Yesterday, my friend texted me a pretty big “House of Cards” spoiler. It wasn’t malicious; he just thought I had finished all the episodes. While a lot of people would be extremely upset if a major plot point had been spoiled for them, I can honestly say that I didn’t care. In fact, I often go out of my way to find spoilers.
When I read the sixth “Harry Potter” book, I flipped ahead to see who died. When I watched “Donnie Darko” last week, I pulled up Wikipedia to read about the ending. I’ve read extensively online about most of the things that happened in “A Song of Ice and Fire,” the book series “Game of Thrones” is based on, and I tend to read recaps of shows before I watch them.
My strange habit is partially vindicated by a study from UC San Diego that found people enjoy things more when they already know what’s going to happen. This lines up well with Alfred Hitchcock’s theory of suspense: He believed that it was much more terrifying for the audience to know what was coming in his movies.
This makes sense to me. Reading “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” knowing that — spoiler alert — Snape kills Dumbledore made me more attentive to the way J.K. Rowling was building up to that plot point. The tragedy of the loss was more intense as I saw Harry and Dumbledore’s relationship grow, knowing that Harry would be left on his own so soon. My foreknowledge frequently makes watching “Game of Thrones” incredibly intense and occasionally unbearably sad.
This isn’t only applicable to shows with more dramatic and over-the-top plot points. The first episode of “The Office” I ever watched was Jim and Pam’s wedding. The knowledge that it would all work out for those two crazy kids made all their interactions a little sweeter when watching previous episodes.
Some works are upfront about how they’ll end from the very beginning. At the start of “(500) Days of Summer,” we learn that it’s not going to end with the duo together. It’s a testament to the movie’s power that I still thought their relationship might work out. Similarly, “How I Met Your Mother” makes it clear that Ted will marry someone, but that his wife will not be Robin, the ex-girlfriend he can’t get over. Both use the knowledge of the characters’ fates in intriguing ways.
If spoilers really ruin a plot, then it wasn’t very good to begin with. After all, the best books, movies and television shows are the ones that can be enjoyed multiple times. One of my friends is currently watching “Friday Night Lights” for the first time and knowing what happens to Coach, his wife and the town of Dillon has only heightened my enjoyment in watching the series with her. They say and do things that I know they’ll regret later, but not yet.
I’m not discounting the value of a truly shocking moment. I didn’t know about the twist in the first episode of the second season of “House of Cards,” and screaming about it with my roommate was fun. But I think we’ve become too obsessed with guarding ourselves from plot points. And if more television moves toward the Netflix model, anti-spoiler decrees will become untenable.
When is it appropriate to talk about “House of Cards” without a massive SPOILER ALERT warning? With the traditional model, after a week, you can be sure that almost everyone knows what happened.
Then again, my argument about spoilers making things more enjoyable might just be an excuse for my impatience. I may have sped through “The Hunger Games,” but I couldn’t go fast enough to quench my thirst for plot. I want to know what happens as soon as possible, even if the traditional method will only take a few hours; or if I’m watching a movie, even less. Perhaps it’s because I’ve gotten so used to a world where limitless information is at my fingertips. If I want the weather, there’s an app for that. If I want the plot to “Lord of the Rings,” there’s an app for that, too.
I also might just be uncomfortable with uncertainty. When I like the characters, I want to know that they’re going to be OK, the same way that I worry about my friends — and myself — in real life. The only difference is that I can’t google my friends to make sure the boy they’re chasing will eventually return their feelings or that they won’t get murdered by a conniving politician.
In the meantime, I will probably keep embracing spoilers. To help you do that too, here are a few spoilers: Frank Underwood becomes supreme dictator of the universe, Sansa Stark steals Daenerys’ dragons to become queen of Westeros and Walter White was Gossip Girl. Oh, and Snape killed Dumbledore.
Victoria Edel is a senior in the College. GIRL MEETS WORLD appears every other Friday in the guide.