12 February 2015

On spoilers...

I'm a no spoiler sort of person. Always have been, always will be. I won't get into the reasons for why I don't like spoilers, nor the mentality of those who are for or against them. Neither will I delve into the seeming lack of empathy one side has for the other. What I will address is one particular phrase that does tend to crop up from the spoiler side of the equation.

"The ending isn't any more important than any of the moments leading to it."

It speaks to a belief that the journey is more important than the destination. How you get somewhere is more important than the end point. There's just a couple of things I want to say to people who think this way:

You don't believe in crescendos? You don't think that the whole can be more than just the sum of the parts? 

One of the major storytelling conceits - and even experiences in life itself - is that an event can be lifted past its inherent momentary significance by events that preceded it or that will proceed it. The man standing in Tiananmen Square was a significant event in itself... but without the context of the events that preceded that moment it has much less power and meaning.

It's just a guy on the way to the shops, right?
The way most stories are constructed is to build to a crescendo moment, a scene where the themes of the story are explored or exploited. Even more complicated stories have mini-crescendos within this crescendo where past scenes are hints of future events... This is generally called foreshadowing and is a way of building a rapport with the subconscious of the consumers of the story (and sometimes the conscious of very astute consumers of the story - depending on how subtle the foreshadowing is).

The reason these techniques work is because our human brains work like this. It's as simple as that. We think, therefore foreshadowing allows our brains to accept future events more easily and by doing so allows us to link together multiple events in a way that makes us appreciate the whole story and theme(s) more completely.

Thus, spoilers (or what some people consider spoilers) detract from those crescendo moments. They take that energy and effort expended in building up to a moment to make it more than it is on its own and actually turn every preceding event into a negative build-up emotionally.

I would argue that people who aren't bothered by spoilers have the wrong conception of what a spoiler is and what it does. If someone has already experienced something that was not spoilt for them then spoil the event for someone else it is possible that these people did not realise that the build-up to the event contributed to their enjoyment of it. They are in crescendo-denial. The other type of person is someone who allows themselves to be spoilt of a sequence of events and then go and watch them anyway. I'm not saying they're wrong but I question if they would have enjoyed the sequence of events more if they had experienced them without being spoilt.

It's not a question of each event in the sequence not being enjoyable on its own merits. The question is whether we believe, as a species, that enjoyment of a sequence of events is affected by the way consumption of the sequence occurs. i.e. Can something be more than the sum of its parts? Of course that also implies the corollary: Can an event be detracted from by previous events leading up to it?

I posit that if you think that spoilers do not matter then you cannot hold this belief. The two concepts are logically at odds to one another.