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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Column: Spoiler free

I’m going to say that spoilers are not bad.

I watched When Harry Met Sally 17 years after it came out and never finished it. Of course, I didn’t need to, because a year earlier I saw the ending on an episode of Scrubs.

Early in the movie Harry describes a peculiar habit of his: to read the end of a book before the beginning; this is so he knows what happens at the end in case he dies before finishing.

I’ve met a few Harrys in my life, but I certainly wouldn’t like to be one.

I personally hate spoilers, but despite my unceasing hatred, I believe it is an outdated sentiment. After all, does my interest in avoiding spoilers quell my urge to turn to the last page of a book and read a few words? I do love a good ending sentence and I always pray it won’t ruin the rest of the book.

We are goal setters by nature; when we begin a journey, there is almost always a planned destination and we apply this trait to everything. This issue is, art often deliberately goes against nature. Good art shifts our direction, or takes us on the “scenic route.” Even if the destination is the same, our journey continues, until the destination doesn’t really make a difference anymore.

So we read a book, we watch a movie and for the most part, we’re anxious to get it over with. We want the ending, we wait for it impatiently until we cry out for resolution. And when it’s over, there is relief and we want to share the experience with the world!

Of course, sometimes, you see it coming. You spend a little too much time on the internet one night, or your chatty friends saw the movie without you, or maybe you’re just so far behind in the times that there’s no telling how many parodies or references in popular culture you’ve seen that ruin the story for you entirely. Now that great story you wanted to see is nothing but an ending you heard about one day.

Sure, we want the ending; it can never come fast enough. But doesn’t it sometimes come too soon?

Good storytelling is the hallmark of entertainment and the emotional journey to be had at the hands of a book or other art form. Spoilers are a device for eliminating the element of surprise within a story. But does that mean the story is no longer enjoyable?

You know the ending: so what? Read the book, watch the movie and think about what you learn by doing so. The story was great. You understand the characters, you see their motivations and actions in a whole new light because you know what will become of them. You recognize foreshadowing that builds the tension until you reach the end and know that there was something before the end: a journey.

Spoilers are annoyances. They are not evil.

By definition they destroy value, but good art cannot be destroyed by foresight. They can teach us something about the things we enjoy: whether they are something more than the sum of their parts, or whether it is only the summary that we want. The former seems the much more likely case for most of our choice forms of entertainment; after all, do we pay to see the last 10 minutes of a movie?

We’re witnessing a generation who knows that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, without most of them ever having seen Star Wars. They can misquote a line from a movie they probably can’t even name, but new and old fans alike still watch the Trilogy once a year. The movies have stood the test of time, one of the shining examples of “spoiled” art that never goes bad.

I say, let there be spoilers. Avoid what you can or really want to, but don’t be too afraid of a ruined surprise. Enjoy the shocks and thrills when they come, and know that there are too many of them left to experience to get bummed out over the ones you saw coming.

That being said, if you’re a Harry, keep your mouth shut.

NICK FREDERICI will be watching Fight Club nonstop throughout November; ask for an invite at nrfred@ucdavis.edu.

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