artwork by Indiana Joel
I’ll admit it: I’m a Spoiler.
It’s a symptom of being such an avid television fan, but that’s no excuse. Repeatedly I find myself excitedly recounting scenes and detailing plot points from my favorite movies and shows, only to be met with rage and bitterness.
Really, I should know better—maybe you were a few episodes behind on the show being discussed, or you were waiting for the season to end so you could watch it all at once. Or maybe you’ve just been busy.
When The Sixth Sense first came out, a friend of mine told me about the twist ending the moment he got back from the theatre. For the first three seasons of The Sopranos, I knew about every single character that was going to get whacked before it happened. And recently I was told which characters’ head was on the chopping block before I even started watching Game of Thrones.
Spoilers are everywhere. Chances are, there will even be some in this column. Consider yourself warned.
Recently, Funny or Die put out a video outlining spoiler etiquette. A friend of mine sent me the link on Twitter, just to make sure I got the message. Though tongue-in-cheek, the video had useful guidelines, which I’ll list here:
Length of time before you can talk about a standard episode: Two weeks.
Length of time before you can talk about a season finale: Two months.
Length of time before you can talk about a series finale: One year.
Which means I can comfortably, in good conscience, tell you the following: Silvio kills Adriana in the fifth season of The Sopranos, Omar gets popped by a little kid in the last season of The Wire, Lafayette gets possessed by an evil spirit and murders his boyfriend in the most recent season of True Blood and Rita was eviscerated by John Lithgow and left in a bloody bathtub at the end of season four of Dexter. Oh yeah, and nothing makes sense at the end of Lost.
Man, that felt good.
I can’t tell you about the season finale of The Walking Dead yet, and it will be a little while before I can discuss the shocking end of Boardwalk Empire’s second season or the explosive conclusion to Breaking Bad’s fourth. But I can wait.
While I was writing this column, I came across a study by Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt of UC San Diego’s psychology department. According to their research, spoilers actually enrich the viewing experience.
Leavitt, while discussing his findings, put it this way: “It could be that once you know how [the story] turns out, it’s cognitively easier – you’re more comfortable processing the information – and can focus on a deeper understanding of the story.”
You can read about their findings yourself, but the researchers summed up their conclusion like this: “Monet’s paintings aren’t really about water lilies.”
That’s why a Monet enthusiast can spend hours looking at the same painting, and why I’ve probably watched Fight Club twenty times, even though I already know Brad Pitt is a figment of the narrator’s imagination.
Though people rant and rave about spoilers, really they’re beside the point. Because any good piece of art, or any episode of a television show, should only get better upon repeated viewings. And if it relies on shock value or cheap twists, then there’s really nothing there to spoil, because it’s already rotten.