Last October, one week after the Breaking Bad series finale, I was having breakfast with a friend in Chicago. "Do not tell me the end of the Breaking Bad," he said. "I just started Season 2 and I have been off the Internet for the last few days. Total blackout. I've stopped following the news just to stay away from spoilers. Do not say a word."
"It was a great episode," I said.
"No, not another word," he responded. "Seriously."
Forty-five minutes later, after coffee and pancakes, I glanced at my phone and starting giggling at the table. "What is it," he said.
"This is hilarious," I responded, showing him the screen. "Somebody made a fake obituary for Walter White in the Albuquerque newspaper! How clever!"
Innocently, as if no significant information had been shared, I slipped my phone in my pocket, and looked up from the table, where I realized my grave error. My friend's face was blend of shock, confusion, loss, betrayal, and fury. "Derek," he said with a quiet intensity. As you might imagine, the rest of the sentence got considerably louder and was comprised of mostly unprintable words and a bit of table-smacking. The overall theme was that I would be paying for breakfast.
So, spoiler alert, Walter White is dead. Or, almost dead. It doesn't really matter. If you are reluctantly learning this now, in the 7th paragraph of a story called "In Defense of Spoilers," I have no sympathy for you. I do have some sympathy for my Chicago friend, a relationship I nearly obliterated over a parody obituary. But as New York's Adam Sternbergh explains, maybe I shouldn't be so hard on myself. Today's consumers are too infatuated with "the shackles of spoilers," he writes. In his words:
I love a good twist (sort of) as much as the next person, but I also understand how waiting for the big reveal distracts me from everything passing before my eyes and ears right now. I don’t think Citizen Kane — to use a shopworn example — is a lesser experience if [SPOILER ALERT!] you already know that Rosebud is a sled. In fact, the sled has nothing to do with what makes the movie great. Or, put another way, the single greatest cinematic spoiler-maestro of our lifetime is M. Night Shyamalan, and he rode his weird addiction to big reveals right into artistic ruin.
Anticipation is certainly one of the pleasures fine films and TV can offer us, but it’s not the only one, and frankly, it’s probably the cheapest. The thrill of a good twist is like artistic flash paper: It excites for a moment but offers little lasting wonder. If you’ve ever seen a good film with a big reveal, you probably immediately had the urge to watch the whole thing again — and, in my experience, the second viewing is always more satisfying than the first. Because you notice all the things you missed while you were busy waiting for the twist.
If Sternbergh doesn't persuade you that story spoilers don't spoil stories, consider the research paper published in Psychological Science in 2011, compelling titled: "Story Spoilers Don't Spoil Stories."