NPR Story
2:42 am
Fri August 2, 2013

Spoiler Alert: Spoilers May Not Be That Bad

Originally published on Fri July 18, 2014 11:09 am

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

When you check social media and you're not caught up on your favorite TV show, say, you never know when you might encounter a spoiler. Somebody on Twitter, some blog says too much about what happened in a plot line. My big spoiler moment came when I saw a post about a death on "Downton Abbey" and I thought that everything was just ruined. But is it really that bad when this happens? NPR's Neda Ulaby has this encore story about how spoilers might actually make you enjoy something more.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Can you imagine if Twitter had been around in 1980 when a nation collectively wondered who shot J.R.?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DALLAS")

LINDA GRAY: (as Sue Ellen) It was you, Kristin, who shot J.R.

ULABY: Every "Dallas" fan on the East Coast would have immediately ruined the reveal for everyone from Alabama to Alaska by Facebooking or tweeting. Spoilers have become enough of a preoccupation for a university to study them. Psychology professor Nicholas Christenfeld is at the University of California, San Diego. He examined what effect spoilers have on people's enjoyment of stories.

NICHOLAS CHRISTENFELD: So we chose quite famous short stories and we spoiled them beforehand without using the word "spoiler."

ULABY: Subjects who had not already read the classic short story by Shirley Jackson would get handed "The Lottery." Some were told about its morbid conclusion in advance.

CHRISTENFELD: In this lottery, people draw to see who will be stoned to death at the end.

ULABY: Appropriately, the spoiler study had a surprise twist.

CHRISTENFELD: Spoilers are, in fact, enhancers.

ULABY: It turns out, when people knew what was going to happen, reading the story was more enjoyable. That makes sense to Time magazine television critic James Poniewozik.

JAMES PONIEWOZIK: It's much more terrifying to know that something horrible is about to happen than not to know that it's about to happen.

ULABY: That's Alfred Hitchcock's theory of suspense, Poniewozik says. It's not like the movie "Psycho" gets ruined when you know in advance about the shower.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PSYCHO")

JANET LEIGH: (as Marion) (screaming)

ULABY: Poniewozik says people are violently against spoilers now, partly because we started to use Facebook and Twitter right when the way we watch TV began to change. Now, people wait to watch shows on their DVRs or Hulu, but they still get angry when other people talk about those shows online. Then you've got TV writers trying to ratchet up ratings in a competitive, overcrowded landscape.

CHRISTENFELD: There is over-reliance on shocking twists and big reveals.

ULABY: For that, he says, think "Lost."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOST")

TERRY O'QUINN: (as John Locke) I want you to know, Jack, you died for nothing.

ULABY: "Lost" spawned a subgenre of imitators that tried to hook viewers with plot twists, not great writing or characters. That's why people still read "Anna Karenina," even if they know the thing about the train. But comparing literature and TV does not work for writer Dan Kois.

DAN KOIS: I feel like a novel cannot offer the same kind of visceral shock and pleasure that a great plot twist in a visual medium usually can.

ULABY: But there can be another kind of pleasure in a spoiler, says director Kevin Smith. His movie review show on Hulu is called "Spoilers."

KEVIN SMITH: I want to know more. I'm voracious. I am the Internet in as much as I'm like, feed me.

ULABY: Smith says a little advance knowledge can be useful.

SMITH: Me and the wife would always watch "Battlestar Galactica" and I read on Twitter in advance - and, again, spoilers, if you still haven't watched - what Starbuck was.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BATTLESTAR GALACTICA")

JAMES CALLIS: (as Gaius Baltar) I told you there were angels walking amongst you. When will you believe me?

SMITH: And, you know, she - oh, my God. And I took advantage of that time because, seconds before it happened, I was like, I bet you she's an angel and then, all of a sudden, they say it. And she was like, you're so smart. But, you know, really, it had been spoiled for me.

ULABY: When Kevin Smith does not want to be spoiled, he has a simple solution. Just stay off Twitter. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

GREENE: And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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