Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Spoiling the Party

I'm sure we all have them, those friends who insist on telling one every single detail of that cool new movie they have seen or that cool new book they have read. Sadly, most of us don't want to know every single detail of a movie we haven't seen or a book we haven't read, wanting to experience them for ourselves. Fortunately, most of us can talk our friends into not telling us everything about movies and books they've just seen and read.

Unfortunately, that is not the case with the Internet. With the development of the World Wide Web, it seems a whole new phenomenon arose--spoiling books and movies on a heretofore unmatched scale. It seems that there are many people out there who, once they have read a book or watched a movie, cannot wait to post every single detail to their personal website or their own blog. What makes this even worse is that some of the people who do this should know better. I am sure we have all read reviews by professional critics who insist on summarising the whole book or movie, thus spoiling any surprises. I don't know about others, but I tend to avoid such critics like the plague.

What make spoiling on the World Wide Web even worse are the situations of books and movies that are pirated and reach individuals before their official release date, or errors made by various stores who accidentally sell material before it is officially released. This situation has arose with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Even though Bloombury in the United Kingdom and Scholastic in the United States set the release of the book as this coming Saturday, copies have already been sent out to people. Namely, Deepdiscount.Com sent copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows out early, Some customers received them as early as yesterday. While the number of copies sent out only amounted to 1/100th 1% of the total copies being printed here in the States, spoilers and purportedly entire copies of the book have made it to the Internet. This has not only displeased J. K. Rowling, but many Potter fans as well. There are many of us who do not want to know what happens until we have finished the book ourselves.

Indeed, the Harry Potter series is one of those book series in which the element of surprise provides much of the enjoyment in reading them. It seems to me to be true that spoilers can be worse for some works than it might be for others. I must confess that I don't mind if a friend tells me that superhero Captain Zero defeats the evil Dr. Malevolens at the end of The Amazing Adventures of Captain Zero (don't bother looking that up), because in most superhero movies the good guy defeats the bad guy in the end. On the other hand, I will be very unhappy if someone were to announce the ending of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to me or let slip the ending of the latest M. Night Shyamalan movie. When a book or movie has a twist ending or relies largely on a very important plot point for much of its enjoyment, spoiling is even worse than for other works.

Of course, there are those movies and books which once had surprising twists or plot turns that are no longer so surprising because they have become part of pop culture. Perhaps the prime example of this is the fact that Darth Vader is the father of Luke Skywalker. When Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back came out this was a shocking revelation and most Star Wars fans avoided telling their friends for fear of spoiling the movie. Nearly thirty years later, however, it is common knowledge. Not only has this once shocking revelation become part of pop culture, but the first trilogy makes it blatantly clear who fathered Luke and Leia. Another example of this is the ending of Pscycho. When the movie was first released in 1960, Alfred Hitchcock went to extra lengths to avoid the twist ending from becoming public knowledge. Critics were denied a private screening lest they reveal the ending before the movie came out. Hitchcock also had a strict policy that no one would be admitted late to the movie, so that audiences would have to watch the film from the very beginning. Of course, today the end of Pscyho is known even to people who haven't seen the movie!

I realise that there is to some degree or another a demand for spoilers where movies and books are concerned. There have probably always been those people who turn to the last page of a book to read the ending. I would imagine these are the sort of people who rush to these web sites containing spoilers. While there are those who probably want to know the ending of a book or movie before they have read or seen it, I would daresay there are more of us who don't want to know. Sadly, those who post spoilers essentially act as killjoys for those of who want to experience plot twists and climaxes for ourselves.

Of course, I don't know what motivates people to post spoilers to the web sites. For some it may be the same reason that those aforementioned friends have for spoiling things--they simply want to share that great movie or great book with everyone else. In other cases, I am not so sure. I can only assume that they take some malicious pleasure out of ruining watching a particular movie or reading a particular book ourselves.

Sadly, beyond avoiding certain websites and the reviews of many critics, there is very little the average person can do with regards to spoilers. In the Information Age it is getting increasingly difficult for people to not know the end of a book or movie before it comes out. As for myself, I can only hope I don't hear about the ending of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows before I read it (hopefully next week sometime).

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