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Movies & TV

24th Apr 2019

How spoilers became one of the scariest psychological threats of the modern age

Carl Kinsella


Spoiler warning.

Last week, ahead of the premiere of Avengers: Endgame, directors Anthony and Joe Russo took a move that has very little precedent, if any at all.

They published a statement pleading with the public not to spoil the highly anticipated MCU film for one another.

The open letter followed reports that all the plot details of the film — which has been intentionally shrouded in mystery, thanks to the cliffhanger ending of its predecessor — had been leaked.

At early press screenings for the movie, the hashtag #DontSpoilTheEndgame was emblazoned across the screen. The plot details of movies have become so sacred to us that those tasked with promoting films are asking us not to talk about them.

I know myself. If a friend or a colleague of mine has even seen something that I’m waiting for, I can’t even look them in the eye. I’m afraid that the way they might look at me could pre-emptively ruin my enjoyment of something I’ve waited a year or more for. That a glint in their eye, or a deep sigh, or a hunch of their shoulders could tell me so much that actually seeing the movie or the TV show becomes pointless.


And the threat is real.

There can be no denying that if you’re the kind of person who actively derives pleasure from deliberately spoiling a movie for somebody, you are a sadist, and you should probably be placed on some kind of register. I once had a particularly sad Game of Thrones death ruined for me by a total stranger who drove past me in his car and yelled it at me — making me the first victim ever of drive-by spoiler shooting (that I know of, at least).

And in addition to these dangers-to-society, we also all have space cadet friends who seem unable to process the reality that not everyone in their current group has seen whatever they’re talking about. They’ll say things like “Oh I won’t give anything away, but—” or “All I’ll say is—” while everyone else looks on in agony. Nothing will stop them from providing their analysis.

But spoilers are no new thing. Certainly as far back as 1980 (which is almost 40 years ago now, I regret to inform you) – queues outside cinemas have been sickened by some asshole emerging Homer Simpson-style to announce that he couldn’t believe Darth Vader was Luke’s father all along.

Indeed, the “Dumbledore dies” revelation at the end of 2005’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was much more of a real life threat than an online one.

And even your grandfather will remember that the BBC news always carried a caveat of warning their viewers to “Look away now” if they didn’t want to know the day’s footie results before Match of the Day came on.

We don’t know for sure if spoilers existed in the times of Shakespeare or Dickens, but the idea of wanting to experience something first-hand is presumably an age-old human desire.


Now, in the era of social media, anybody who is a fan of anything at all will know that the digital space we navigate on a day to day a basis becomes a minefield.

The advent of binge-watching has not helped matters. Back when the only way to watch things was at the same time each week, there could be some kind of predictability as to when people would be discussing the major plot points of each episode. You weren’t going to get an episode 7 spoiler while you were only on episode 2. Now even that safety has been stripped away.

Now, fans can watch a full series in a day and dump their thoughts online all at once. And because major publications can do the same, reviewing details from, say, The Haunting of Hill House, all at once, it makes the series virtually impossible to so much as Google the series you’re watching.

And that’s to say nothing of Google’s autofill feature, which can follow a search of your favourite character with a word like “dead,” “death” or “death scene.” There’s nowhere to turn.

Spoilers are therefore considered to be a feature of the internet age. Not just because the internet has made spoilers harder to avoid, but also more devastating to one’s quality of life.

With today’s social fabric so firmly stitched from ever more homogenous cultural experiences, and with these experiences bordering on obsession when it comes to movies and TV, spoilers pose an actual threat to the way we interact with our friends and colleagues.

To learn of a twist or a detail in a tweet or a Facebook status, rather than to feel it for yourself with your full mind and body… It means you have had a less pure experience. You can never understand what it felt like to witness that moment with your own eyes, unprepared. They have walked on the virgin snow, and you are eating the leftover grey sludge.

It must be how Irish people felt back in the day when the priest visited everybody’s house on the road except theirs. You are further from the divine. You have been tainted. You have been spoiled.

You might be rolling your eyes and thinking about how sad this sounds. Maybe you’re right. But wait until you have something spoiled for you and you might be shocked to find that you’re just as as sad as the rest of us.

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