On Not Staying Spoiler-Free

NB: MASSIVE SPOILERS for Game of Thrones season 3 and anyone who hasn’t seen the 2014 WWE Royal Rumble.

We’re all told that patience is a virtue, and I’ve always tried to follow that doctrine where I can. I bite my tongue when clients make ridiculous demands. I wait for people to get off the bus before I climb on board. I open doors for old ladies and wait for them to walk through them before I follow. But the one thing I am incapable of waiting for is a spoiler.

Take Game of Thrones, for example. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few years you’ll at least have heard someone say it’s the best thing to have been on TV for years. Having become pretty obsessed over the first two seasons I spoke to a lot of fans of the books, all of whom said something along the lines of “Mate, if it’s going to end where I think it’ll end it’s all kicking off at the end of series three!”

I couldn’t wait that long. Thus it was that I learned about half the cast dying at the Red Wedding via wiki. While I was at it I read the plot summaries of every book in the series. I’ve forgotten quite a bit of it, but at least my itch for plot reveals was temporarily satisfied.

And the shattered hearts of millions broke.

I’ve never really empathised with this fascination with avoiding spoilers. I understand that most people believe if they know what will happen at the end they enjoy a book or a film less, but I’ve never really been able to shut myself off to the extent where I can avoid the hints and post-episode discussions. What’s more, it’s very rare that I feel like knowing what will happen affects my experience.

Unless you’re in a Doctor Who-style situation where you can actually be given spoilers about your own timeline that can create paradoxes or encourage you to change the future, I maintain that it doesn’t actually matter whether you know what’s coming or not. I saw the Red Wedding coming but I didn’t mind: I was curious about how the suspense would be built up, how the whole series would build to this devastating climax and how the aftermath would play out. It’s not always about the destination, and when it comes to a good narrative I care much more about the journey. But I’m keenly aware this is not a common opinion.

For all of my bluster about medieval history and great literature, I am still clinging onto my childhood love of professional wrestling. I won’t say it never went away – there was a several-year hiatus after my 12-year-old self decided it wasn’t all that cool – but in the past year or so, especially since I acquired a boyfriend who actually presents academic papers on the subject (yes, that did happen), I’ve returned to the fascination with men in masks and spandex which was so strong when I was young.

It will never be the way it was back then. For one, I worked out that as much as I may have wanted The Undertaker to be undead and Kane to conjure fire, it isn’t actually real. (For the record, it is scripted and matches are pre-determined in service of an over-arching storyline, but that doesn’t mean it is fake. Not all the punches and kicks may connect but when you see someone powerbombed through a table, they get powerbombed through a table.) This doesn’t actually mean I enjoy it any less, surprising as that may sound, but it does mean I appreciate it in a different way. The “booking” – the way in which matches are planned to contribute to the storyline – is every bit as fascinating as a moonsault. I think of each match as a narrative.

So when it comes to “sports entertainment”, it’s safe to say that I value the latter word more than the former. Especially in the world of WWE which has traditionally emphasised storyline more than many of its contemporaries in Japan, for example, wrestling has all the easy-viewing appeal of a soap opera, but with more backflips and jumping. What’s not to love about that?

My boyfriend has narrated, in great detail, events surrounding this year’s Royal Rumble event. It starts with two wrestlers taking each other apart in the ring before another combatant appears. And another. And another, every 90 seconds until 30 “Superstars” have entered the ring. One by one they are eliminated by being thrown over the top rope and the last wrestler standing wins. It’s such a simple and enjoyable concept that it’s hard to do badly.

The plan was to wait until six days after the event to watch the whole pay-per-view with said significant other and a bunch of his friends the following weekend – and I was going to attempt to join him in avoiding spoilers. The problem arose when this year’s Rumble was the most controversial for years, attracted widespread media attention from the likes of the BBC and Independent and was trending on Twitter for most of the following day. Being bored on the bus to work that morning, I made the mistake of checking Twitter and discovered that the name of the winner was still trending worldwide.

I knew who the winner was, and I knew that the most popular wrestler in the company had not been included so the internet had exploded. What was there left to spoil?

I binged. Before the day was out I knew who had won every match on the card, which aged wrestlers had made surprise comebacks and who had survived the longest in the Rumble match itself. I was speculating why the match had been booked that way, which future matches could stem from it and how it will impact the upcoming Elimination Chamber event. And of course, I was desperately trying not to drop hints to my blissfully oblivious other half.

He didn’t last because he didn’t bank on there being an article on BBC News about the uproar over Daniel Bryan’s exclusion, but he was angry about it. I wasn’t. I enjoyed the Rumble for the spectacle it was, even though I wasn’t happy about the conclusion. After all, getting angry about it and then speculating where it might go next is all part of the charm.

I think that’s the case with all series. No single event is the key to the entire storyline, which more than the sum of its parts, so knowledge of any one plot point doesn’t damage your appreciation of the whole. Even if you anticipate everything that happens, the way in which those events are woven together and presented all contribute to the satisfaction of seeing art realised.

To an extent I think that’s also true of standalone events – watching The Sixth Sense when you know Bruce Willis is already dead is intensely rewarding. You sit there marvelling at how the film quite literally cuts both ways. The whole point of a tragedy is that people die, and Shakespeare still adds a prologue making it very clear where Juliet and her Romeo are headed.

That said, I sometimes wish I was more resistant to the lure of the spoiler. Everyone knew about the twist in The Sixth Sense as it passed into popular culture, just as people who haven’t seen The Empire Strikes Back know who Luke’s father is. I never had the chance to watch either without knowing how they’d end – and I admit it, I’m gutted I’ll never know how it felt to sit in the cinema with my jaw on the floor. Maybe I need to learn that in some cases, it really is better to defer some gratification.

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One thought on “On Not Staying Spoiler-Free

  1. Everyone approaches these things differently. Some people like to be spoiled, others not so much.

    I’ve heard there’s research that people who are spoiled actually enjoy it more, and that causes some people to announce spoilers on the pretext that they are helping others (I’m serious, I’ve heard this been said) but of course, it should be up to the individual if they want to be spoiled.

    Take Sixth sense… I saw it fresh and was shocked by the twist. And I’ve seen it again and as you mentioned, really admired how the film was put together with knowing Bruce’s situation. But the only way I could have both experiences was going in unspoiled the first time.

    Nice article!

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