Why people hate spoilers

Titanic poster art copyright belongs to 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures.

Back in 1997, I was in sophomore year of college and the movie Titanic was the most anticipated film of the year.

Back then movies in Manila came out a few days delayed unlike today when they sometimes come out ahead of North American or European theaters. Intense anticipation would build up through several weeks from all the hype just as it does now except that information wasn’t on demand. The internet wasn’t yet the media beast that it is today, and the only way we got information was through TV, cable, newspapers, or magazines. These were, however, the last few moments that the world would be just so because in a couple of years, that would all change.

Images of Kate Winslet and Leonardo di Caprio in Titanic were everywhere: on mugs, t-shirts, the news, fastfood, hell…even my university allowed posters of the movie on campus! Not to mention Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On blasting every few minutes on the radio and on MTV. Everyone and their neighbor’s dog talked about it all the time.

It promised to be that movie of a beautiful love story shot with the most advanced technology of the time. And it was.

So one day it finally came to Manila theaters. I clearly remember having to skip the first day due to a paper I had to submit. My friends and I planned to watch it the day after.

That evening, I was working on the paper when my roommate suddenly burst into the room. Being the drama queen that she was, she fell on the bed and fake-cried.

“What happened?” I asked.

“You don’t want to know!” she answered.

“Okay,” I answered, shrugging, used as I was with her theatrics.

That set her off even more and she shrieked into the covers, wailing this time.

“What the hell is going on?” I asked, already very irritated. “Can you just get on with it? I’m working on something very important here!”

Then she blurted, “I watched the Titanic and Leo died!!”

I gaped at her in horror. I remember wanting to throttle her at that very moment.

“KAY, WHAT THE F****** HELL???” I was sputtering mad.

She knew I hated spoilers but her distress was so real she forgot.

And that’s how my experience of the movie Titanic was forever spoiled. The whole time I was watching, I braced myself for Leo’s death. When the moment finally came, my friends were crying. People around me loved the movie but I couldn’t relate. I was hardly moved.

I didn’t talk to Kay for a long time after that.

Which leads me to the question of why some of us hate spoilers while others don’t. Could there be a scientific explanation? I decided to prowl the web for answers.

Turns out that studies have actually been made on the subject. The results? It all goes back to our need for stories. Your hatred of spoilers or the lack of it depends on whether you like surprises or are more attuned to emotional stimulation.

This makes a lot of sense to me because I’m the kind who absolutely loves movies but I rarely ever watch one twice. It’s all about the experience of watching the story unfold AND being surprised at the end.

There are those of us who love being transported into another world. Spoilers, well, spoil that temporary suspension into a world limited only by the imagination. If you knew the ending to a story, would you enjoy it as much? Or perhaps, a better analogy is this: would you still be pleasantly surprised when your friends show up to surprise you with a party if you knew about it ahead of time? You’d have to pretend to be surprised for their sake but the effect wouldn’t be the same, would it?

To quote The Atlantic’s Jennifer Richler, “…Once you know how a story ends, you can no longer have your mind blown; the pleasure is now in the details. Ditto for movies for which you know the ending before they even start. As Goldstein noted, “Nobody goes to a James Bond movie wondering if the crime is going to get solved and justice served—you go to see explosions and whatever the women are wearing or not wearing.” Maybe that’s one reason most romantic comedies are so bad, as Christopher Orr argued recently in The Atlantic—you already know how things end, and the details aren’t very interesting.”

In short, it’s all about the anticipation of knowing that you’ll be taken for a ride and prolonging the enjoyment for as long as you can. Spoilers simply take away the pleasure of enjoying the whole nine yards of a story.

‘Twas true for me then, and it remains true for me now. Certainly for millions on the web where bitter Twitter wars break out because someone decided to spoil an episode of, say, Game of Thrones. If you’re the type who does not mind spoilers, good for you. Just don’t be that d*ck for the rest of us.

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