
Nowadays, though, spoilers keep Twitter atwitter and make it easy for people to be jerks on Facebook. Spoilers ruin friendships. Why is it that we’re so concerned with finding out the big twist in a film or TV show? Why do we wonder aloud to friends, “Is he crazy the whole time?” or “Did House end up in rehab?” or “WTF is the smoke monster?” and then screech to a halt and shriek, “Don’t tell me, don’t tell me!” A friend recently posted nonchalantly, “So-and-so dies at the end of Remember Me” in his Facebook status. Although I don’t really care, I still frowned and shook my metaphorical fist at him. Not cool, man, not cool. But why is it not okay?
Is it the advent of social media that’s making us so concerned with the outcome of films and television? Is it our ability to record and watch episodes of TV later, allowing most of the world to see them before us? Why are we so concerned whether this character bites it at the end, or that subplot concludes ambiguously, or who was a ghost from the get-go? Are we so jaded that our media have to rely progressively more on the surprise factor just to draw us in? In the last seventy years, what changed to cause our collective spoiler sensitivity?
Frankly, I think it’s a combination of all of these factors. Any thoughts, faithful Fourth Wall readers?
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