I'm kind of obsessed with the idea of a spoiler alert.
I’m kind of obsessed with the idea of a spoiler alert. That thing that one declares like a siren of warning, a fire alarm beeping before you can even smell the smoke. (Wait, did I say fire? Sorry, I think I spoiled the ending.)
This thing, this idea of alerting someone so as not to potentially ruin a story, is frankly hilarious, but, quite seriously, not to be underestimated. A spoiler alert means business, it means don’t fuck with me. It means hands over ears and humming in high pitch as I get up and make my way to the furthest corner of the room.
I think the thing that fascinates me most about this well-known warning siren is the idea that it protects the knowing of an ending of something that is completely and utterly made up. Like both the beginning and the middle, the end of a story is created just as much out of thin air; it exists only as a coincidence of words that the creator happened to put together on a page. Yet we protect it like there’s no tomorrow. Or, maybe more like there is a tomorrow, a tomorrow in which we will finally sit down and watch Fight Club (so don’t you dare spoil it). Spoiler alerts are dramatic, the weight they carry sometimes just as heavy as the story itself. Spoiler alerts are silly, they’re ludicrous, inane! And that’s why I love them.
A spoiler alert is ridiculous, when you think about it, the way that we fret and we worry about a nugget of a story being revealed in a way that isn’t in its story. Knowing an ending doesn’t change the narrative, the story will still exist as it did before you knew the plot twist.
The words on a page or the voices on TV will not be rewritten based on your friend accidentally slipping you the ending. But you’re probably a human being with feelings, and you probably enjoy the suspense and surprise of watching something for the first time more than watching it again with the ending in mind. We take the time out of the doings and beings of our lives to sit in front of a screen or a TV or a book or what-have-you so we can feel something. We get to know the ins and outs, the ups and downs, the heroes and villains of, no, not our own lives or that of people we know, but of fictional lives of people who we not only do not know, but who don’t even exist.
We invest time, yes, and sometimes money (I’m looking at all you pirates out there), into hearing or watching or listening to stories, but what we invest the most is ourselves, into worlds of fantasy and lives that are imaginary. We grow attached to a story and its characters because we allow ourselves to rest our faith in its creator. There is an unspoken contract of trust created from the beginning moments of every story, an invisible handshake with the consumer and the creator, that they will be the one to guide us through to the end. So, fuck anyone else for trying.
Emotionally, these stories have us by the leash. What’s that you say? Dumbledore is your favourite character, being the epidemy of all that is hope? He’s dead. Oh, and that evil helmet-wearing, deep-voiced hunk that Luke has spent his whole life hating? Well, that’s actually his father.
“What’s the point?” You scream with your arms in the air. “What’s the point of investing another two seasons, of investing any more emotional labour, hours of interest and attention, now that someone just told me who Gossip Girl is?”
And maybe there is no point. Maybe the mystery is as good as the show itself, and once spoiled, so too is the story. Spoiler alerts are silly, and, practically speaking, they don’t change any endings nor alter any fates. But we consume not only characters and actions in our stories, but relationships and feelings and surprises and twists. Emotionally speaking, a spoiler alert is a sacred ritual to be honoured and to be respected. And yeah, Romeo and Juliet both kill themselves in the end. Whoops.