When Gravity was first released, there was about a two week period where it seemed the topic of every conversation; I could barely walk to the photocopier without overhearing one co-worker trying to convince another to go and see it.
I knew vaguely what the film was about, which is to say “space survival”. But I wasn’t sure that I wanted to see it, because (spoiler alert) I didn’t want to invest three hours in a tense, emotional film about a woman overcoming odds if she was going to bite it in the end. So I looked up the film’s Wikipedia page, confirmed Sandra Bullock survives, then dragged my husband off to the theatre to see what we both agreed was one of the best films of 2013 (the other contender was American Hustle, if you’re wondering).
You might say, “But, Alis. Didn’t knowing the ending of the film ruin the tension? Wouldn’t it have been an even bigger emotional thrill-ride for you if you hadn’t known?”
Yeah. Maybe. But here’s the thing, imaginary querent voice; if Bullock had died, I would’ve been so viscerally angry at the film, I would have retrospectively un-enjoyed the whole thing. The reasons for this are many and varied and boil down to a feminist critique of the treatment of female action heroes in popular media which is somewhat tangential to this post, other than to point out that the emotional “price” I would’ve paid for not enjoying the film would’ve far, far outweighed the enjoyment I’d get from the ending I wanted.
Or, to put it another way: I’ve been burned before, and was looking to avoid a repeat performance.
I don’t normally care about spoilers for fictional works, no matter the medium. Hell, I often actively seek them out, because I’m sick of being “surprised” by mainpain-inducing fridgings and rape scenes and moralizing queer deaths and PoC being reduced to subhuman cannon fodder and–
Hey. Hey, uh. Is anyone else noticing a bit of a theme, here?
It would be nice, wouldn’t it? To live in a world where I didn’t feel I had to seek out spoilers for my own emotional safety. It’d be even nicer to live in a world where the act of “reading the last page first” (or its modern-day equivalent: looking something up on Google) wasn’t sneered at and derided by, invariably, the sorts of people who have the privilege not to be harmed in this way by the media they consume.
Actually, this magical world exists, at least in part; most fanfic is tagged with exactly this sort of spoiler information, partly as a way of helping readers find works they like, but also, equally as much, to prevent them from accidentally stumbling across works they might find damaging. I won’t pretend warnings aren’t contentious in fandom–because they are–but most fic authors still use them in some capacity, even if they may grumble about tagged spoilers ruining their “artistic integrity”.
Incidentally, “artistic integrity” is in scare quotes there not to cast aspersions on fanfic, but rather on the notion that “artistic integrity” in any medium is dependent on people not knowing what’s coming next. Because let’s be honest: if that were the case, then DVDs wouldn’t exist (because why bother to rewatch a film you’ve already watched?).
A good work is a good work, no matter if people know what’s coming or not. Being unspoiled might give a viewer a different experience when consuming it, but “different” in this case doesn’t necessarily equate to “worse” and, if it really, truly does… then the work itself is probably over-reliant on the gimmick of its “twist” (coughM. Night Shyamalancough).
Of course, not everyone who hunts for spoilers is looking to avoid some kind of deep emotional trauma; some people also just don’t have the time or desire to sink hours into something they are, ultimately, going to find un-enjoyable. That’s legit, too. If it hurt’s an author’s artistic fee-fees that someone might not like being made to feel shitty by a downer ending… well. That’s the author’s problem, not the reader’s. Isn’t it?